Preparing schools in Idaho for an active shooter takes more than just arming educators; it takes a plan

Equipping educators with the training and resources needed to be prepared for any emergency should not be influenced or determined based on political affiliation or ideology.

The latest massacre of school children in Uvalde, Texas, will surely lead to more calls of arming educators, especially in red states and among Republican lawmakers. What’s missing in these conversations are the continued lack of whole community adoption of the gold standard National Incident Management System (NIMS), and community-specific measures (which may include arming educators) to mitigate threats. And even after all the changes that resulted from the 2018 shooting at a Santa Fe, Texas school, it’s a textbook failure of everything we’ve learned over the past 23 years since the term “active shooter” was first coined and the “contain-and-wait” strategy was abandoned across law enforcement.

Following the school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, lawmakers made great strides in establishing protocols and expectations of preparedness across all their schools. However, despite the lofty and worthy expectations the actual implementation of the law has fallen short.

According to KXAN Austin investigative reporter, Avery Travis, for the 2017-20 school years audited the Texas School Safety Center reported:

  • 6.5% (67 of 1,022) Texas school district Emergency Operations Plans (EOPs) were deemed “sufficient.”
  • 16% (162 of 1,022) didn’t have an EOP in place as of 2020.
  • Among the districts that had an EOP, only 86% reported their plan contained required drills (i.e. fire evacuation, shelter-in-place, lockdown, etc.)
  • 73% reported mandating reunification drills in their EOP.
  • Only 19.5% (200 of 1,022) had a “viable” active shooter policy.

Texas isn’t alone. We can’t help but wonder where our schools in Idaho are on these sorts of metrics. If you were to pull these metrics in Idaho, and in fairness across the country, the results are probably similar to those in Texas. And COVID has only compounded the problems. Many report that school security took a back seat to public health measures such as leaving doors and windows open for ventilation. For many rural communities where responding goes from seconds to minutes or even hours, these choices will certainly be the difference in life or death.

Idaho may have the example for how to do school security well, especially for our rural and remote communities. In Fruitland, retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Stephen Lambert leads Treasure Valley Classical Academy (TVCA), a K-12 charter school. Col (ret.) Lambert is a U.S. Air Force Academy graduate and later professor. He’s led organizations in peace time and at war, those flying the skies and those on the ground.

TVCA has a fully NIMS synchronized emergency operations plan. Teachers and staff are equipped with go-bag kits and role-specific checklists. Classrooms are outfitted with shelter-in-place kits. Local first responders regularly conduct walk-throughs and participate in joint exercises. They share a common vocabulary and know what to expect on both sides of an incident response. There’s no doubt there will be command over incidents that may occur, and command is key. As we saw in Uvalde, indecision is a killer.

Lambert and his team have taken school preparedness one step further. He’s created a rigorous approach to preparing first-contact defenders by establishing a voluntary staff arming program. The arming program is approved by the TVCA board and is synchronized with local law enforcement. Armed individuals must pass annual certifications with local law enforcement officers and are required to maintain weapons currency throughout the year.

“It starts with school culture,” says Lambert. “A school culture that focuses on character formation as well as intellectual development and on human dignity, respect, and orderliness is a sine qua non for safety and security.”

Few schools are fortunate enough to be led by a retired military officer with combat experience and experience dealing with stress in times of great crisis. Further, not everyone is positioned to have access to someone with my extensive background in threat protection work to help their school establish a NIMS synchronized plan, training, and all that goes with it.

There’s no shortage of available information and resources about how to prepare schools for all types of emergencies including an active shooter. The problem is a human one, there simply aren’t enough experienced warriors and defenders for every school. But, in Idaho there are more here than our school currently employ. This is especially true because of the great work being done by groups like Mission43. In my role at Bluum I often encourage those with military and law enforcement backgrounds to go to their local schools and find out how you can help.

Don’t be paralyzed with where to start. School and district leaders should start by asking themselves five essential questions:

  1. Have you appropriately planned for emergencies with your full school leadership team, which should include classroom teachers?
  2. Do you positively control who can enter the school(s)?
  3. Do staff and students follow established safety protocols, or do they take shortcuts like leaving a door open to quickly run to their car or allow fresh air to flow?
  4. Are you training and exercising on a regular and rigorous basis with local first responders?
  5. Are faculty and staff actively keeping an eye out for suspicious behavior or vulnerable blind spots in the school?

To successfully protect your students you must start with a plan, and that plan starts with school culture. Arming some of your staff may have merit, but to make smart decisions first answer these five questions. Armed staff or not, never under value the importance of planning, training, and regularly practicing for the worst-case scenario.

Ray Crowell

About Ray Crowell

Ray Crowell is Chief Innovation Officer at the Boise-based education nonprofit Bluum. He is a US Air Force veteran with extensive experience in planning and countering threats and protecting people.

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