An amazing thing happened in the United States when the nation contracted under the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic: March 2020 became the first March since 2002 without a school shooting. As reported on Spaces4Learning, this achievement didn’t come from school administration or gun law changes. It came from the complete closure of all schools, colleges and universities nationwide.
To put this achievement into greater perspective, a 2018 analysis by the Washington Post showed that the United States experienced school shootings in 43 states from 2000 through 2018 at a rate of about one per month, leaving 250 students and faculty dead. The shootings occurred at elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, colleges and universities.
Now, with the fall 2020 semester just a couple months away, school and university administrators are planning how to best reopen their campuses in a world that has been transformed by the virus. People are in serious distress about the virus itself and because of the devastating second- and third-order effects of record unemployment and the overall negative economic impact the virus has caused.
A documented pandemic spike in firearm sales only adds to the concern. NBC News recently reported that gun sales and federal background checks rose to an all-time high in March. In fact, the FBI conducted 3.7 million background checks in March 2020, the highest total since the national instant check system for buyers was launched in 1998 and 1.1 million higher than the number conducted in March 2019.
The combination of rapidly increasing gun sales and the emergence of COVID-19-related mental health concerns means that schools and universities must take all available steps to enhance the safety and security of their campuses. With schools still closed, administrators have a prime opportunity to install modern technological solutions to ensure we don’t return to a spike of school shooting deaths in 2021.
How Active Shooter Events Unfold
In recent years, the conversation around school shootings has turned from prevention to mitigation, focusing on the ability of law enforcement to respond quickly and effectively to neutralize an armed suspect and save lives. As every school shooting is a highly volatile and fluid situation, one of the most important actions a school can take is to provide as much information as possible to law enforcement so police can arrive on scene and take safe, decisive action.
After studying school shooting incidents that occurred over the past 30 years in the U.S., the statistics are brought into stark relief. On average, it takes:
- 5 minutes for 911 to be alerted to an active shooter
- 13 minutes for police to arrive on site
- 20-30 minutes for police to interview witnesses, assess the situation and determine an entry plan
- 7-8 minutes to confront the shooter
It is crucial for superintendents, school boards, police departments and other district decision-makers to recognize that it can take 45 minutes or more for law enforcement to respond to apprehend an active shooter. When lives are on the line, every available measure to reduce that time frame must be considered.
Saving Seconds Saves Lives
The tragic events at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida in 2018 brought the role of law enforcement into the national spotlight as news coverage showed officers waiting outside the building while shots could be heard from inside, eventually resulting in the arrest of one officer for negligence. In an active shooter situation, police are expected to take decisive action and neutralize the shooter(s), but they cannot do so effectively without knowing how many shooters there are, where they are in the building, and gathering every piece of intel they possibly can.
While many schools have considered adding metal detectors, security guards, active shooter training or letting some teachers carry guns, none of those tactics help teachers and students escape, or provide usable information to law enforcement. To aid in a rapid response, innovative technology companies have developed powerful gunfire detection systems to greatly reduce the time required before a suspect is apprehended. Among all of the newly available tools, the most important capability is automatic delivery of data to police that can eliminate several steps of the timeline explained above. This eliminates the 5-minute average time for a school staff member to alert police to the situation.
As an information-gathering device, gunfire detection systems may be unrivaled in their power and speed. Some gunfire detection systems use multiple sensors to recognize that a gun has been fired, including air pressure sensors and audio triggers that compare suspicious sounds against vast libraries of real gunfire sounds. In a cloud-based system, the small sensors placed in ceiling corners in classrooms, hallways and dormitories all communicate with a remote server, reducing on site complexities and ensuring reliable performance.
The systems go far beyond identifying when a shooter is present, adding real-time information about where the shooter is, how many shots have been fired and even what type of firearm is being used. All of these data points are updated automatically as shots continue to be identified, and some systems provide mobile apps for police to get constant updates while on site.
The detection of firearm type is a major benefit for law enforcement, allowing them to prepare and plan for the specific threat they must face. A shooter with a high caliber semi-automatic rifle may require a different approach than a shooter with a small-caliber handgun. In addition to helping officers and ensuring a successful operation, this knowledge further reduces the police’s timeline by eliminating or reducing the need to interview on-site witnesses. These measures combined can reduce the time to suspect apprehension by half.
The Best Tool for the Job
Using the technological tools available today, school districts across the United States can help law enforcement safely apprehend suspects faster and save more lives during active shooter events. Weighed against other solutions, gunfire detection systems are the only option that shorten the law enforcement response timeline. A number of companies currently market gunfire detection systems, with varying prices and capabilities.
If school officials and law enforcement agencies recognize the power and value of gunfire detection systems, our nation can make great strides in reducing the casualties that result from school shootings.