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The #1 Obstacle to School Safety and Security

Kelly Moore
June 27, 2024

When it comes to school safety, there's many opinions about the most significant, most menacing obstacle. This is a conversation that cannot be postponed or treated lightly. While there's considerable debate about federal mandates and the perceived imposition of solutions on our schools, I firmly believe a far more hazardous obstacle demands our immediate attention. As school administrators, educators, law enforcement, and policymakers, we must collectively tackle it.

Before we go into the specifics of what I believe to be the most dangerous obstacle we face in school safety, let me tell you a little story. In 2014, I was a lieutenant for a sheriff’s department in Southern California. Every year, in the spring, the college students would organize an unsanctioned community party inviting close to 25,000 of their closest friends. These parties have been going on since the early 2000s. Every year, we trained to respond to civil unrest. We had two such events every year and often trained twice a year, once for each event. For many, many years, we trained to respond to civil unrest. For many, many years, nothing happened. Yet we kept on training.

In April 2014, everything was going as expected at the party: manageable chaos. Most people who would have been there during these events, would be overwhelmed quickly. But for us, this was just the way it was. Then, something happened that had happened hundreds of times, if not thousands of times before. A police officer attempted to stop a minor who was intoxicated and being aggressive. When the police officer grabbed the minor, the minor swung around. It struck the police officer with a gallon bottle of tequila, striking the officer in the head and causing significant injuries. This encounter was the trigger point for one of the largest riots in our county’s history, and we have had many.

I was the designated field commander responsible for managing the riot from the field, with the command post responsible for the overall operation—Or so I thought. While we did our best to control things in the field, the command post devised the plan and end-game strategy. We continued the field operations, waiting for the plan, but it never came. Finally, after several hours (yes, I said several hours), I asked this question: do we have a plan yet? The response was, “almost.” We will have one shortly. Then I made this statement and suggestion: “I think we are part of the problem; maybe we should just walk away from the area and see what happens.” They agreed to my suggestion without another option. Within just a few minutes, those rioters who remained, left. So, what happened, and how does this apply to the subject of this blog? First, let’s address the subject of the blog.

The #1 (and most dangerous) obstacle we face in school safety is our mindset. A mindset that makes us believe that it will never happen to us. A mindset that gets complacent after years of nothing happening. A mindset when we have done something to further our safety, we believe we are safe. A mindset that allows us to say the following: This is my job; we have met all of the mandated protocols and don’t have to do anything else; we are safe!

You see, this mindset was what I was dealing with during the riot. Even though we had trained for years to respond to civil unrest (a riot), we got to a point where we just didn’t believe it would happen. The sad part is that we could have dealt with this more effectively had we just changed our mindset. Like many of our schools, we trained how to respond to riots and were initially doing a fantastic job. However, those charged with the leadership and management of this situation had not prepared in the same manner. Their mindset was that they never thought we would actually have a riot; they were unprepared, stumbled, and failed.

The proper mindset can account for many gaps in your safety and security plan. An improper mindset can generate gaps you thought had been filled. As of today, there is no amount of technology or security solutions that can solve the gaps created by the wrong mindset. Remember the 3 Pillars of School Safety: Policies, People, and Systems. While you need all three to have a strong safety and security program, people with the proper mindset can make all the difference between success and failure during an emergency.

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