Well-intentioned but emotional reactions that are driving large numbers of smart, well-educated and experienced people to overemphasize mass casualty school shootings. This deadly overemphasis has been resulting in preventable deaths in our schools since the mid 1990’s.
The utterly shocking scale of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School has intensified this deadly phenomenon. As school children continue to die in significant numbers from lightning strikes, most schools still do not purchase $300 lightning strike detectors that could prevent many of these deaths. We lose roughly the same number of children each year in fatal playground accidents as were killed in our third most deadly school attack at Sandy Hook Elementary School. As a result, schools are expending considerable amounts of time and money training staff in concepts that have often not been validated by external review for threats that are extremely rare though catastrophic.
While the media focuses intently on mass casualty acts of violence, the far more common tragedies that claim many young lives go quietly unnoticed. While we expend millions of dollars on concepts which are not only as of yet not proven to work, and which very well may prove to increase danger, we often ignore free and low-cost approaches that have demonstrated success.
For example, thousands of school teachers attend two-day training programs on active shooter response that has never been validated, while they are not provided training in research-based de-escalation techniques. Similarly, school systems purchase millions of dollars in security camera technology only to have security camera footage provide evidence in civil actions that staff have not been properly trained in simple techniques to improve student supervision that would prevent the very incidents recorded by the cameras.
School safety efforts should be driven by careful evaluation rather than speculation. While active shooter incidents do occur with enough frequency to demand our attention, more school children die from other causes which should also demand appropriate attention. I in no way intend to imply that proven measures should not be employed to address active shooter incidents in schools. However, far too many preventable deaths in our schools when we focus on rare but catastrophic events while ignoring more common lethal events that we could easily prevent.