Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting in Newtown, CT – Initial Thoughts

This post was co-authored by Chris Dorn.

Yesterday’s school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School is a tragic reminder that while school is still a safe place to be, there is always risk in any community.  Before looking for lessons learned from Sandy Hook Elementary, we need to wait for all of the facts to come in, but I’d like to review some of what we know about active shooter events and safe schools. 

In recent months we have seen these types of attacks take place in shopping malls, movie theaters, places of worship and a variety of other settings.  And school shootings have happened at schools in cities large and small in every region of the country except Hawaii.  While the homicide rate in schools has dropped significantly in recent years, active shooter situations and other campus attacks are clearly still a concern, with attacks even happening at Amish and reservation schools.

At the same time, I would like to note that school violence is not a uniquely American phenomenon.  Multiple victim or active shooter attacks have occurred almost anywhere in the world.  We have now seen similar massacres in Canada, Germany, Finland, Norway, Australia, Scotland, Russia, Israel, France, Brazil, Mexico and Vietnam among others.  Sharing the headlines with Sandy Hook Elementary Newtown, Connecticut today was a knife attack in China that left over 20 students and one adult injured.  Though a knife attack may not always be as deadly as a mass shooting, the results are still quite horrific and would shock any community.  And while there are differences in per capita homicide rates between countries, multiple victim shootings have happened in countries all over the spectrum when it comes to gun control

Schools should focus on good prevention and mitigation measures on a day to day basis, and often we see a little too much focus on the relatively rare risk of an active shooter situation, the utter horror of an incident like the attack at Sandy Hook Elementary School reminds us how important it is to be prepared for this type of incident.  With the proliferation of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), chemical agents and other weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) combined with the advancing complexity and number of victims of attackers in the Aurora, Norway and Virginia Tech attacks, we should also be prepared for even more lethal attacks.

There are a number of ways that schools can create safer campuses while fostering a sense of dignity, honor and respect for students.  By building this culture of safety and respect into a school, we can reduce the likelihood that incidents will happen and increase the chances of success when one does.  School safety is a broad topic, but we often find that by focusing on the little things we can have an overall sum effect that provides a basis for a safer school and a more effective response and recovery process.  With a thorough planning process, solid emergency procedures, training on how staff can respond to school violence and other crisis events along with well-thought out security technology and access control, a school is better poised to respond to any type of crisis situation, even those they never dreamed would happen. Our thoughts and prayers go out to those affected by the events at Sandy Hook and we wish them a safe and effective recovery.

Co-author info: Chris Dorn

About Michael Dorn

Michael Dorn serves as the Executive Director of Safe Havens International, a non-profit school safety center. The author of 27 books on school safety, Michael’s campus safety work has taken him to 11 countries over the past 34 years.