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School Shooting Prevention: Start with a Site Assessment

Mar 26, 2024 | Public | 0 comments

person with gun in front of building

Facility managers play key role in preparation process to keep building occupants safe

An image sitting on Jason Russell’s desk makes the point. Two jars are pictured, the first one representing the security budget before a school shooting and the second one the budget afterward. The first jar is empty, the second overflowing with money.

Isn’t that how it usually goes? There is an outpouring of concern — and funding — after a tragedy has claimed lives and forever changed a community. Sadly, by then it’s too late.

“There’s a lot of chasing,” says Russell, a former Secret Service agent with extensive experience in law enforcement. “Everyone is chasing the last emergency, as if the next one will be just like it.”

It won’t be, of course, and that’s where Russell comes in. The Michigan-based company he founded, Secure Environment Consultants, works with schools and businesses to create safer environments through site assessments, emergency preparedness planning and critical incident response training.

The company’s formation came from Russell’s reaction to the Sandy Hook school shooting on Dec. 14, 2012. His daughter, now in high school, was approximately the same age as the 6- and 7-year-olds that were shot and killed that day in Newtown, Connecticut.

“I felt helpless,” Russell says of the tragedy. “You drop your kid off and assume they’ll be safe and that schools have everything in place. This showed me that maybe they don’t. The biggest thing was bringing a process to it.”

In 11 years, Russell and his team of 40 consultants have worked with public school districts from coast to coast, including 70 percent of those in Michigan. In November 2021, they were called to assist during a deadly shooting at a high school outside Detroit. In 2022, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer appointed Russell to the state’s School Safety and Mental Health Commission. He’s still on that panel.

Last year, his company performed about 2,000 school assessments. The work is both comprehensive and swift, taking about six weeks to get from a signed contract with a client to a final report.

Why hire a security consultant? Russell compares it to seeing a physician when you aren’t well. You wouldn’t go straight to the pharmacy. First you would be diagnosed, and then you’d receive a prescription. Secure Environment Consultants writes those prescriptions for schools.

A typical security assessment involves a wide-ranging discussion with school administration and staff, along with site visits, which can take up to half a day per building. Consultants include former agents for Homeland Security, the FBI and the military.

“We don’t make unilateral recommendations,” Russell says. “This isn’t a checklist. What we come up with needs to be actionable. We help put an action plan in place.”

The perspective of facility managers is essential to the process, particularly in evaluating access, because “they know the most about a building.” But securing buildings against bad actors isn’t always simple or one-size-fits-all.

“Most high school shootings are done by a student,” Russell says, “and that person is already in the building. Elementary schools are a little different.”

Generally, he gives schools decent grades on securing their campuses — “Active shooter situations are still very rare,” he notes — and he says his company isn’t pushing products on clients.

“We recommend what’s in their best interest,” he says. “A lot of consultants are an extension of a vendor strategy, and we’re not.

“Our process makes sense. We try not to overcomplicate safety, because overcomplicating doesn’t work in an emergency.”

By Doug Carroll, Contributing Writer

Doug Carroll is a freelance writer based in Chandler, Arizona.


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