Newtown massacre leads to security assessments nationwide

 

Washington, USA

For Lisa Betts and her husband, the conversation started Friday at their Silver Spring, Maryland home, not long after they heard about the massacre that claimed the lives of 20 children and six staff members at a Connecticut school. How safe, they wondered, was the school their two children attend?

They ticked off its safety practices: Doors are locked. There's a buzzer system for visitors. Students practice emergency drills. Video cameras are installed.

"I think it's forced all of us to look at the realities of the world we live in," Betts, the mother of a kindergartner and fourth-grader, said of the rampage in Newtown, Conn.

Across the region and the nation, similar questions about safety have become more urgent as parents find themselves looking at their schools in new ways after one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history.

As investigators continue to examine what motivated 20-year-old gunman Adam Lanza, safety experts agreed that school practices are uneven and that improvements may be needed in many districts.

Still, experts emphasized that preventing a tragedy like Newtown's is far more complex than installing locks or metal detectors.

"Turning our schools into fortresses is not going to solve the problem," said Dewey Cornell, a University of Virginia professor who studies school safety and cautions against solutions too specific to the Connecticut case.

Federal data show that the number of student homicides at schools has dropped.

President Barack Obama had discussions Monday with White House staff, the vice president and cabinet members, including Education Secretary Arne Duncan, to examine ways the country can respond to the tragedy, an individual with the administration said.

In communities far beyond Connecticut, school leaders sought to reassure parents and students, and police were posted outside many elementary schools.

At Armstrong Elementary School in Fairfax, Va., teacher Sharon Burns began circulating a petition asking for security doors on classrooms. In the District of Columbia, a parent of a student at Deal Middle School asked why her daughter had never participated in a lockdown drill.

Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell called for a review of safety practices at all of the state's schools and a series of other initiatives to examine such issues as funding, threat assessments and emergency plans.

"I don't think we need to throw away the playbook on school safety, but we need to make sure best practices are being implemented," said Kenneth Trump, a school security consultant.

Trump said the deep concern that prevailed immediately after the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School has diminished. "The conversation and the training that we have today is not at the same level of consistency and intensity," he said.

Michael Dorn, executive director of Safe Havens International, a nonprofit that has developed safety plans for thousands of schools, said districts are likely to feel pressure to upgrade security, as they did after Columbine and later at Virginia Tech.

"There's a shift from concern to panic, if you will, and you have parents pushing to do something to improve safety," Dorn said.

Access to schools is a central issue, Dorn said, noting that less than 10 percent of schools around the country have strong access control, with locked entries, buzzers, protective laminated glass and camera or intercom systems.

"We have school districts that are incredibly good at this stuff, impressive and advanced," Dorn said. "One district has a gun safe with a tactical gun and a police officer there all day. Other districts are way behind."

Another big issue is training, many experts agreed.

Dorn said that schools should more regularly drill for emergencies and that all adults in schools should be taught how to respond to a range of events, such as a "gunman at the school, a woman upset with a knife, someone yelling and screaming who appears mentally ill, a kid having an asthma attack. The more you practice a variety of crisis situations, the more you can appropriately match responses more quickly."

Mental health issues are a prevailing concern. Cornell, of U-Va., said that the majority of shootings are preceded by threats that someone knew about and that "threat assessments" help bring attention — and help — to serious cases.

Jon Vernick, co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research in Baltimore, said some schools may need safety upgrades, but "placing the burden just on the schools is not fair."

Schools can only be as safe as their communities, Vernick said, adding that he believes a major part of community safety involves effective gun policies. "Sadly, our federal and state gun laws are very porous," he said, "and they don't do the things we need to do to keep guns out of the hands of high risk people."

News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
Richard Dawkins dedicated his book 'The Greatest Show on Earth' to Josh Timonen
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Extras
indybest
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Travel
Dinosaurs Unleashed at the Eden Project
travel
Arts and Entertainment
music
Sport
football
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

£45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home