From time to time there are major events that occur that cause you to remember exactly what you were doing when the event happened. For me, the Sandy Hook shooting is one of those events. I was on a phone call with Mo Canady, Executive Director of the National School Resource Officers’ Association. During the conversation, Mo said he just got a news alert that there was a shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut. I remember saying that I hoped it was limited in scope, as it was probably a domestic violence situation, like most of the elementary school shooting events of the past. Unfortunately, I was very wrong.
In the immediate aftermath of Sandy Hook, what bothered me the most was that there were so many lethal casualties. Twenty-eight people were shot – but only two survived. That is just unbelievable… it still astounds me. As information about the event came to be known, it further concerned me that this school was doing so many of the protocols that they had been taught would keep them safe. However, many of these protocols were rendered useless or unattainable due to the circumstances of the event.
They had a secured perimeter which required getting buzzed-in, but it was breached by shooting out the glass windows. They had a communications plan, but it was not able to be initiated due the administrators being victimized. They had a “Lock the Door” plan, but most doors could not be locked because it required going into the hallway to lock the door – and the shooter was in the hallway. They had locations in the rooms to hide themselves and had practiced hiding, but he still found many of them. They had practiced evacuating to a Rally Point, but it was locked and closed at the time of the attack. They thought the police would respond in time, but the police could not.
While this was a grave tragedy, we cannot allow these victims to have died in vain. In the wake of this horrific event, there was a national turning point. The failures of a lockdown-only policy became apparent. And from that turning point, proactive, options-based response has now become the norm rather than the exception. The legacy of the Sandy Hook attack is that now, millions of people around the country are receiving training that is providing them the knowledge, authorization and empowerment to make their own informed survival decisions during a violent attack. We have moved passed the one-size-fits-all, mandated response. No longer are people of all ages being told to respond passively if God-forbid they are the target of an attack.
This widening of the footprint of proactive plans has lead to much better outcomes at many recent Violent Critical Incidents. Just this year, three schools that have been trained in ALICE (West Liberty-Salem, OH, Mattoon, IL and Rancho Tehama, CA) suffered school shooting events. These shooting events yielded results much more in line with what we would hope to see instead of the huge hit- and kill-rates we saw at Sandy Hook. These three schools had a combined casualty count of five wounded, and zero fatalities. There were also many other events in 2017, where citizens acting as their own first responder, acted in ways that greatly reduced casualty numbers. Unfortunately, there were also events were the victims still engaged in a passive and static response, and huge casualty numbers ensued.
So while there is still much work to do to create a prepared population, the event at Sandy Hook Elementary School has had a huge impact in mitigating bad outcomes. For this reason, I will remember the victims and have sadness at the cost of this tragedy. But I take solace in knowing that their tragic loss moved the needle, changing the nation’s collective mindset on preparation for violence; it has already saved lives and will continue to save lives in the future. This is the Sandy Hook legacy.