By: Wayne Alder
Parkland Florida is my home. For thirteen years, my wife and I have raised our family in this small town. This is where our autistic son participated in various special needs programs and fishing derbies. Our daughter graduated from one of Parkland’s outstanding public elementary schools, and is currently enrolled in the middle school, Westglades, which is only a soccer field away from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School – the scene of Wednesday’s murder of 17 students and staff.
For the past three years I have been a member of Parkland’s Education Advisory Board, which acts as a fact finder for Parkland’s City Commission on issues related to the schools in the Parkland. I know and love Parkland, and all its schools. These facts do not make my heart break for the loss of these precious lives any more than anyone else. What breaks my heart, perhaps even more, is knowing that this week’s killings could, and should have been prevented.
I will set aside the arguments, both pro and con, on gun control, for others to debate. However, these senseless killings do demonstrate need to better control two different, but related matters: 1. Control of the campus, and: 2. Control of information.
The first issue relating to “control” is control of the educational campus though a concept known as “single point of entry.“ Single point of entry is just what it sounds like a single choke point through which all access to a school must be made. This is done with the use of physical barriers and effective perimeter fencing, preventing access to a school’s interior from any point but the single point of entry.
Over the past three years I, and the advisory board, continuously sought information from the Broward County School Board on this issue, and pushed for single point of entry implementation in our schools. In 2014 Broward County voters approved an $800 million bond for school improvements. Chief among the promises made by the Broward County School Board in pushing for the bond’s approval were improvements to Broward’s single point of entry protection. However, as of last year, 100 of the 238 schools in Broward County still needed field visits to determine what was needed to accomplish single point of entry, let alone complete the necessary modifications to make it a reality.
Although some improvements had been made to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High school, large sections of perimeter fencing remained missing, and other necessary improvements remained unfinished for effective single point of entry. Although a final determination remains to be made, it is undeniable that the murderer gained access to the interior buildings of Marjory Stoneman Douglas unimpeded. This is a failure of perimeter control and a failure of the Broward County School Board to implement single point of entry.
Actual, structurally effective, single point of entry is a base-line all schools in this County, and indeed the County as a whole, must have. Although single point of entry is a vital component, it is not enough alone. The structural effectiveness of single point of entry must be coupled with an armed security officer stationed at this entry point while students are present on the campus. Armed security personnel at the Single Point of Entry could be comprised of retired military or police, who are trained in entry security protocols. Such a team could quickly and easily be staffed and managed.
And what of the cost? We post armed guards in our banks, but why not our schools? Do we value our money more than our children? I pray that this is not the truth. From a purely economic viewpoint, the cost of many years for such armed guards would be far less than what Broward County is now paying in the aftermath of this heinous act of murder.
Any argument that such an armed guard stationed at entrances will “chill” free expression, or otherwise make the campus into a police state, are unpersuasive. Armed resource officers, which are local police or sheriffs have been in our schools for years, and are generally highly regarded and become part of the school’s community. Rather than chill the atmosphere, armed personal stationed at the entry of our schools will allow the student body to go about their day with confidence, knowing they are protected and valued by their community. Also, this sends an unmistakable signal to every evil-doer that they will be met with immediate lethal force if they attempt an attack on our schools.
While the existing resource officers we have in our schools are important components to overall school safety, they clearly are not the answer alone. By their very nature, resource officers are required to roam the school, and are often involved with traffic issues. Marjory Stoneman Douglas High has an excellent resource officers, which the town helps fund. However, at this time we see no evidence that Douglas’ resource officer ever engaged the murderer. Likely the Douglas’ resource officer was not anywhere near the killer’s point of entry to the school.
The second element of control I believe necessary is no less significant: the control over information. In the case of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School’s killer, control over information clearly failed.
It is reported that Marjory Stoneman Douglas expelled this individual, as did other local schools. It is further reported that the School’s administration determined this individual was a threat, and not allowed on campus. Yet, he walked into the school. Somewhere a breakdown occurred. Either the information on this individual was not adequately distributed, or as I strongly suspect, he gained access through open portals in the school. An armed guard at an effective Single Point Of Entry, that is in possession of information on prohibited individuals, is critical to protect our schools. Airports screen millions of people a year, a school can screen for a few individuals who are classified as a known threats to each school. We can and must do this.
Our tragedy highlights further failures to properly control information. It is widely reported that last year this monster posted on social media that he was going to “be a professional school shooter.” It is similarly reported that this information had been transmitted to the Federal Bureau of Investigations, yet no action was taken. It has been further reported that an informer reported to the FBI that he was making threats to attack a school. The FBI acknowledged that they failed to take the appropriate action. These failures of information control are inexcusable, and those responsible must be removed.
Any threat to a school is a crime, and it must be treated as such. This is not an infringement of free speech, as the threat to kill or do bodily injury is a felony. We can only speculate why the FBI never acted on this information, or if it was transmitted to the Broward Sheriffs.
Moreover, it is reported that the administrators at Marjory Stoneman Douglas recommended in January 2017 that the Broward County School Board conduct a “threat assessment” on the killer. It is undetermined at this time what, if anything was done. Even more distressing is the report that the police were called to this individual’s home dozens of times over the last years. Yet, this information was never matched with the other warning signs from the school and the FBI to address the growing threat. It is not enough to only question if the appropriate action had been taken last year, could the horror we now face have been prevented- we must demand better, and hold those accountable for these failures, so that it does not happen again.
Control of information related to threats must be managed with timely efficacy, and governmental bodies must co-ordinate information so that all threats are prosecuted, and given the full force of enforcement under the law to deter the hoaxer, and stop the killer.
Unfortunately, there is no panacea to the problem of school shootings, and these protocols alone cannot guarantee safety. Attention needs to be given to a wide spectrum of other issues and failures from mental health support, to the effects of pharmaceuticals on youth, and far beyond. We know that evil will always exist, and seek a way, through its demented methods and means, to carry out its sick and twisted desires. But I firmly believe these actions, when coupled with sound security practices, offer our best hope for preventing future nightmares for our children, teachers, and staff. No magic wand exists. No single law will stop a school shooting, and we should not be lulled by our politicians or leaders into believing that any single law passed by congress or the state-house will stop the killing. When they make such a claims, they do so only to cover their own tracks for their demonstrated failures. But action is required. Real action, that goes beyond any single law or rule.
As President Trump appropriately noted in his address to the nation Thursday, “It is not enough to simply take actions that make us feel like we are making a difference. We must actually make that difference.” We owe the 17 members of my beloved town that died this, to give some meaning to their inexcusable deaths.
A Parkland resident of 13 years, Wayne Alder sits on the Parkland Educational Advisory Board and is a litigation attorney with Kaufman Dolowich Voluck.
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