The tragic mass shooting at The Convent School in Nashville, TN on March 27, once again demonstrated the random and devastating nature of gun violence.  Three children and three adult staff members lost their lives inside of a school – a place where students, staff and their families should feel safe.  The school was connected to a house of worship, Covenant Presbyterian Church.  

So many of our clients, particularly in large urban centers such as New York City, are schools co-located inside of houses of worship.  These buildings are often large and historic, rarely new construction, with multiple entrances and exits.  While it is imperative, there is an inherent tension between physical security and the open, welcoming nature of a house of worship.  Building entrances and visitor management are critical in meeting both goals.  Even if entrance doors are locked, glass that is not reinforced can provide easy access to an intruder with a weapon.  Large street facing windows raise similar concerns.

The Nashville assailant shot out the glass entrance doors to the building causing them to shatter and allowing her to enter through the open hole.  We saw a similar mode of entry at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, where a large window next to the entrance doors was shattered with a bullet allowing the assailant entry into the building.

Modern glass doors and large window panels are almost always made of tempered glass, meaning that when breached they break into small pebbles, protecting against sharp shards of glass.  Tempered glass however, makes entrance even easier for a determined shooter.

Ideally glass on entrance doors and perimeter walls should be bullet-resistant: laminated glass, treated with a polycarbonate shield, or at the very least heavy duty blast-resistant film.  Bullet resistant laminated glass (and there are many brands on the market some of which are made specifically for schools) will hold together when shattered. This glass is the most visually appealing (it looks like ordinary glass) and can usually fit into existing window and door frames.  

Laminated glass consists of multiple layers of glass held in place by polymer interlayers which keep the glass bonded even when breached.  Although laminated glass, depending on the specifications, may allow a bullet to pass through it, it will not shatter or come away thus allowing time for a school to activate its crisis response protocol and to summon first responders.  We have seen grades of laminated glass that will keep an intruder at bay for between 6 and 12 minutes.  As the average police response time is approximately 5 minutes, reinforcement at this level can save lives. 

On April 4th, more than 50 school districts across New York were targeted by mass “swatting” threats.  The April 4th incidents came less than a week after 36 New York schools received similar false threats.  These incidents arose in the immediate aftermath of the March 27th shooting at The Convent School in Nashville, TN which killed three adults and three 9-year-old students. 

“Swatting” refers to the act of making a false or “prank” call to emergency services with the goal of calling a large number of police officers to a specific location, such as a school. Typically, the swift response comes from a police tactical or SWAT team.  These incidents put students, staff and first responders in both physical and mental peril as lockdowns cause panic for many who experience the terrifying incidents.  Further, according to school officials, these calls and subsequent emergency response have caused lost learning time as well as lower rates of attendance.

Swatting incidents are not only occurring in New York, but across the country. The National Association of School Resource Officers reports that at least 40 states have experienced swatting incidents since the start of the school year.

Federal LawMakers have suggested additional funding for the FBI to assess, track and report these criminal incidents as attacks have become more sophisticated with callers using sound effects and technology to disguise their identity.  Currently, swatting calls are classified as misdemeanor crimes, however, several states are considering increasing the penalty for the dangerous acts.

Every call that is received by emergency services is treated as an active threat.  We advise our clients to activate their crisis response protocol in any situation where there is a potential threat.  Although these calls take a physical and emotional toll on first responders, they are prepared and trained to quickly assess the threat and mitigate the danger to students and staff inside the school.