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After every national tragedy, there is a ritual of engaging in security theater.  These take the form of we should have more security, we should have less guns, we should have more guns, we should find a scapegoat and send them out of town to die.

The problem with security theater is that it is simply a means to appease the angry masses and often is going to reduce overall security.  For instance, afte 9/11 some wanted pilots to carry guns.  This was just insane, a political opportunistic ploy.  The job of pilots is to fly the plane.  The security countermeasure is to keep the cockpit secure, not have the pilots gunning down innocent passengers.  In fact some airlines previously had secure cockpit, and this measure greatly reduced highjacking.  If there was a security failure of US airlines, it was that cockpits were not secure, and passengers were considered more valuable than those on the ground.

Then there are people who want fewer guns.  I have no problem with this, but what would it do.  If the mother had only two guns instead of the many she had, what would be different?  If she would have had none, sure, but who is going to make that happen.  

So we are left with real security, which cost real money and effects real lives.  This does not mean that real security cannot happen, but that real security requires a dedication to making a place more secure, not just making interested parties feel better.  In addition, real security has to fail gracefully.  On thing we see in school shooting after school shooting is that security tends to fail catastrophically.

What can we do? Well, a simple solution is to lock the classroom doors.  This is often frowned upon, if not prohibited.  Why?  Because teachers are not trusted to be alone with their students.  In the time it takes to unlock a door, it is assumed that the teacher will have time to stop doing whatever illicit or otherwise unfavorable act they presumably spend their days engaged in.  But if we want to minimize carnage, the better policy may be locked door.  Like any security, it is trade off between what does happen and what will happen.  In any case there are little windows on doors specifically placed there so that doors do not have to be open.

Police officers in schools need to be there only to detain students that are imminently going to hurt themselves or someone else, or to engage intruders.  Too often the police are used to intervene in situations that are administrator's responsibility.  A belligerent or uncooperative student is not a police matter.  Two students in a scuffle is not a police officer matter.  It is tempting to use the police officer for such things so that we utilize time that would otherwise be spent simply patrolling for intruders.  But think about what we would prefer in the real world.  For our police officers to be patrolling to minimize robberies and murders, or to be randomly stopping and frisking people on the street.

Emergency drills need to focus on the safety of the students.  This means evacuation, lockdown, or otherwise maximizing the safety of the students.  All too often these drills focus on minutiae that doesn't really have a lot to do with student safety.  For instance in a fire it doesn't matter if a light is left on or a door in unlocked.  What matters is getting kids out of the building.  In a lockdown it doesn't matter if the kids are quiet for 10 minutes.  If the administration does not have policies to control the situation immediately, kids are going to be in serious danger.  There should be no intruder plan that involves 10 minutes of free time for the suspect.

And this leads to how our security can fail gracefully.  Unfortunately this leads to money issue, convenience issues, and having hard discussions about measures that will work and measures that are so intrusive they will just be ignored.  Should we have automatic lockdowns all on all doors like we do on fire doors, which will automatically shut in an emergency?  Should we build a safe room in every classroom?  Should administrators wear alarms and 'dead man switches'.  Should we install gunshot detectors that will automatically detect and alert security personel.

It is not my intention of playing backseat driver to those who think about these issues seriously.  I have no expertise or basis to think that any of these will make anything more secure.  The people who think about these things have to make tradeoffs between idealized security, money, and implementation.  It is a hard and thankless job.  None of these things may have helped in the present tragedy. The only one responsible for that, as for all tragedy, is the person who thought the best way to solve a problem was to kill people.   However there is a bunch of stuff out there that is only focusing on guns, or only focusing on the high level security of the school, or only focusing on if this person or that person did their job.  It is my hope that as a nation we can reframe the discussion as an holistic idea of security, and security tradeoffs, and not have a situation where every child has to go through a full body scanner to enter school.  I know of few people who think metal detectors, for instance, are anything other than security theater.


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