Preparing for the Unthinkable: Active Shooters on Campus

Earlier this month, a tragedy unfolded at a high school in Spokane, Washington, when a gunman opened fire on campus, killing one student and wounding three others.

Spokane County Sheriff’s detectives report that the 15-year-old student accused of the violent crime had multiple guns, rounds of ammunition and a yearbook with the faces of select classmates marked out—court records suggest these were potential targets.

This horrific situation is hard to process, though numerous reports reveal that events like these are unfortunately not all that uncommon.

In fact, research shows that the rate of mass shootings in the U.S. has tripled since 2011. It is a harsh figure, but one that strikes at the heart of our campus communities.

The threat of an active shooter is unlike any other disaster a school may face. In these life or death situations, many lives are at risk within environments that are usually confined and concentrated—especially classrooms.

It’s the very reason campus communities need to prepare for these scenarios.

While no amount of training can predict what an active shooter will do, proper proactive measures can help your school reduce the potential for such an incident and better prepare and protect your campus community should the unthinkable happen.

Schools should focus on both the physical and psychological wellbeing of its campus community before an incident like this can occur. These efforts lead with prevention, and include sustaining positive school climates and addressing and preventing negative behaviors such as bullying.

For schools in need of guidance on this topic, there are a number of bullying and cyber bullying prevention resources found online, including those provided by StopBullying.govthe U.S. Department of Education and National Crime Prevention Council.

Beyond preventative measures against harassment and abuse, schools need to take into account those members of the campus community that might be dealing with issues like depression and stress that could stem from outside influences.

The Suicide Prevention Resource Center provides a number of resources addressing this topic, including toolkits for schools to help prevent suicide along with what actions to take if a suicide does occur.

Schools should also make concerted efforts to build support networks that go beyond the confines of a campus. This includes fostering solid relationships with community partners and emergency staff to ensure all efforts—whether preventative or responsive—are unified and coordinated.

Additionally, schools should invest the proper time in training and education that prepares for emergencies such as active shooters.

There are a number of online resources that cover this topic, including the SCN Homeland Security & Preparedness Training Center, which provides education and training on security awareness, workplace safety and risk management education.

Beyond the available resources schools can utilize, it is crucial that these preventive conversations occur openly and regularly with the appropriate members of your campus community.

Though the thought of an active shooter on your campus is horrible to imagine, that doesn’t mean your school is immune to the potential threat.

Actively reviewing, discussing and preparing for these types of situations before they can occur is a huge advantage for all of our campus communities—so keep the dialog going.


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About Bolton Education Practice Group

Bolton & Company's Education Practice Group is dedicated to the unique interests and needs of schools, colleges and universities across across the globe. With more than 30 years of experience in the education space, Bolton's EPG is committed to the long-term well-being and future of educational institutions.

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