things in the way that would slow you down, like a planter or an obvious
door-lock system? Are there easily accessible secondary entrances that
would be easier to approach than the front door?
The easiest way to stop school shooters isn’t necessarily adding metal
detectors and visible video cameras. Putting yourself into a shooter’s shoes
can help determine where slight tweaks and details, like a handrail, can be
installed without students realizing it’s a safety mechanism.
“You want to have layers between someone who may be coming to the
school with ill intent and the vulnerable population,” McFadden said. “The
more opportunities or barriers gives you more time to react and determine
there is ill intent before they reach the target.”
Both McFadden and Ahrens suggest doing this by adding a welcome
vestibule where a majority of the school traffic enters and exits. One main
area where visitors and students can be easily assessed not only makes it
easier to ascertain any suspects but also deters violence in the first place
as shooters are more likely to give up if they think they won’t be successful.
“Any level of delay is going to be a deterrent factor,” Ahrens added.
McFadden noted that while this is difficult for urban schools, those in neighborhoods
that are more rural are able to create sight lines from the moment someone
enters the property.
By clearing any obstructions that may hinder sight lines and elongating
the driveway to the parking lot, then planning the parking lot a distance from
the entrance, more time is available to have several people watch someone
who is approaching.
At the new Sandy Hook Elementary School, there are various steps that
have to be taken prior to gaining access to the building, including cars having
to be buzzed in from the front office. The main goal is to increase the layers
and space between when someone arrives and enters the building to give
security and administration more time to ascertain if there’s a threat.
Once on the grounds, however, it’s still important for sight lines to be
reviewed: both to ensure that the suspect can be seen by others and to
provide spaces in which the shooter is unable to see their intended victims.
Ahrens noted that when in a frenzied state, the shooter will be looking for
simple targets, meaning they are less likely to try to get into a classroom if they
think it is empty. “If nobody is in there, it’s taking away valuable time, so he’s
going to go where he can see people,” he explained. “He may look into windows.
Make sure that when you design these rooms there are areas that are
obscured, like where all of the kids could huddle in a corner, and they would
be outside the sight line of the aggressor.”
If it isn’t possible to redesign where windows are located, products like
movable whiteboards and tables can provide shields for people to hide behind.
One of the simplest methods of designing classrooms for safety is something
teachers have likely been doing for decades: adding to the perimeter. “The walls
of schools today are just drywall,” Ahrens noted. “They offer zero protection.
Keep sight lines in mind to both
ensure that the suspect can be
seen by others and to provide
spaces in which the shooter is
unable to see intended victims.