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Schools are adding strategies to respond to shootings

As school shootings continue to increase, so do the precautions taken by school districts and college campuses.
Posted at 6:43 AM, Feb 15, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-15 09:26:43-05

Nearly five years to the day after a gunman entered Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida and killed 17 people, a gunman on Michigan State University’s campus shot and killed three students and injured five more.   

"The guys were telling us to run out the back doors as quick as we can and run for our lives," said an MSU student. 

As school shootings continue to increase, so do the precautions taken by school districts and college campuses. One of the most common reforms over the last 20 years are lockdown drills. 

Jaclyn Schildkraut is a criminal justice professor who has conducted more than 500 lockdown trainings since 2018.   

"We know from the data that lockdown drills save lives when they're translated into real-world use," Schildkraut said. 

According to the Department of Education, during the 2015-16 school year, 95% of American public schools held lockdown drills.  

Many of the students at Michigan State grew up with these drills and knew the training.  

"Myself and a few others that were with me, we took heavy furniture from around the library and just essentially barricaded ourselves into a study room to make sure we were safe," said Graham Diedrich, a grad student at MSU. 

"What we're trying to do is build muscle memory, which means that if we find ourselves in stressful situations, like an active shooter event, that even when our cognitive functioning or our thinking is impaired, our body will still take over and do what it's trained to do," Schildkraut said. 

Some studies argue there’s a harmful mental toll these drills take on students, but Schildkraut says the benefits outweigh the potential harm.  

"It's not always about what you do, but how you do it — are the drills that people are being subjected to being done in a trauma-informed approach?" Schildkraut said.

That means clearly identifying the action as a drill and not using "sensorial techniques" like crisis actors or gunshot sounds. It also means giving students and staff time before and after drills to decompress and ask questions.  

Along with drills for students, school staff and local law enforcement have implemented other strategies to prepare for an active shooter.  

One of the most important is an emergency notification system that is prepared for the kind of heavy communications traffic that happens during these emergencies.  

"You have a very large student body and staff population, that you have to get a lot of information out to in a really short amount of time. A 'multimodal system' — so you're basically with the press of a button transmitting information out through a number of channels," Schildkraut said. 

During the Michigan State shooting, the first 911 call was made at 8:18 p.m., and a "run, hide, fight" emergency alert was sent out to the entire student body by 8:31 p.m.

Many schools and universities have also created behavioral threat assessment teams that monitor social media and other communications to prevent these mass tragedies in the first place. 

Marisa Randazzo heads one of these teams for Georgetown University.  

"If someone makes a threat, they say something that sounds scary, they put something in a homework assignment, they post something on social media that raises fear, raises concern," Randazzo said. "We often see these mass attacks as really sort of very public suicides with a really high casualty account. We have a lot of great tools to help someone who's actively suicidal. And we can use that knowledge and those tools to help prevent violence to other people as well."

Michigan State has its own behavioral threat assessment team, but police say the man who has been identified as the shooter has no known affiliation to the university. 

According to Education Week, more than 100 people have been killed and 281 have been injured in school shootings since 2018. 

Last year had the most school shootings on record, with 100 people shot on school campuses and 40 people killed.