Preparation is only protection against mass tragedies
With over 10,000 students and teachers, the Warwick Public School district is a massive undertaking when it comes to keeping everyone safe and secure in an increasingly tense period of time where school shootings are, unfortunately, in the back of everybody’s minds.
However, the sad fact that such horrific incidents are at the back of students’, teachers’ and administrators’ minds may actually help prevent such a tragedy from occurring in Warwick. While worrying should not be the goal, preparation must be. This can unfortunately happen anywhere – regardless of how robust your gun laws are. All of which can be controlled and prepared for, must be done so.
Warwick, unlike any other community in Rhode Island, is ahead of the curve in setting up an interconnected system called Mutual Link, which enables all teachers in all of the schools, staff at Kent Hospital and even the Warwick Mall to instantly patch first responders into their camera and communication systems to provide up-to-the-second updates on what is going on – whether a fire has broken out or an active shooting situation has begun.
Readiness does not only come through physical means such as communication systems or making sure all doors lock properly and can’t be accessed by just anybody – preparation is also mental. Establishing clear protocols about what to do when a crisis begins, who is responsible for what task, and then practicing those protocols is what will be the difference between experiencing chaos expected to accompany a crisis and massive, disorganized chaos that can result in even higher death totals.
Inside the four secondary elementary schools in Warwick are trained members of the Warwick Police Department who are dedicated to working within the schools. These school resource officers would be the first line of defense in the instance of a school shooting, and they are also responsible for instilling the proper training protocols into the student body.
That protocol is the “run, hide, fight” protocol that instructs individuals experiencing an active shooter or other type of dangerous threat to flee, first and foremost, if possible. If running isn’t possible, students and staff should barricade themselves in safe hiding spaces and block entry points to “harden their defense.” The last resort, which nobody ever hopes to have to resort to, is to fight the assailant if you have no other options.
The argument could be made that each of the high schools, which both have more than 1,000 students and staff (about 1,500 in Pilgrim’s case), could benefit from one additional school resource officer. The schools are both massive buildings, so it is not out of the question to inquire about such a possibility. It would be up to the school administration and school committee to find the funding, however.
The other hypothetical “fixes” floating around in the public consciousness are beyond this publication to take a stand on. Arming a few select teachers who already have training with guns – if their status as being armed was properly communicated to all police personnel – could potentially have some merit. However the opposite argument, that adding more guns to school is just a recipe for more disaster and could muddy the waters for first responders coming on scene have equal weight. There is no black and white answer there.
The same goes for metal detectors. While the benefits of metal detectors seem obvious, what would prevent a mad gunman from simply firing a gun into a line of students waiting in a queue to go through the metal detector?
Neither of those solutions deal with the problem directly, either, but merely try to react to a situation where mentally unstable individuals are bringing firearms into places where they have only one goal – to hurt as many innocent people as possible before dying themselves.
The only way to prevent these tragedies from occurring in the first place is by being more aware as family members, as neighbors and as community members. If somebody appears to be trending in a troubling direction, intervene and see if they need help. If you see a threatening Facebook post, report it. In essentially every mass shooting, there has been somebody who might have been able to prevent the atrocity had they been more proactive in intervening.
In the case of emergency personnel, preparing for the worst is at the very forefront of their daily operations. Colonel Stephen McCartney, a veteran of two wars, leads with a steady, calming presence at the head of a robust department full of crisis interventionists ready to charge into a deadly situation with their own solitary goal in mind – assess and neutralize the threat.
Even with a perfectly vigilant, caring community, a robustly prepared school district and brave, dedicated emergency personnel, there still may be no way to ensure that a tragedy doesn’t happen anyways. However being prepared and vigilant will drastically reduce the likelihood, and that’s better than simply praying tragedy never strikes close to home.