Bad things sometimes happen at schools. This was the case at Northern California’s Rancho Tehama Elementary School on the morning of November 14, 2017. A killer armed with an assault rifle, two hand guns, and a lot of ammunition crashed his stolen pickup truck through the bus gate on the school’s perimeter fence. He’d already shot and killed some of his neighbors in the nearby Rancho Tehama Reserve. Police were on their way by the time the killer intentionally crashed the truck through the gate, so he had nothing to lose at that point. He knew he was going to die that day, but he made the decision to kill innocent children inside the school before he did. We’ve seen this before, and we’ll see it again.
The pickup truck was the killers primary weapon when he got to the school, but infrastructure target hardening in the form of perimeter fencing prevented him from driving all the way onto the campus. Like we’ve seen with other recent vehicle attacks, the killer exited the truck and went to his secondary weapon, which in this case was his assault rifle. The killer began spraying the school with deadly rounds, firing through classroom windows in an attempt to kill students and staff hiding inside the school. Video from the school’s exterior cameras show the killer trying several times to get inside of the school to continue his deadly rampage, but he couldn’t gain entry because the school was in lockdown. The killer became frustrated with his attempts to get inside the school, and he was walking away when some brave law enforcement officers showed up and did what they were trained to do. The killer died that day, but he never got inside the school.
Fire Marshalls play an important role in keeping our society safe from potential dangers associated with fire hazards. But the question that needs to be asked is when does their enforcement of some antiquated fire codes become detrimental to school safety instead of enhancing it? I’m referring here to enforcement of fire codes that are left up to the interpretation of the fire marshall when it comes to door security enhancement during school lockdowns.
Shortly after the Sandy Hook School massacres in December of 2012, the Department of Homeland Security recommended enhancing door security in schools. The recommendation was based on the fact that the children and two teachers who were killed in the attack died behind two unlocked classroom doors. The DHS recommendation was that any classroom door that could not be locked from the inside without opening the door and without using a key should be enhanced. Loss of fine motor skills during an attack can prevent someone from locking a door, even if they have the key in their hand. We saw this happen in Sandy Hook. DHS recommended barricading doors with heavy furniture as a last ditch effort to enhance door security in a lockdown due to a violent attack. The photo above of the door barricaded with chairs is a training photo. This door opens outward, so the barricade would not be effective. The other photo is an actual door barricade used by college students during the June 1, 2016 UCLA shootings. Even if these barricading systems worked, would the first graders in Sandy Hook have been able to erect them in the short time it took the killer to enter the unlocked door to their classroom? That question answers itself.
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