Officials can turn a school into an armed camp, in an effort to make it safer, with metal detectors, bulletproof glass, armed guards and armed teachers. Or they can take a different approach.
They can promote good basic building security measures for access and corridor control. They can train faculty and staff to embrace the post-9/11 mantra: If you see something, say something. They can make smaller-scale changes that are easier to implement and pay for, such as more security cameras and, importantly, help for troubled students.
This approach was put forward by Cleveland-based security consultant Ken Trump at a recent meeting of the governor's Sandy Hook Advisory Commission, and it makes sense.
The commission is a 16-member panel of experts appointed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy after the horrific school shootings that took 26 lives at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown on Dec. 14. The commission's charge is to study measures to improve school security, mental health services and gun violence prevention.
The commission's preliminary report in March focused on gun safety. Members wanted to have recommendations ready for the General Assembly session, and did. They influenced the major gun-control legislation enacted in April. They felt able to do this because while gun safety was the most controversial of the commission's areas of interest, it was in many ways the least complicated. For example, most people this side of Congress understand that background checks for everyone buying guns is a good idea.
A few critics charged that the commission was only interested in gun control. That is patently not the case.
While awaiting, with the rest of us, the September release of the police report on the massacre, members are turning their attention to mental health services and school security. It's good that this has taken some time; Connecticut avoided the panicked response seen in a few parts of the country of arming teachers, which is a potentially greater risk than the one it is supposed to prevent.
Far better is the common-sense thrust of Mr. Trump and others.
Newtown may have been the first school shooting in which the assailant attacked the building to get in; the others have come from people already in the building. So train staff to look for the unusual and out-of-place, and report it. Have security drills; make sure there is a process for responding to the people who say something.
Make changes to the building — perhaps double doors — if it is being renovated, but don't incur significant expenses for things that might not protect students as well as money spent on psychiatrists and resource officers. Don't start programs you can't pay for in two years.
There is no perfect security system. It's very difficult, if not impossible, to stop an attacker who is willing to die. So what is needed are layers of security to slow down an assailant and give authorities time to respond, said former Hartford and state police chief Bernard Sullivan, one of two co-chairmen of the commission.
Hamden Mayor Scott Jackson, the other co-chairman, said he hopes to have the final report done by the end of the year, but said that deadline "may be ambitious." He feels he needs the police report, and its release has been delayed a couple of times. He would also like to look at the effects of violent media and entertainment on children. And he acknowledges that improving mental health services for young people who need them may be the commission's toughest challenge.
"To create an effective delivery system — that is some heavy lifting," he said. He's right.