School administrators can take simple steps to keep students safe, measures that can prevent a tragedy like the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting from happening again.
Those in education and law enforcement can work together to ensure simple —and in some instances zero-cost — safety measures are in place. That could have prevented shooter Adam Lanza from killing 26 at the Connecticut school in December, said Dale Yaeger, CEO of security consulting firm Seraph in Toms River Monday.
"I get tired of hearing excuses," he told a room of about 40 education representatives from 20 New Jersey school districts. "Things are preventable. You just have to put the right training in place, the right policies and be good at managing people."
Had school administrators shared with police information Lanza's altercation with staff in the days before the shooting, authorities could have investigated the 20-year-old's "dysfunctional" family and put a police presence at the school. That, along with simply sending a security staff member on routine perimeter scans, could have saved lives, Yeager said.
Speakers, including representatives from the New Jersey Department of Education and safety firms, spoke about enhancing school security.
"We've found that with people, business owners, school districts — there's so much information out there that we wanted to bring it all in one place," said Kathy Early Cauldren, CEO of event organizer KT's Office Services. "We hope that we can give them the backbone to start looking at their school security differently."
Deborah Bleisnick, school safety and security planner with the state Department of Education, told those at the meeting that New Jersey has been proactive to combat school violence, especially since the early 2000s. After an incident like Sandy Hook, it is especially important to maintain an ongoing dialog of ways to improve.
"We want to keep talking about this before something else happens," she said.
But with school districts possessing different cultures and population sizes, no one solution will work everywhere. That's why sharing information is important, according to Steve Cina, director of marketing for event co-host A+ Technology and Security Solutions.
"You have to understand which solutions work in the best environments. Not every school is the same," he said.
"As a whole, the culture has been on the reactive side for the past 10 years," Cina said. "And unfortunately, after Sandy Hook, the question is more how can we prepare from the preventative perspective."
Speakers also encouraged leaders to become proactive and face issues that may be unknown. Administrators should ask themselves one question — "What don't I know about?" — as the answer could help to prevent violence, Yeager said.
"That's the only question you can ask and answer of yourselves," he said. "What don't we know about and what's the formal process to figure it out."
Sharing ideas among school districts, emergency personnel and the community is crucial to staying prepared. Toms River Schools — which sent security representatives to the Monday forum — has held its own safety discussions including administrators, staff, police and members of the public. Safety recommendations are expected to be given to the township's Board of Education at its March meeting.
"We're hoping it opens up dialogs and lets everyone share ideas," Cauldren said.
"This is not about selling product or pushing a way or solution, this is about sharing experience," Cina said.