TechBeat Special Issue. Dedicated to Reporting Developments in Technology for Law Enforcement, Corrections and Forensic Sciences
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Shining the Light on School Safety

—Recent Events Sharpen Focus

By Kate Poindexter

"... And we know that the good guys came. The first responders who raced to the scene, helping to guide those in harm’s way to safety, and comfort those in need, holding at bay their own shock and trauma because they had a job to do, and others needed them more." —President Barack Obama, Dec. 16, 2012, at Sandy Hook Interfaith Prayer Vigil, Newtown High School, Newtown, Conn.

The quiet morning in the tranquil community of Newtown was shattered with gunfire at a local school. On December 14, a gunman shot and killed his mother in their home, then trained his guns on the nearby elementary school, killing 20 children, six adults and himself. Police and other first responders arrived on the scene in a matter of minutes and assisted the rest of the students and school employees, leading them out of the building. The scene was secured and the investigation began. How could this happen? What motivated the killer? How can we, as a nation, prevent this from happening again? These and other questions were raised and answers are still being sought.

"What we do know is that school administrators, police and emergency workers have been given many safety tools and tactics in the 15 years since Congress passed the Safe Schools Initiative in 1998," says Michael O’Shea, School Safety Program Manager for the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice. "In the years since, NIJ has joined with the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. Secret Service, and other government departments and agencies to answer the call to develop strategies, technologies and tools to boost school security."

In 2013, a new light is being focused on the issue as the President, Congress and other elected officials seek new and innovative ways to keep children and adults safe in school settings. Communities have also come together in the wake of Newtown to seek new solutions. There is much talk about how existing programs can be reinvigorated, what new technologies can be created and how training tools can be distributed to school resource officers (SROs), administrators and local police agencies. While the policy decisions are left to the elected officials, NIJ's National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center (NLECTC) will report on new tools and technologies. NLECTC offers this TechBeat Special Issue on School Safety to officers on the front lines in the hopes of helping to restore order, prevent future calamities and revive a sense of safe community.

Resources for the Good Guys

First responders require tools, training and technology to do their jobs effectively. Fortunately, they have a good storehouse from which to choose the appropriate resource for a particular situation. The Resources section lists professional associations, including the School Safety Advocacy Council and the National Association of School Resource Officers, along with federal government agencies, nonprofit organizations, publications and interactive products for the good guys to keep up the good work. This list will be edited and enhanced in the coming weeks and months.

Reporting Good News

This Special TechBeat issue on School Safety also includes stories about professionals who are using new tools and technology to keep schools and communities safe. Read about the Somerset, Ky., See-Hear-Report program, the Anne Arundel County (Md.) Police Department Speak Out app, NIJ’s School Critical Incident Planning-Generator (SCIP-G) tool, the NLECTC System video "It Can Happen Here," Tucson’s Mass Casualty Trauma Kits, the school substation program in Goodyear, Ariz., free online training from the International Association of Chiefs of Police, a free training video produced by schools and law enforcement in Gurnee, Ill., and a statewide training program for municipal workers in New Jersey. Learn about the various levels of the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Program offered by the ALERRT Training Center at Texas State University - San Marcos, a training program for school bus drivers, also in Maryland’s Anne Arundel County, a new emergency alert software in use in Sweetwater, Texas and how the Albemarle County (Va.) Police Department learned about and applied Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) principles. An article and a link to a video tell you about a brand-new  alert system technology placed into use through the efforts of the sheriff’s office in Jackson County, Ore.

There are daily news reports of school violence, bullying, weapons and other threats to children and adults. NLECTC doesn’t have all the answers, but we are willing to keep looking for them and posting what we find. Please ask your colleagues to read this Special Issue here on JUSTNET and come back to it often for updates and news bulletins. We invite you to contact us with new information that you may come across in the field. Send an email to asknlectc@justnet.org if you have a success story that you would like our writers to tell. We want school personnel, children and communities to know that the good guys are on the job and real progress is being made. Armed with this information, they may begin to feel a measure of safety again.