Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School - Unprepared & Overwhelmed

 

 

 

 

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Analyzing the events that unfolded during the 2018 Parkland, Florida shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School reveals critical lessons to be learned that can help school administrators be better prepared to respond to emergencies. Watch as Dan Cottner, School Safety and Security Program Manager at Abilene ISD, dissects the incident and shares vital lessons and best practices to help your district become more prepared.

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Let me extend a welcome to everyone attending and thank you very much for making the time to join us today. I am extremely excited to introduce our presenter today, Daniel Cottner, brings in unparalleled insight into the school safety and security implementation. He brings over 24 years of service with the FBI as a special agent. Dan has become a leading voice in school safety and security, implementing programs and developing protocols to protect our students. Dan is a seasoned investigator with security operations experience at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. He's also had service abroad at the Baghdad operations center in Iraq, as well as security and safety challenges in public education. I had the opportunity to hear Dan present at the AASA National Conference on Education earlier this year and I can say firsthand what he will be talking about today is both powerful, riveting, and also full of lessons that school leaders should be able to benefit from. Dan, I'm going to turn it over to you.

Welcome everybody. Today we are going to discuss the tragic events at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida where we had a lone gunman take on the school, kill 17 students and injure 17 more. The tragedy could have been avoided as you'll see during the presentation by a few simple steps. What happened? What happened that day? Let me set the stage. We have a student that has been expelled. He is known to the folks at the school including the personnel that work security to be a threat. They call him the crazy boy and he was voted most likely to shoot up the campus if anyone was ever going to do that.

What we're going to find out is that this school, in fact the district, was not prepared for this event at all. We have learned through the post study that they did not practice a lockdown or an active shooter drill and they had no effective way to communicate during an emergency. To further set the stage, the school uses their support staff, their coaches that are not on duty in their classroom assignments to act as hall monitors. These monitors were issued campus radios, as well as their own cell phones. What we're going to see here is that the shooter arrives that day and is not challenged. One of the school monitors sees a student get dropped off by an Uber in front of the school. It's almost 2:30, that's when classes are released so the gates are opened. He arrives and has what he looks to be carrying some type of large bag. The campus monitor, which is Coach Medina, gets on the radio and calls in a sign to his co-worker in building 12 and says hey, the crazy boy is here, it looks like he's got a gun bag. While the campus monitor, this Medina fella, is on the golf cart. He can initiate contact with the shooter but he does not. All he does is get on the radio and says, hey this kid is coming into your building, it looks like he's got a gun bag.

This was the first of many opportunities for the staff could have mitigated this threat. There was an SRO on campus. They could have used the radios to call the SRO, he gotten on the phone and called 911 because this student had been expelled, it's an arrestable offense. He saw what appeared to be a gun bag but he did nothing other to warn the other fellow that he's coming in his building. This image depicts the second hall monitor which would be Coach Taylor, and then you'll see the shooter which I won't mention his name. Coach Taylor sees the shooter. He sees the gun bag, but instead of calling for help he turns around and flees. This was the second opportunity to call for help. Taylor's got a radio and he's got a cell phone again, but not calling for help or assistance. Nobody has notified law enforcement.

Seven seconds after being seen in building 12 you can see he's cruise entering there. In the video you should be able to see him coming in the room there. What happens here is another innocent student is walking down the hallway and he comes into the stairwell and discovers the shooter. You'll see the shooter gives him a warning, says things are going to get messy here and tells him to get out. The shooter comes out shooting. Okay? What the student does is the student takes the appropriate action and he gets outside and tracks down a coach and tells him, hey there's a guy in the hallway with a gun. Now the coach is given this information and yes, he's a hero, he ends up dying in this tragedy but the coach does not use his cell phone to call for 911. He goes in the building to check things out and later was killed. The only person that's acted in a way or a manner to mitigate this situation is the student. He's the only who's passing information along.

The campus monitor who saw Cruz come in on the second floor now takes off. He runs up the stairwell and that's where he hides in a janitors closet for about 45 minutes. He has, and I'm talking about Taylor, he has a cell phone and radio and he's in that closet for 45 minutes and never calls for help. Okay? The shooter arrives at 2:21, he does not charge his weapon and come out shooting for almost two minutes. In that time he could have been confronted and perhaps disarmed but nobody has taken the action yet to notify anyone outside the school for help. You can see this was the fourth opportunity where we could have called for outside help or to notify the people in the building what's going on. Right now the shooter is prepared to ambush people inside that building. There's three stories. As we're going to see unfortunately here in a moment the students and staff on the first floor are ambushed. They have no warning about what's to come.

Once this shooter starts shooting the only person to take the appropriate action again is a student. This is almost a minute into the shooting, who calls the Coral Springs police department to tell them that there's a shooter inside the school. Now the school is located actually in Parkland but their 911 calls goes to Coral Springs, which is a neighboring municipality. You further complicate things, the Coral Springs dispatcher has to call the sheriff's office in Brower County to let them know what's going on. This is being a further delay. As we know through most of these case studies, the killing is actually over within three to five minutes, and you're going to see in this instance it's over pretty quickly. The most important thing to take out of this right now is that nobody in a position of authority has taken any steps to notify law enforcement or to alert the, while poor maybe, students or staff in that building. Everybody is running for cover or getting out of the way.

When he starts shooting gasses emit from the assault weapon, there's debris in the air and it sets off the smoke alarms. When the smoke alarms go off there's confusion, you can't hear anything. At some point in time someone at the school activates what they call a code red where they get an audible alert and they have never practiced a drill. Most of the teachers there don't know what code red is and they can't hear it. But the siren's going off and the gunshots and the mayhem, it's utter confusion. Now the school resource officer on duty hears the shots and he calls into dispatch and tells them he hears something, maybe possible firecrackers but they're also possibly gunshots. I don't know about you, I don't remember the last time anybody set off firecrackers in a school. It just doesn't happen. If it sounds like gunshots, it's probably going to be a gunshot. Unfortunately the law enforcement officer or the school resource officer on duty at this time does not take appropriate action either.

Okay here's the schematic of the first floor and we'll go from right to left. The shooter comes in, as you can see, he goes into the stairwell. That's where he charges his weapon. Remember it takes him almost two minutes to do this and then he proceeds throughout the first floor. He never enters a classroom and these folks are ambushed. You can see the color code with red and the yellow mean. A number folks are trapped outside and they're killed in the hallway, the rest of them are shot through the glass enclosures on the doors. He never enters a classroom.

On the left hand side you will see where Aaron Feis, the coach who is notified by the first student about the shooter, when he comes in he's killed. The athletic director Chris Hixon was also killed. Both these guys are heroes. Yes, they confronted evil head on but at the same time we failed to take action to notify our students and staff what's going on. There's utter confusion here. It kills 11 and wounds 13 on the first floor in three minutes and 23 seconds. The average response time, we can see that these campuses by law enforcement is over three minutes. Now that average response time that means how long it takes for a unit to get to your building. Okay? A place like this if you're not familiar with the campus it's going to take you awhile to find the right building and then you've got to be able to enter tactically and safely to try to mitigate the threat. We're talking about several minutes here. In the meantime, students and staff need to be made aware of what's going on. They need to know what the threat is and where it's at. In this particular instance, these folks on the first floor are ambushed. There's carnage everywhere.

He proceeds up on to the second floor. There's not one person that was injured on the second floor, and this is why. The folks, students on the second floor could hear the gunshots. They took the action necessary to protect themselves. They either avoided the shooter by going down the stairwell and fleeing or they went into the deny or lockdown mode. As the shooter proceeded down the hallway he could not find a target. He did shoot through a couple walls, but he did not hit anybody. The folks on the second floor thanks to their own understanding of the situation took appropriate action.

This is the scene on the third floor. As we spoke about earlier, the fire alarms went off. What happens when fire alarms go off? We evacuate, correctly? This is the scene in that hallway moments before the shooter came up. Teachers soon realize that there is a shooter in the building and they try their best to protect these students. Most of them get in classrooms, however approximately 20 students are stranded outside in the hallway. What I have failed to mention to you right now is that the school had a problem with things going awry in the bathrooms on the first and third floor so they locked those restrooms and forced everybody to get on the second floor. If you were on the first or third floor and you wanted to hide in the restroom you could not get inside. You were stuck either in the hallway or trying to get into a classroom.

Okay so approximately five minutes have gone by and somebody finally calls for a lockdown but people can't hear it. They don't know what to do. There's no effective way to communicate during this crisis. What you'll see if you start from right going to your left is that the shooter comes down the hallway there are approximately 20 students in that hallway. A teacher leads them down the stairway, they try to avoid the shooter that are at least two students that are killed, Peter Wang and Jaime Guttenberg trying to flee but 18 of them get out. If you look at the image to your left you'll see a red semicircle and you'll see a teacher using his body to keep that door closed. That's the shooter looking through the glass enclosure. He does not get out. These students are able to get down the stairway. They're able to free themselves from the shooter. This teacher is a hero.

Unable to find any more targets the shooter goes into the teachers restrooms and he sees the people fleeing below him. Remember now, he's on the third floor and he tries to shoot through the windows. But we're in south Florida and these are hurricane resistant glass windows. It causes the bullets to fragment and nobody is injured. At this point in time the shooter starts to make his way down from the third floor. After he fires his last shot, comes down from the third floor, second floor, first floor, ditches his gun and he's out the door within eight minutes.

The shooter goes to a McDonalds, gets a drink and then he goes to Subway where he's later arrested. Now there's extensive study after the shooting and there are some very important points that we need to know as we already got through, we could see there were numerous opportunities to mitigate this threat. Okay starting from the very first time that the monitor on the golf cart sees the student pull up. Remember, this student has been expelled. The police should have been called right there and perhaps the shooter would have been notified of the impending arrest and may have fled. Contact my one of the campus monitors there could have stopped him.

Remember, he didn't have his weapon charged for almost two minutes. It takes some time to do that. Right, as we saw the fire arm caused students and teachers to exit their classroom. What we're doing within our district now if we've got an unscheduled alarm go off, a fire alarm, I'm asking these students and staff to be ready to dismiss or let's wait a moment. Let's check to see if there actually is an existential circumstance. Because we have found out that now on at least a couple of occasion that the shooters have pulled the fire alarm to get everybody to come out of their enclosures. We do have time now our fire panels tell us where the alarm is triggered we can send an administrator down there within 30 seconds, figure out whether or not is this a true event or is this a ploy? That's what we're asking to do.

Okay a teacher and several students were shot outside of their classroom. Unfortunately one of the teachers had to use a key to go outside his classroom to be able to lock the door. That's a big no no. We've had to retrofit over 300 of our classrooms to make sure we are able to lock the doors form the inside. Well the school let out at 2:30. It's hard to criticize them on this one, he got there about 2:18. He knows what time school gets out he had been a student at this campus. He had been expelled from this campus. He knew the time to strike.

We talked about the bathroom doors on the first and third floors being locked. Ironically if they weren't locked and kids would have hidden in them, they probably would have been okay because he never entered one bathroom. We talked about this repeatedly, there was no effective way to communicate in that school. Okay? We all know how a PA system functions. If you're in a common area like a hallway or a cafeteria or bathroom you don't know what the message is saying. It's too distorted. There are very few school issued radios and even the digital telephone system was not used to alert the staff as to what was going on. We need to be able to communicate the nature of the threat as quickly as possible. Not only do we need to be able to communicate the nature of the threat, we need to let the folks what the threat is and where it's at.

If you're not running active shooter or lockdown drills you need to. The time has come that we have to practice these things whether or not we want to. We've advanced way beyond that point. I would suggest starting these drills very slowly and build on them. Don't make them too complicated, just run the drill as slowly as possible and get folks used to taking the proper steps or following the protocols that you've set in place. Unfortunately, at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas they did not have a plan. Even if they did have a plan interviews of the employees and staff members on duty reveal that they did not know they had the authority to call for lockdown. If your janitor doesn't feel that he's got the authority to call for a lockdown he's not empowered. A lot of these times these custodians or service employees are the first to notice the danger. They've got to be able to have some confidence that they can relay this information to someone in charge effectively who can call for emergency action.

Unfortunately in this particular on the first floor the windows were three inches larger than they normally are, it just gave the shooter a larger viewing area. I'd recommend if you haven't done it already make sure that you go into each of your classrooms and mark off a designated safe area. It's pretty simple to do. You can even put tape on the ground and make an arrow and let students know where they can stand if there's somebody outside trying to look in the window. You can have a staff member look outside, stand outside and look in the classroom and move your students to a place where they cannot be seen and then mark that area off. In this instance and many instances, if the shooter can't see anybody he's not going to shoot.

There were not any predesignated window coverings. This is another effective tool. Remember, the shooter knows he's on a timeline, that law enforcement will be coming for him. They're not going to waste a lot of time not being able to find a target. If they don't find a target quickly they're going to move on. These window coverings are a great tool to use. If you covered the window and you can't see, and your doors are locked he doesn't know if there's anyone in there. He will move on. It's not like in the movies where they can shoot at the lock and it just flies open. It takes a lot of effort to get that door open.

As we talked about, district failed to designate safe spaces in each classroom. Again I urge you, get some tape and mark it off and practice this. They paid for experts in the school to come in and do these things but they failed to follow through with the recommendations. Only two of the 30 classrooms in the campus had marked hard corners. Even if the teacher is not present and there's a shooting that occurs the students are practiced will know where to go. It's an effective mannerism to keep your students and staff safe. How many times have we talked about this? He can only shoot, and only did shoot, at people he could see. The only time he fired randomly was on the second floor where there were no targets available.

Unlike other shootings he never entered the classrooms. He didn't have to. He just stayed outside and ambushed, especially on the first floor. Could we have mitigated the crisis? Can you mitigate this crisis at your campus? Okay? How do we communicate during an emergency? Okay? For our district this is what we found out, and let's just use a simple scenario. Let's say I'm a PE teacher, I'm outside with my class. There's a perimeter fence and a gunman jumps over. I can clearly see that he's got a gun in his hand. Maybe he's 300 yards from my students, and I've got my cell phone. Okay? I need to relay this emergency. How do I relate? I can get on the cell phone and try to call the front office, we know how that's going to go. How many times it's going to ring, it's going to get to a recording, right? Let's say finally the Secretary answers. How long is that, 45 seconds? Is that a minute? That's a minute that's gone by without me notifying anybody what the emergency is. Yeah, maybe I could have gotten my kids in and moved inside but am I effectively communicating what's going on? Not yet.

Let's suppose I do get a hold of this secretary. Is she going to feel empowered to call for a lockdown? No, she's not. What is she going to do? She is going to look for the campus authority figure and if that person is not there how much time have we wasted? Surely there's got to be a better way to get this emergency information out. We talked about the ineffectiveness of a PA system, right? Okay? It's not going to work. There's too much clutter and confusion going on, especially in the common areas. If we're not practicing what we're doing it's going to be an utter disaster. I have reviewed lockdown drills for students and staff are outside and they call for a lockdown which is an emergency inside the building. Why on earth would you call your students and staff back inside the building where the threat is? Wouldn't we want them to avoid the threat and stay out? We've got to look at all these possible scenarios.

Again, the biggest thing that we've got to do is to drill and train for these emergencies and to come up with an effective way to get this information out to our safety and staff. Got to designate hard corners in your classroom. Make sure you have your window coverings and doors are locked on the inside. We've got to think outside the box. We've talked about if you have an unscheduled fire alarm that's activated you've got to make sure it's a real emergency. I would recommend employing the avoid, deny, and defense strategy. Avoid is simple. The premise is simple if you're not there you can't get shot. Avoiding is simple. If the threat is on the east side of the building and I'm on the west side I'm taking my students and staff and leaving. How do I know where that threat is and where it's at? That's where CrisisGo comes in. With CrisisGo within 30 seconds I can notify law enforcement, I can notify the fire department, I can notify everybody in my building what the threat is and where it's at.

Let's go back to that scenario of that shooter jumping over the fence, approaching my PE class. I have three choices with that crisis, I'll get on my cell phone trying to call the front office, run inside the building, and what scream out hey there's a shooter outside or go to the front office and ask them to get on the PA system or get on the digital telephone. How much time have I wasted? That's three or four minutes have gone by. That shooter is inside the building already and we know that most of the killing is done within three to five minutes. We need to be able to take protective action within 30 seconds the way CrisisGo function it allows you to get that done with a simple few steps on your phone. I think if products such as this which I've utilized would be the best practice to protect our students and staff. Unfortunately, we can see that the staff and student at Marjorie Stoneman Douglass were not prepared. They were overwhelmed with this threat and did not effectively handle it. Unfortunately it resulted in 17 deaths and 17 students injured. The things that we've learned from Columbine we know 20 years before, apparently were not put into place yet. The lessons learned were not activated.

I'm going to turn it over to Chris and to the guests if we have any questions, feel free to ask.

Excellent. Thank you so much Dan. Again, I just in awe of the investigative findings that you share here and certainly the best practices that you're offering up here. I would offer up to our audience, if you have any questions use the question panel on the webinar platform and feel free to submit your questions that way for Dan. While the questions are continue to queue up Dan, the one came in. You talked about and we saw unfortunate real world example of not necessarily practicing the right kinds of drills. You mentioned in your experience at your district running some of the drills that you have. I was wondering if you could share with us maybe form your experience kind of what would be a sufficient drill schedule over the course of a school year in terms of blending in all the various drills that a school is expected to run.

Within our district we practice the evacuation of fire drill each month, okay. That's a bit much but that's what that's called for in Texas. That's what we're asked to do so we practice that drill. What we try to do and I'll come back to this is we try to combine the drills to save time. We're required to do an evacuation, we're required to do a shelter in place, we're required to do a reverse evacuation along with our lockdown and lock out drills. We practice the lockdown and lock out drills once a semester and the shelter in place once a semester and the evacuation we practiced that once a month. What I ask them to do is to use CrisisGo to run these drills.

Let's take an easy one, let's say I suggest combining a drill so let's say we run an evacuation drill. Okay we let them know hey we're running this drill, we send out the information on CrisisGo, they give an alert broadcast sent out, goes on their phone. It goes out on their computer if they've loaded that program. They get an audible alert. We send it out. We ask them to evacuate. Once we're outside we initiate a reverse evacuation, let's say hey the scenario has changed it was safer to be outside the school but now there's severe weather and we've got to come back in. We use CrisisGo to send out that message. The students come back in and we ask them hey, let's take advantage of this opportunity. Let's run a severe weather drill. Now we've knocked out three drills in 20 minutes all using CrisisGo. The beauty about CrisisGo is while we're running these drills, like these evacuations we send out messages to our staff members and they can respond with a checklist like class 103 is safe, hey I'm missing some students or I've picked up a few stray students and these are their identities. This information is shared. It enables us to make very good decisions.

As far as a lockdown or active shooter drill we use CrisisGo for that too. Whether the simplest scenarios we do the first thing we do is we'll announce the day before. We'll let them know hey, we're running a drill at 10:00, this is going to be a simple lockdown drill. At 10:00 I am sending you an email. I'm going to ask you to open that email and on that email there's going to be a schematic of our school and there's going to be a big X, a yellow X, a red X something and that's where the threat is at.

Based on your proximity to that threat you're going to take one of two actions. If the threat is on the west side of the building and you're on the east side, we would expect you to avoid the threat by taking your students and evacuate. If the threat is right in front of you then you need to go into deny mode and lock your classroom down. That means turning off lights, covering up the windows, making sure the door lock, and keeping everybody safe. Using your CrisisGo tool to share information. If I'm stuck inside my classroom and somebody is rattling on that door I'm using CrisisGo to send out a text message to everybody else, hey somebody's outside my door. I'm in room 203. Okay, if I'm in room 403 and I hear the shooter is in 203 and I've got a chance now to get out of the building because I know where the threat is, that's what I'm doing. CrisisGo enables you to make the best choice possible because you have actionable intelligence. You can disseminate that information very quickly and it gets out and has the ability to make good decisions. Does that answer your question?

It does, thank you. Another question came in, you had mentioned two things that you kind of came back to over and over again was the marking off of the hard corners, kind of the safe area in a classroom, having that ability to look through a window and kind of see where people could not be seen and then you also mentioned window coverings. Are there any other, and I guess when you think of those things those are extremely low cost if not essentially free things that can be implemented to help like you said potentially reduce or save lives in a situation like this. Are there any other maybe one or two other free or no cost things that a school or school leaders could be thinking about or doing in a situation?

There are a number of solutions. It depends on which way your door opens. Is it open inside or to the outside? There's a number of out for market products that are available. I would recommend before you purchase any of these things or takes any steps towards innovation within your own maintenance department to create little implements or tools to fortify or harden your targets you get with your fire department because they may not be on the same level that you are as you're understanding of barricading that door, hardening that target because they're maybe fearful that if you do too much and you're not on the same page they can't get inside. A simple thing, if your door opens inward you could put a bollard system in by drilling a hole in the floor, fortifying that hole and just using a simple piece of rebar and rebar that door. We drop it in the hole and it would that person wouldn't be able to get in.

Remember, all these things we are trying to buy time. That shooter is not spending a lot of time trying to get into that target. If you have the good door that you can secure, cover that window, and there are plenty of out for market products you could have bought, you could purchase for that target go ahead and do so but just make sure you do that in coordination with your first responders. We try to get our first responders to practice with us. Any of our protocols that we develop it's in consultation with the fire department and police department. If they're not in agreement with us, well they're going to be the ones that are responding. We're not on the same page it's not going to work. When we do your drills we've got to incorporate them. If you've got SRO's they've got to be part of the drill. If you don't have SRO's, you get your own police department, they should be part of the drill. Everybody's got to buy in. Anything else?

No, that is it. I've got a couple of questions that are asking about follow up information including some of this. I will just say that as the hosting company, CrisisGo, thanks everybody for attending today and I can assure everyone that we will send out some follow up information that will reinforce a lot of what Dan presented here today and most importantly, a lot of these actionable tips and best practices that you as school leaders should be able to take away from and implement throughout your district as well.

Thank you Chris, feel free to share my information with them if they have any questions or concerns.

Absolutely, will do. Thank you so much again Dan. Absolutely great job. Really appreciate the information and again, thank you everyone for attending. Have a good rest of your day.