By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski
Faculty Member, Criminal Justice
The horrifying events of the Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde, Texas, remind us of the need to better protect our schools and to have well-constructed plans in place before tragedies occur. The Texas House of Representatives Investigative Committee on the Robb Elementary Shooting recently published a report with the results of their investigation, which provides a lot of insight into the failures of security protocols and law enforcement responses associated with this event.
This incident was one of 27 school shootings that have occurred so far this year. At Robb Elementary School on May 24, 19 children and two adults were killed and 16 were injured; it is the deadliest school shooting since the Sandy Hook Elementary School attack in 2012.
Related link: Regular Training Is Needed to Prevent School Shootings
Robb Elementary School Did Not Have Enough Security Precautions in Place
The Investigative Committee’s report found that Robb Elementary School in Uvalde had failures in access control, and it did not adequately prepare for the potential of an armed intruder prior to the shooting. In particular, the report found that the five-foot fencing around the school was inadequate to stop an intruder.
In addition, there were established policies to lock external doors and classrooms, but the investigation found noncompliance by staff members. Some staff members routinely propped open the school’s doors, and some people in the school had suggested circumventing locked doors for the convenience of substitute teachers and other staff who did not have door keys.
During the Uvalde shooting, the gunman entered a classroom through a door with a broken lock, a security failure that could have been avoided. The report noted that no one at the school had locked any of the three external doors on the west side of the school. Consequently, the shooter had unrestricted access to the school and Rooms 111 and 112, which were adjoining rooms.
Access control is one of the most important steps to prevent an active shooter situation on a school campus. It protects students inside locked classrooms from the shooter, and access control also provides more time for law enforcement to respond and confront the lethal threat posed by an active shooter.
Active Response Efforts by Law Enforcement at Uvalde Also Had Problems
In any active shooter situation, law enforcement’s prompt and adequate response is essential at mitigating the loss of life. According to the report, law enforcement officers who responded to Robb Elementary’s 911 calls for help failed to follow their active shooter training, and they “failed to prioritize saving the lives of innocent victims over their own safety.”
The report confirmed that there was an unacceptable delayed response by law enforcement to breach the classroom, stop the attacker and start rescue efforts. Since the Columbine shooting in 1999, police officers commonly receive the training that if an active shooter is at a school, the initial on-scene officers capable of confronting the threat should promptly enter the school as a team, based on the available information on the gunman and the victims.
According to the report, the police chief was one of the first responders to arrive at the scene. It noted that the “void of leadership could have contributed to the loss of life as injured victims waited over an hour for help, and the attacker continued to sporadically fire his weapon.”
Even with the police chief on scene, there was a lack of leadership because the first responders did not follow their active shooter training. Also, the leadership problem meant that basic communications and a “sufficient urgency to take down the gunman” did not exist.
One of the other failures identified in the report is that despite hundreds of responders from various law enforcement agencies arriving on the scene in Uvalde, no one took the initiative to set up an incident command post. An incident command post is essential for this type of incident; it serves as a unified repository of real-time intelligence about the shooting.
At an incident command post, decision makers can quickly evaluate the information they receive and make decisions about the most appropriate response. Without a unified command post where information flows to the people at the post and directives flow out, chaos ensues because no one is giving clear direction on what officers should do.
Having an incident command post is even more important when multiple agencies are on scene. That area provides a central place for decisions to flow outward to responding law enforcement.
US Schools Need to Tighten Their Security Precautions
Sadly, the events at this tragedy in Uvalde could have been mitigated by improvements in the school’s security precautions and law enforcement responses. Ideally, schools around the country should conduct threat assessments, develop comprehensive active shooter response plans and conduct drills with local law enforcement to mitigate the threat of an active shooter.
Also, people should understand the risk factors of someone who could become an active shooter and promptly report concerning behavior to both law enforcement and school administrators. With prior warning of a potential threat, perhaps more active shooter incidents can be avoided in the future.