‘The school security issue will be solved when you reach the intersection of ‘Security Street’ and ‘Fire Lane’. Good luck with that.’ The Author

In a previous column I described the sickening feeling incurred the day of the Parkland High School shooting. It happened nine miles from our office. The article also outlined the fire event of Our Lady of Angels School Chicago fire in 1958 (see www.nfpa.org). The point concerning the school fire was that the best minds in the country came together after the fire and put into practice codes and standards, fire and sprinkler systems, construction design, materials and architectural skills.  This subsequently eliminated altogether school fire deaths K through 12 in the United States.

It took years of input, discussions and effort but our children are now reasonably ‘fire safe’. There is no reason this cannot happen again for security design. We have the means, the personnel and the motivation to make this happen and now is the time. ‘Security safe’ can and will happen. But several points need to be considered along the way.

Dog and cat. Oil and water. Sun and moon. Security and fire. You get the idea. We have one group that wants the doors left open and another group that wants them all locked. As a beginning for the discussion we MUST consider both sides of the equation and look at the issue from both a security and fire safety perspective.

Through reliable resources we have it on good authority that the initial press reports (as usual) were incorrect. The school shooter did NOT activate the fire alarm to generate more moving targets. The chronology through investigation indicated the shooter started on the first floor where the most casualties were inflicted. He then moved to the second floor but was thwarted because by then that floor had ‘locked down’.

Then he moved to the third floor and decided to establish a ‘perch’ in the stairwell window for a high point visual advantage and field of fire. He began by trying to shoot out the stairwell window. He fired so many rounds in the attempt that the smoke from the expended rounds caused the smoke detector in the hall to activate. That’s what set off the fire alarm.

The reason the window would not break is because recent Florida hurricane code changes require ‘impact hurricane windows’ be installed in all new structures and upgraded window replacements. Since this particular window was not an ‘escape’ window, there was no way to physically open it. Facing this failure to wreak more horror the shooter eventually gave up.

Here is the crux of the matter. The physical barrier was one important item in the process. The fire alarm also was another important item in the process. Both units decidedly did their jobs in design and intent. There is no reason that both security and fire designs cannot be used together to protect our kids. It is a matter of each side, usually diametrically opposed in design, coming together and solving the issues.

But it is much more than that. It is multifaceted and complex involving parents, teachers, school policies, fire technology, security administration, law enforcement and most importantly our children. Yes, it is difficult. Yes, it will require monumental effort. But think of the advantages we have today to accomplish this task. In retrospect those folks who eventually solved the school fire issues did not have the advantages of a template, computers or mass communications. We do. Its time to get to work.

Bob Neely

Executive Director

Alarm Association of Florida