A “Rapid Response Team” comprised of law enforcement, school officials and mental-health professionals would follow a well-delineated protocol to intervene when the warning signs exist that a person is planning a mass shooting.
On the heels of the Parkland, Florida, shooting, hearing that the FBI and Broward County Sheriff’s office received tips in advance of the shooting leaves a knot in my stomach. As a retired FBI agent and former police officer, I did the job, know what it is like, and in 28 years I, too, made mistakes. This one was catastrophic.
Once a shot is fired in a school, the system has already failed. One question replays in my mind. How can we do better? While the public debates gun control or arming teachers, we’re missing a common-sense solution. Active shooter response plans are necessary, but our best tactic will always be prevention. And we can do this, without sacrificing individuals’ constitutional rights.
Most mass shootings are planned for six months to a year. In almost every documented case, warning signs were given off that were not understood, were not acted upon quickly or not shared with someone who could help. Since 2001, at least 21 school attacks have been prevented because they were reported once red flags were observed.
So why didn’t this happen in Parkland, when reports were made to the FBI about an emotionally disturbed man with an arsenal of guns? Or why didn’t our systems prevent the purchase of firearms used to kill 26 people in First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas — when the shooter was known to have a domestic-violence conviction?
The answer is human error.
In the 1930s, the airline industry recognized that pilot error was inevitable as flying became more complex. To account for this, they developed systems and protocols for critical operations. When pilots take off or land they follow a checklist of procedures. Similar controls are now in place to reduce errors in surgery or manage time-sensitive conditions like heart attacks in emergency rooms.
We need a similar approach for identifying and managing threats to our schools. Much like rapid-response protocols in hospitals, a threat of mass shooting should activate an intervention that is time-bound, for example requiring action within 72 hours.
The intervention would be carried out by a local multidisciplinary team with the expertise to evaluate and manage the threat. A “Rapid Response Team” comprised of law enforcement, school officials and mental-health professionals would follow a well-delineated protocol. If the scenario meets a certain level of risk based on established criteria, police would have the ability to temporarily remove and or prevent the purchase of firearms and ammunition by the person making the threat. This could be through a process similar to the Gun Violence Restraining Order in California, or other means. A firearm restraining order empowers law enforcement to take action when probable cause to arrest may not exist.
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Finally, all data on individuals who threaten schools or mass shootings should be entered in a national database in a concise and standardized format. These systems would deploy automated tools with artificial intelligence and analytic capabilities such as video analytics to scour social media daily for anyone who is on this list of mass-shooting threat and for words like “shoot school” or images of a student posing with an arsenal of weapons. When indicators are recognized, automated response protocols would be initiated, and information sent to the local law enforcement agency. The receiving agency would acknowledge receiving the information within a set time limit and activate a local team.
Each day, I brace as more news comes out about missed opportunities and red flags that went unaddressed. It doesn’t have to be this way. The safety of our schools shouldn’t hinge on a single person’s discretion or actions. Like the reforms in aviation and health care, we need systems and protocols to identify and manage threats that mitigate human error. On this, we can and must do better.