From the Desk of the Director – Leading the Conversation on School Safety

We all remember where we were when certain tragedies occurred. I remember where I was on April 19, 1995, when a domestic terrorist bombed the Oklahoma City Murrah Federal Building, as well as on September 11, 2001, when foreign assailants attacked our nation. Bracketed by those incidents, however, was a seminal event that, at the time, few could imagine would happen again and change the very fabric of the nation.

On April 20, 1999, two students armed with guns and homemade explosives entered the Columbine High School in Colorado. They murdered 13 people and injured 21 others. This event transformed everything in school security, emergency preparedness and law enforcement responses. The transformation was gradual but unprecedented. In the aftermath and amid rigorous efforts to protect students and teachers, some schools began to resemble fortresses, complete with closed circuit television cameras and card readers. SWAT teams no longer wait to negotiate with an attacker but instead are trained to immediately respond, seeking out what has become known as an “active shooter.”

But despite these early efforts, the threat of school violence has only worsened substantially. According to a recent Washington Post assessment, more than 210,000 students have experienced gun violence at school since Columbine. The article states that at least 131 children, educators and other people have been killed in these attacks and another 272 have been injured. We have already seen 13 shootings in 2018, which is the highest number at any point since 1999. Whatever lessons we took from Columbine, they were tragically and evidently insufficient. More must be done.

The question then is, what can and should be done to advance school safety? In our effort to contribute to meaningful opportunities to prevent violence, and following up on the successful convening of last year’s Global Solutions in the Age of Homegrown Violent Extremism Summit, the Safe Communities Institute will host the USC National Safe Schools Summit – Leading the Conversation, on October 24, 2018.

The Summit will host violence prevention experts, teachers, parents, health professionals, and first responders for a day to learn about and share critical information to develop and maintain a safe and secure school environment. Today, the inability to do everything is no excuse to do nothing. Schools are our most valuable critical infrastructure, housing our nation’s most important resource: our students. Safety and security is everybody’s business. We hope you will join us.

Erroll Southers

Dr. Erroll Southers is USC Associate Senior Vice President of Safety and Risk Assurance. He is the former Director of the Safe Communities Institute, a former FBI Special Agent, Presidential nominee for TSA Administrator and California Governor’s appointee to the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security. He holds roles around the world and throughout the international counterterrorism and national security arena.

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