If you don’t know who Peter Wang is, let me educate you. Peter Wang was a 15-year-old young MAN who died in the recent Florida school shooting. Peter Wang was a proud member of the Army Junior Reserve Officer Training program at his high school. He dreamed of attending West Point and serving his country in the military. As an ROTC cadet, he received firearms training and was reportedly an accomplished marksman.
He knew how to shoot a rifle and he knew what one can do.
He knew exactly what he was facing when he stood, in his grey and black uniform, in the line of fire and held open the door to his study hall. He herded dozens of his terrified classmates through to safety. He stood there protecting his classmates and saved all that he could till he was shot down.
He died where he stood.
15 years old. A young MAN. A MAN who gave his life to serve others by going in harm’s way to protect those unable to protect themselves.
A MAN. Very politically incorrect in these days of “toxic masculinity” to celebrate Old Skool virtues like courage, service to others, putting oneself at risk to protect those who cannot protect themselves, standing up in the face of evil, and holding the line despite terrible fear so that others may live.
I celebrate those values. And I honor this young MAN who delivered his young life to save others.
Today, in honor of Peter Wang, I’m going to share some insights about school and church security that WORK. How do I know they work? Among other things, I am a researcher. I went to Israel and interviewed and trained with the operators who provide training to the teachers and school security staff (remember, just about every Israeli is a veteran). I studied what others were doing in the US. I studied what worked and didn’t work at events from Colombine and Sandy Hook. I didn’t just recycle the endless Errornet commentary. I worked off actual police reports, autopsy findings, multiple perspectives of the incidents. And I ran all that through the filter of someone who has done high threat protection for over 40 years in some of the most dangerous places in the world.
Then I went and tested these concepts (as I always do and have been documenting and sharing in various forms of media from pre-web gun rags to this little blog since the 1980s) out in the real world. I was asked to consult with a religious school that in the estimate of the FBI and the Joint Terror Task Force has an extremely high threat from terror attack and organized criminal activity. I drafted a plan and launched it and have watched it evolve and survive significant risks over three years. One of the challenges in doing security is how do you document success? With good to great security, nothing bad happens to the target. But quite often there’s a lot of unseen or undiscussed action out at the perimeter.
As I always do, let me say this is not the only way. It is a way. It is a way that was rigorously researched, carefully designed, and then tested continuously. Thus far it has worked well. For OPSEC I’m not going to discuss some specifics.
START WITH THE MINDSET
• Do the school officials understand that there is a risk?
• If so, how much money are they willing to spend to mitigate that risk?
• Do they understand how to do a real threat assessment or do they know how to evaluate one done by an outsider?
• Are all the school officials on board?
• Are all the teachers and staff (including janitors and maintenance people)?
• What about the students? How far is the school administration willing to push them in terms of education and exposure to the reality of danger?
WHERE ARE THE BOUNDARIES? Before you can protect something you must define what it is you want to protect. You want to protect your kids at a school? Okay, then where are the boundaries? During school they’re in a classroom, they are moving between classrooms, or they are outside, or they are leaving or coming to the school.
• Where is the school physically located?
• Where and who are the nearest neighbors within two blocks of the school property line?
• Where is the closest fire station, hospital, police presence?
• Is there a fence around the school?
• Where are the primary entrances to the school?
• Where is the parking lot/bus debus area?
• How are the access points controlled if at all?
WHAT ARE THE EXISTING CONTROLS?
• Is there any sort of access control? Locked doors, ID requirements? What if any measures are there to control or monitor people coming and going into the school?
• What sort of alarm system or public announcement system exists?
WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE SAFETY OF THE CHILDREN? SPECIFICALLY?
• Does the school administration have a policy to address violence?
• Do any school administrators have formal training in how to address violence?
• Do any teachers or staff have any formal training (including experience as veterans etc.) in how to address violence?
• Is there a School Resource Officer? Is he/she an armed fully sworn law enforcement officer? Is there a specific spelled out policy on how to utilize a SRO along with detailed rules of engagement in specific scenarios? Does the SRO have radio communications with police dispatch?
• Is there a private security guard? Is he/she armed or unarmed? Is there a specific spelled out police on how to utilize? Are there detailed rules of engagement in an armed or unarmed violent scenario?
WHAT SPECIFIC DRILLS/SCENARIOS HAVE BEEN PREPARED FOR? ARE THEY TESTED AND IF SO, HOW?
• Are there regular fire drills? How are those conducted?
• Are there lock down procedures? How are those conducted?
• Are alternative procedures taught (if fire blocks the normal egress route, what do you do? If an active shooter starts breaking in your door when you are locked down, what do you do?)
• Are these documented? Are they evaluated by an objective observer?
This basic data set provides the baseline for evaluating the school’s current posture, which is essential to improvement. One person can gather this baseline information inside one working day. At the school I’m discussing, it took about two hours with the school executive director.
Then here’s what we did:
The mindset was right on. Everyone from the school administration to the teachers and the parents were concerned (rightly so) about security. They were very smart in that they took advantage of the Department of Homeland Security Security Grant Program which provides some very healthy sums in the forms of outright grants to improve security in schools and religious institutions. People who bleat that there isn’t money to improve security in schools haven’t looked hard enough. Is it an easy procedure? No. it takes attention to detail and diligence, but significant sums (tens of thousands of dollars and up) are available through the process.
Mindset was there. Money was there.
The next smart thing was they asked SEVERAL different people how do we best spend this grant money and the other money we’ve raised to protect our children? We’re educators, we don’t know security.
Very smart to know that you don’t know. The challenge is to find the right person to give you an appropriate answer. Plenty of security experts willing to capitalize on fear and lack of knowledge to take money out of your pockets. So what they did was ask many experts.
Here’s some of the answers:
• Build a bullet proof safe room in the auditorium and in an active shooting event, lock everybody in the auditorium.
• Arm former Navy SEALs and put one in every hallway.
• Put in an extensive camera system.
• Replace all the doors and windows with bullet proof glass.
• Ask the police department to station a police officer full time.
And so on and so forth.
There are several WTF? Answers above, which was my response when I came in at the end and asked the questions none of the others did: have you done a detailed physical security survey including access control, AND have you done a threat assessment in conjunction with the FBI and local law enforcement.
No and No, so I handled that for them.
Here’s the comprehensive solution we came up with, implemented, and test continuously:
We created a one page handout with a list of suspicious things to watch for along with the number of the school/religious institution AND the police department in a RECOMMENDED REPORT FORMAT and made sure every single neighbor for two blocks in all directions around the school got it. That pushes the perimeter back and adds to the number of eyes watching the school. It has worked EXCELLENTLY in terms of quashing some serious pre-operational elicitation and surveillance by bad actors.
We met with the Chief of Police, the County Sheriff, the FBI ASAC and representatives from the local JTTF. We established an ongoing liaison where our information on sightings/tests/suspicious events are reported directly into their system. As civilians its mostly a one way street (us to them) but it does keep the channels open.
We invited the local tactical units, EOD and bomb dog teams, and police training teams into the school and facilitated them using the school as a training resource. We’ve had SWAT teams, bomb dogs and EOD teams, and active shooter response training by the local police conducted there. This promotes familiarity with the facility and alternate breach points to make entry and places to stage from for the people most likely to respond.
We designed a comprehensive physical security upgrade. This included an extensive computerized camera system around the school and the perimeter that records 24/7 AND training for the people who watch the cameras as to WHAT to watch for. Upgraded access controls, better locks/intercoms, hardened primary access point, bullet/blast resistant enhancement to windows and doors. Budgeted for a better exterior fencing.
We identified and recruited an experienced school resource officer out of a gang populated public school. After additional training he was placed into the full time position of armed security director. He has since received extensive additional training in firearms, close protection, active shooter response (he’s an ALICE training certified instructor), unarmed combat, patrol procedures. He is the ideal mix of skilled and seasoned professional gunfighter AND a dad who’s great with kids. He is the primary training resource for the next line of protection, the school security volunteers.
The school implemented a procedure to identify, vett and train parents/grandparents/relatives of kids attending the school (or alumni) with an interest in volunteering to augment security. There are two tracks: armed and unarmed.
Unarmed: basic orientation on the dos and don’ts of security. No hands on, eyes only, radio procedures backed up with a cellphone report protocol in case the radios go down. Their job is to be eyes only, to watch and report on suspicious activity on or around the school during events or the school day. They are trained and coordinated by the school security director.
Armed: All of the above. If they wish to be armed, then they must on their own time and expense attend the necessary training to obtain a state CCW. They must qualify at the state level to do so. After that they must attend a mandatory intensive advanced pistol class conducted by the security director. Upon successful completion of that they must attend a detailed legal overview of the law and their responsibilities by a nationally recognized firearms legal expert. After that they are added to a roster that legally enables them to carry weapons on the school grounds WHEN DIRECTED by the security director. This particular group includes multiple veterans with combat experience.
The security director maintains a roster of volunteers and tasks them at random intervals to assess their continued willingness. If they are unwilling to come when needed, they are dropped off the volunteer rosters and they are no longer able to carry weapons on or around the school.
The training continues on a monthly basis and has included: ALICE active shooter response training, first aid/GSW management, bomb searches, and today there’s a class on responding to a terrorist bomb incident taught by Homeland Security – mandatory attendance for all volunteers.
Training extends to the teachers as well. All the teachers are taught (and regularly tested) about challenging anyone without ID or not known to them on the school grounds or inside the school. There is a set procedure involving challenge and notification of the school security officer/front desk. Inexpensive radios are available to all teachers in the classroom and to those monitoring outside activity that radio net is monitored by the school security director and the front office. The general awareness training includes bomb/IED awareness – unattended packages or abandoned backpacks, etc.
Ongoing initiatives include extending the opportunity to train and be armed to teachers who wish to volunteer, continuing education with volunteers and staff, continual upgrade and hardening of the physical plant and structure, and expansion of the full time security staff.
Someone, somewhere, is saying we can’t do that, we don’t have the money or whatever. I’d suggest reading this again and focusing on the smart process: figure out what you need or find someone trustworthy who can help you do that, get the money from DHS and augment it with local funds, spend it wisely, and invest a good amount in basic physical security and augment it with the force multiplier of good training and education and involve as many people in it as possible. You can’t secure a place with one armed person. You need to have EVERYONE in the facility and outside the facility feeding real time information into a diffuse security network so that the good guys with the guns can act most efficiently.
Some concluding guns and gear data for the people interested in that:
Handguns are whatever they qualify with and maintain. Ammunition is what the local PD or Feds issue. Concealment gear is up to the individual. I see primarily Glocks in various flavors and concealment by Raven, Blade Tech and several custom holsters by Dale Fricke, who is a specialist in church security.
Long guns are available. Because of the law prohibiting the carry of loaded rifles by civilian security forces, AR pistols have been utilized. The Daniel Defense MK18 (10.3 inch barrel) with a LAW folder and a SB Tactical brace topped with Troy folding irons and an Aimpoint Micro fits into a large bookbag and is good for a fast COM out to 200 yards which is the longest legitimate shot outside the school. It is legally a pistol and is so blessed by a national level firearms lawyer. There may be standard ARs with a variety of ammo and shotguns with slugs capable of stopping vehicles in some of the civilian patrol vehicles.
An intermediate option between the pistols and the long guns is the scoped/accurized “long distance pistol.” I was first introduced to the concept by Gary Wistrand, who was at the time the Deputy Director of the Secret Service, who carried an accurized Browning High Power while on Gerald Ford’s detail. He needed it for long distance shots while skiing with the then-President and was (I witnessed) capable of fast presentations and hits on steel at 100 yards with that High Power. At a measured 2 seconds. Gary was the first tactician of the now defunct (sadly) National Tactical Invitational Match to take first place on two separate occasions. We utilize a variant of the “Roland Special” concept – a G19 modified with a KKM match barrel and compensator topped with a Trijicon RMR 3.5 MOA. Good for handheld hits out to 100 yards which is the longest inside shot, and more concealable and faster into play than a bagged rifle that must be debagged, unfolded, charged and then put into action.
There are multiple trauma kits available throughout the school with a “throw bag” of throw down kits and light sticks in the main office. The concept is that a responder can grab the throw down bag and run to the worst injured and drop a basic kit off to someone with first aid training (like the teachers) to use and start immediate medic care. These are inexpensive, packed in plastic bags and include a tourniquet, a pressure bandage, duct tape, and Kerlix gauze.
In conclusion I want to say this to anyone who bleats about money or time and not having enough whatever: Shut up, step up, and make things safe instead of crying about it. Do something.
And honor the courage of a 15-year-old that stood up and did something.
God rest you and keep you, Peter Wang. You earned your seat at the Warrior’s Table. See you on the Other Side.