How to Prepare for an Active Shooter & What it Means to Know You Are Prepared
Lauren Fast, Moderator
Thank you for joining us for a very important discussion with a Panel of National School Safety Experts. Very rarely do we have the opportunity and access to as many valuable and experienced experts on the most viable threat that impacts the United States domestically, which is an active assailant or an active shooter, specifically in our schools.
This topic is very scary, very intimidating, very real, and not one very many people like to talk about. It is also one of the most critical things we need to normalize talking about and asking questions about, so we can understand how to prepare for an active shooter, and what it means to know you are prepared – you and your schools and community are prepared for this very real threat.
Guard911 pulled this Panel of National School Safety Experts together to share with you, not just their personal experience with active shooter incidents and safety, but an understanding of how they’ve applied their personal experiences to prevent these senseless acts of violence. These shootings impact both the public and private sectors and happen in schools, daycares, universities, and large gathering places, such as churches, malls, arenas, concerts, or sporting events – anytime and anywhere the public is unprotected.
I would like to start with our Panel of National School Safety Experts introducing themselves. I am Lauren Fast, I will be your moderator today, and I will start with our wonderful friend, Frank DeAngelis, from Colorado.
Meet the Panel of National School Safety Experts
Frank DeAngelis, Retired Columbine High School Principal
My name is Frank DeAngelis, I’m a Colorado native, I started my career in education in 1979 at Columbine High School. I was a social study teacher, assistant football and head baseball coach, and then as someone said, ‘I went to the dark side’ and became an administrator in 1996, then Principal.
In my twentieth year, third year as Principal, there was a day in which my life changed forever – April 20, 1999. It was something that I was never prepared for. Unfortunately, two of my students entered the school and killed 13 people – 12 students and Mr. Sanders. I stayed on at the school 15 years after that tragedy. I had to rebuild that community. In 2014, upon retiring, I felt I had done that. Even though I am in retirement, I continue to reach out to other communities going through active shooter tragedies.
It’s an honor to be here with this outstanding panel today because we can make a difference. I made a promise, and you know, Columbine represents a time to remember, but it also represents a time to hope. Thank you for allowing me to be here today.
“Columbine represents a time to remember, but it also represents a time of hope.” – Frank DeAngelis
Dr. Julie Lauck, Retired Superintendent of Valparaiso Community Schools
I am a retired Superintendent from Indiana (2020). I actually entered education in 1993 after a career in law enforcement as a police dispatcher, so I have a little bit of law enforcement background as well. Now, I am a School Certified Safety Specialist. I did my dissertation and a qualitative study on averting incidents of school rampage violence, and have always kept school violence and school safety at the forefront of everything I do. I am very honored to be here today to offer whatever I can to the discussion.
Tony Pustizzi, Retired Coral Springs, Florida, Police Chief
My name is Tony, and I am the former Police Chief of Coral Springs, Florida, the sister city right next to the city of Parkland, which had the February 14th, 2018, massacre at Stoneman Douglas High School. We were not the responsible agency to handle policing that city, but I and my staff responded to that horrible massacre and were instrumental in getting into the buildings, looking for the shooter, and subsequently making the arrest.
I am now retired from the Coral Springs Police Department after 30 years. Ironically, it was a planned retirement that happened three weeks after the incident. Even in retirement, I feel it is important to get the message out about active shooter lessons learned, and help the next generation of officers and school administrators understand and find better ways to be prepared. That’s what I do now, I travel the country to do that.
Tom Swip, Vice President & CTO, Guard911
I am a 30-year technologist who grew up in the technology industry cutting my teeth with the United Parcel Service (UPS) back in the 1990s. Back then, we put tablets in the hands of drivers before tablets were even a thing, so I’ve been working on mobile devices for quite some time. Currently, I am the Vice President and Chief Technology Officer of Guard911, where we offer a mobile panic button solution for school shootings. We help get officers to the scene of the tragedy as quickly as they can.
Lauren: Thank you all for being here so we can work to train others and mitigate future active shooter instances.
The Most Valuable Lesson from the Columbine Massacre
Lauren: Frank, you have the longest working history of not just dealing with, but also being a frontline participant, in school shooting massacres. I recall where I was when the Columbine incident took place, and it had such a ripple effect on the entire country, no one ever imagined such an incident would ever take place. As the administrator of that building 22 years ago, what is the first thing that you’d like to share with people across the country? Those who reach out to you for help and support with existing tragedies? What is the most valuable thing you can offer from your historical context?
Frank: If you would have told me that Columbine could happen 23 years ago, I would have said no, and each time I reach out to schools where it happens, like at Parkland and Sandy Hook for example, the first thing they say is, “I can’t believe it happened here.” Therefore, one of the things I share is that we are on this journey together. You are not alone. Police officers are working with firefighters who are working with school administrators who are working with judges because school kids are all our kids and that’s the most important thing.
Let me just touch on one thing in relation to supporting people with these tragedies. I know we have the tendency to say, ‘why do these school shootings continue to happen?’ but I think a key point is to look at how many have been stopped because of things we’re doing right now, the work that many of us are doing, like this panel today.
I go back to that horrific day when we did not have lockdown drills, we did not have a system such as Guard911 … the only drills we had then were fire drills and that was it. We’re fortunate that we did the very best we could with what we had. I look at the different safety rules in place now and encourage everyone to continue to do it. After Columbine, I was asked immediately, ‘What are you going to do as Principal,’ and I said, ‘What are we going to do – they’re all of our kids.’ That’s why this panel is such a good idea today, because we are bringing different perspectives and, you know, one more life is one too many.
A School Violence Safety Advocate who Set the Standards for Indiana Safety Protocols
Lauren: Julie, you said you wrote your dissertation on school safety. What motivated you to do that?
Julie: As a former police dispatcher and wife of a retired police officer, I obviously went into education with safety and security in my blood, so a dissertation on this topic was very important and meaningful to me. They say when you do your dissertation, pick a topic that you don’t mind being married to because you spend a lot of time with it.
I chose to do a qualitative study on averting incidents of school rampage violence. I engaged in conversations with people who had experience with incidents of school violence and had deep conversations about what happened. We talked about why they thought it happened, what they thought might help alleviate the threat, etcetera. It was just something that was always in my blood; when I entered education it was a natural fit.
Lauren: Thanks for being such a strong advocate and continuing to speak up for and in support of these initiatives and these unspoken needs.
Retired Police Chief Talks About Lessons from the 2018 Parkland Shooting
Lauren: Tony, I can’t even imagine what it was like to be the highest-ranking officer to respond to Parkland. I mean, that alone – I’m in awe of all of you. Tony, what would be your biggest concern now if you were ever involved in a similar situation moving forward?
Tony: I think failing to remember the past and lack of training are my biggest concerns. When you listen to Frank talk about what happened 22 years ago at Columbine, you say, “We need to learn from that,” and we did in a lot of regards.
My police department was highly trained, and we spent a lot of time, resources, and energy with active shooter training. We responded to the Parkland situation in an adjoining city, so obviously, response time was critical. That being said, I think Columbine was a paradigm shift. I believe that Parkland could be another paradigm shift in how we handle active shooter training and incidents.
With the Parkland shooting, there were some unit failures and leadership failures, but the dictation failures really slowed things down. I think faster notification truly matters. New technology, like Guard911, can help get a badge there faster, which is extremely important. I am worried about some areas in this country that are just not prepared. I travel all over the country and I hate to say it, but even 22 years later, there are still places where people say, “I didn’t think it could happen here.” Never, ever should we say those words because you failed to lead. You failed to prepare.
“Even 22 years after Columbine, there are still places where people say, ‘I didn’t think it could happen here.’ Never, ever should we say those words because you failed to lead. You failed to prepare.” – Retired Chief Tony Pustizzi
How Can Technology Help in Active Shooter Situations? Can it Save Lives?
Lauren: Tom, can technology help active shooter situations?
Tom: Yeah, absolutely. As you see, with some of the comments right now, what we need to do is get the word out to police officers faster. The only way to eliminate the active shooter threat and save lives is to get police officers at the scene as quickly as possible.
These killers are out there with one goal in mind, and that’s to take down as many people as they can. To increase the body count. A lot of these shooters are extreme gamers; they want to have the highest body count so they can be proud of the fact that they had the biggest massacre. There’s no negotiating, there’s no reasoning with these people. They’re coming in with many weapons fully loaded. The only way to stop shooters is to get officers in the front door as quickly as possible. And the only way to do that is to reduce notification time.
If you think about notification time and response time, they’re two very different things. With regard to response time, most people think they pick up the phone to call, and 911 is going to instantly show up at their door, but that’s not actually the fact. That 911 call has to go through dispatch who then relays the message. An officer or first responder must be nearby and get there as quickly as possible – and they do an incredible job – but the response time includes from when you called 911 to the time that they get there, which is often longer than anticipated.
So, notification time needs to be reduced. With everyone carrying a mobile phone around in their pocket, the most logical thing to do is get this message into the hands of whoever is nearby – not just necessarily the officers who are there in uniform, but other officers from all jurisdictions. Those who can make it to the emergency as quickly as possible.
Technology can absolutely help, and really, technology is the only thing that’s going to get that notification time shortened so that the response time can be shortened as well, which is what Guard911 with the Hero911 Network does.
Lauren: I want to clarify – when you talk about notification and response time, what you’re saying is that technology is not going to make an officer or anyone else drive a vehicle to the location faster, it’s the technology that’s going to let them know they need to drive their vehicle there sooner. Technology gets them to the emergency faster than if they went through a standard 911 phone call and dispatch deployments?
Tom: Absolutely. There are so many different jurisdictions out there that might not get the initial 911 alert. All police radios don’t talk with each other, which is something most people don’t understand, so if we can get the information out to local police, state police, county police, tribal police, FBI law enforcement, and any kind of federal marshal in any of the different jurisdictions – if we can get the message out to more of them faster, we’re going to have more of them show up quicker and eliminate the threat.
How Our Systems Today – Compared to 22 Years Ago – Help Reduce the Body Count
Lauren: As an example of this and how to prepare in a modern way, Frank, let us know, 22 years ago how did you initiate the need to call for help? How did that happen?
Frank: It was a mess. I remember when my secretary came in, she said, ‘Frank, there’s been a reported gunfire,’ and the first thing that crossed my mind was, this has to be a senior prank. We were near graduation, and I remember running out into the hallway encountering the gunman, and the last thing I said to my secretary was, ‘call 911.’
Back 22 years ago, the cell phone service was not what it is today, there was so much miscommunication. There were multiple law enforcement agencies coming that could not communicate with each other. It was even to the point that we could not shut off the fire alarm. At one point they said, ‘Frank, this is beyond the call of duty, but would you be willing to put on body armor to go in and disable the fire alarm when the SWAT team arrives so they can go in?’ So, this is where we were back then. When the SWAT team did arrive, about 58 minutes after the original shots were fired, they could not communicate in the building, and they had no idea where the threats were coming from.
I look at the systems we have today, like Tom is talking about with Guard911 and what Tony is talking about, and I truly believe that if we would’ve had a system similar to what we have now, the body count would not have been what it was.
Modern Police Officer Active Shooter Training
Lauren: I actually want to jump with that to Tony. Chief, you talked about training, and you talked about initial officer response and the multiple situations, where maybe one or two people are the first to arrive on scene – talk to us about those modern training methods and how they work to mitigate some of what was experienced in Columbine, how that works in concert with modern technology.
Tony: Looking back 22 years ago to Columbine, every officer responded with a SWAT team. I was actually part of the SWAT team, and that was protocol for law enforcement, but the shift happened when we said we can’t wait; we can’t sit outside of a building and wait for people to be killed and murdered inside waiting for the SWAT team to arrive.
Most police departments in this country have trained over the years to get in there fast, to try to take down a shooter, to get in there and end the carnage. But you’re right, communication is one of the biggest hurdles over the years. The communications kind of always lag. Your exactly right, if the officer gets notified, he is going to get there as fast as possible. I can’t even tell you how fast I got to Parkland or how I got there. I was zoned in.
Our dispatchers (for Parkland) were getting the information, but it just wasn’t getting to all of us fast enough. As the seconds and minutes went by, if we’d have had the technology that we’re talking about, it would have allowed officers from many jurisdictions to get to that school as fast as possible and I do think it would’ve saved lives.
Lauren: Because of modern technology, a single officer can get to a school as fast as possible, and because of modern training methods, officers are trained to arrive in a stuttered way – not all at once. A single officer is trained to behave in the appropriate way to mitigate the situation?
Tony: Yeah, I can’t talk about every department, but I can talk about what we did and how we train, and we absolutely trained that way. Our officers understood that their job was to go in and at least try to affect some kind of damage to the person who is trying to hurt others. You know, stopping the shooter does really come down to communication – we know what to do once we get there.
“Stopping the shooter does really come down to communication – we know what to do once we get there.” – Retired Chief Tony Pustizzi
Advice for School Superintendents on Safety & Security
Lauren: Julie, when you were Superintendent, you had to have fears about potential situations, this viable threat of violence in a school, and not just one school but a whole district. As a Superintendent, you were in charge of so many bodies – what would you offer to other Superintendents who are watching this amazing panel right now – what would you share with them about how to prepare or what they need to know that they don’t know right now?
Julie: The most important thing for Superintendents is that they have to take charge of safety. They have to make it their culture, their responsibility. We Superintendents can delegate a lot of tasks to other people, and even a Superintendent might be blessed enough to have a Director of Safety and Security, but they can’t let go of their responsibility as a Superintendent.
My biggest fear as a Superintendent was always that the students coming into my building that day to learn, the staff members coming into work, the volunteers coming in to offer their time and talents, would not make it home at night. It was the same fear I had as the wife of a police officer every day before he left for work – to make sure he had his vest on. But I knew in the back of my mind and in my heart, he might not make it home because that’s just part of the job.
As a Superintendent, I made safety and security the culture in my district. I made it important. I had a Director of Safety and Security. I had a Transportation Director who was a former Assistant Police Chief, so I had the right people in place, but I never once took my eye off the ball of safety and security. It was something that I took personal responsibility for. If I could offer anything to Superintendents, it would be to make sure you are the leader in directing what happens with your culture in the area of safety and security.
A lot of the Superintendents out there right now will understand when I say this, I know there are days when you need to get out of that office and you want to go to that kindergarten classroom because you need the love, right? Even if you have someone else in charge of the day-to-day operations of safety and security, when you go to those buildings, do a quick safety audit. Take a look around. Did a kind parent coming out of the elementary school just let you in without perhaps knowing who you are? Address those situations immediately. There’s no need to brow-beat people or embarrass or humiliate anyone, but you do need to make them aware. Maybe you need to take a look at retraining some of your folks on who they let in the building or why we don’t just let people in the building.
So, my words of wisdom to a Superintendent watching this would be – don’t delegate safety and security. Take it on yourself and be the leader for safety and security in your district.
Lauren: Julie, you implemented a mobile safety plan in your district that the Indiana governor later said would be a model for all Indiana schools to follow, so we thank you very much, and I’m sure the state of Indiana knows, or if they don’t know, they can thank you for leading the charge as a school safety leader. It shouldn’t take the need to be connected to law enforcement, as you were, to understand that, but to know now how we can protect the unprotected – that’s a really important piece. We’re learning Frank, we’re all learning from you and your tragedy.
Mobile Panic Alarm Apps: Faster Notification Time Reduces Officer Response Time
Lauren: Tom, we’re talking about technology too – how we can use this in a modern way to reduce notification time? School safety involves the school safety officer, the Superintendent, the teachers, the administration, and not just the law enforcement and police officers, but fire, ambulance, 911, and dispatchers. There are a lot of elements at play. Neighboring communities and multi-jurisdictions are also impacted by a single incident. So how does technology support this coordinated effort and make it easy? Is it correct that the alarm bells go off, but they don’t just go off for one person, with technology they can go off for everyone all at once, right?
Tom: If we look at it in the old radio aspect, you’ve got a transmitter and you’ve got a receiver, so I send it from here and I pick it up over here. Our “transmitter” is called SchoolGuard and our receiver is called the Hero911 Network. I want to focus in on that a little bit here.
Our Hero911 Network is a volunteer network for law enforcement officers. They can pick up their mobile devices, go out to the App Store, and download it. The Hero911 app then allows officers into our system, and if there’s a shooting at a protected property anywhere near them, they would be notified instantly.
We only allow officers to have the app, we do not allow anyone else into the Hero911 Network. We actually vet everyone to make sure they are officers, and we allow the 911 dispatch centers in so they can also have this app on their devices at their location. If our SchoolGuard transmitter sends an alert, the receiver – Hero911 – gets it, which means everybody gets it. It’s an instantaneous notification that’s sent out as soon as it’s received, so there’s no delay.
It’s really about getting as many people notified in as many different jurisdictions and 911 as quickly as possible, and as I mentioned before, that’s local police, state police, county police, tribal police, NSA, FBI, the federal marshals. The SchoolGuard app is whitelisted for FBI phones, so all FBI are also allowed to carry this on their devices. We’ve got to get this in the hands of as many people as we can to get as many people to the scene as quickly as possible.
So, to answer your question, yes, there is a way to protect with modern technology.
Lauren: Frank talked about how complex it was, how confusing it was, and what a mess it was. Tom, what does the technology really need to be for people?
Tom: I really think it’s a matter of getting the technology onto their phones – what they’re holding in their hands now or what they’re carrying in their pocket right now. We can get the notification out that way, and then turn it over to the traditional channels of 911. This goes back to our original point about notification time – we’ve got to get the notification time out as quickly as possible and make it simple.
Wrapping Up our Discussion on Active Shooter Incidents & School Safety: Final Words, What to Expect for 2021-2022 School Year & How to Get in Touch with Our Experts
Lauren: Well, this is a heavy conversation about active shooter incidents and school safety. I really appreciate, Frank, what you said earlier, that we don’t hear about all the active shooter situations that are mitigated or stopped before they take place, so just amazing kudos to law enforcement everywhere that is actively halting these senseless tragedies. And thanks to technology, law enforcement has the ability to mitigate issues sooner in both the public and the private sectors. I just want to thank all of you for answering these few simple questions. How can we get in contact with you?
Frank, how can a community, an agency, or a school district get in contact with you to learn more from you?
How to Get in Touch with Frank DeAngelis
Frank: Sure, my email address is [email protected]. You know, every year now (except for last year with the pandemic), I go out and present at all different kinds of agencies, law enforcement, and schools and just kind of share my story. I’ve been in Indiana several times, and Julie, you did a wonderful job.
One of the things that’s so important is that there are communities that still believe if we don’t talk about it, it’s not going to happen in our community and that is false security. It’s not to scare, it’s to prepare. With all these wonderful people who are on this call today, there’s so much knowledge. School kids are all of our kids – it doesn’t matter if it’s Indiana or Florida – they are all of our kids, and we have to do everything to make sure that we do everything we can to keep protecting them.
“There are communities that still believe if we don’t talk about it, it’s not going to happen in our community and that is false security. It’s not to scare, it’s to prepare.” – Frank DeAngelis
How to Get in Touch with Dr. Julie Lauck
Lauren: Julie, how can people get in touch with you and learn to be a leader in their own school districts?
Julie: My email address is [email protected] and my phone number is 574-850-6167. I encourage anyone to call or email and reach out if they have questions about what it takes for the leadership aspect of implementing systems like the alert system that we implemented, or building relationships with law enforcement – any aspect of school safety. I’m just offering my personal experience, my knowledge, and just really hope that people can reach out if they have questions. I am more than happy to help walk through it.
How to Get in Touch with Retired Chief Tony Pustizzi
Lauren: Chief, how can a person, an institution, or an organization reach out to you?
Tony: I have a website, fourstarstrategies.com, or they can email me at [email protected], or they can reach out to my cell phone. I give it out freely these days – maybe not as a Chief, but I do now. It’s 954-868-4894. I just want to wrap up my side with this.
I don’t want to hear anybody say, “we didn’t think it was going to happen here.” In 2021 with everything we’ve seen, I am so scared of schools opening up for real in August because with all the other noise out there, I think we are losing sight of protecting our children. I think it’s incumbent on us to get out there and share the message as much as possible and try and get the word out – we have to be ready – school violence is not going to go away.
Lauren: Evidence shows that most mass tragedies are the result of long-term, calculated planning, and systematically and methodically preparing to cause harm and do damage. What we’ve learned in 2020 is that everything can be done virtually, so people have time on their hands at home, which has given those with the intent to harm more time to systematically and methodically plan an incident. I think this what you’re talking about – that we need to be very prepared for this when schools open up fully again. We need to be prepared for what might be coming through the doors for the first time in a long time, for some schools it may be a killer.
Tony: That’s right. Covid might be a killer, but the other issues with COVID are an increase in domestic violence, homicides have gone up, teen suicides have gone up, and what you just said is 100% true. These kids are sitting at home isolated; they have no friends, they have no communication outside their room, all they have is a laptop computer in most cases and video games and it’s very scary.
How to Get in Touch with Guard911 Chief Technology Officer Tom Swip
Lauren: Tom, how could someone ask questions about the implementation of modern technology or the use of an app to protect their communities, schools, churches, and workplaces?
Tom: Our website is Guard911.com. We post a lot of great content to make sure that we’re spreading the word on what we know about school safety and how technology can help. My email is [email protected]. Our team would love to help brainstorm solutions, discuss tabletop exercises, or whatever the case may be.
Also, to piggyback off what Tony said, we believe the same threat is out there. These kids have had lots of time on their hands, and many are furious that they didn’t get their state championship or get to go to their prom or any number of things. Everybody’s a little bit unstable right now, so we’re afraid that when schools open back up, that same threat is still there, it exists, maybe more so. That’s why we are more than happy to talk with anybody about their concerns and how they might be able to mitigate those threats.
Thank You to Our Panel of National School Safety Experts & Law Enforcement
Lauren: Everyone, thank you so much for your time and your dedication, and your multi-decade commitment to the safety and security of the future of our children, which is ultimately the future for all of us and this country. We all want to feel comfortable where we live. I can choose to stay here, work here, and play here comfortably, and be able to travel and enjoy the other great places in this country with comfort and solace knowing that there are well-trained and well-coordinated safety and security efforts in multiple jurisdictions.
Thank you everyone for your time, this has been wonderful. We hope to do this sometime soon together, rather than virtually. We hope those of you watching or reading this got valuable information from this Panel of National School Safety Experts.
For More Information on Active Shooter Protection & School Safety, Contact Us Today
It is often said that we are “one casualty away” from learning to be more proactive. Every school and community feels they will never deal with this problem, but it can and does happen everywhere. As this panel said repeatedly, we MUST get out of denial and move into reality. We must use technology and the resources available to stop active shooters in their tracks. Please, embrace the life-saving tools of preparation!
Questions about this topic? Please feel free to contact Guard911 or any of the experts on this panel for a no-obligation conversation. We all want the same thing – to keep our children safe and stop active shooters.