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America's latest school shooting renews thoughts, differing opinions on protection

Joe Raedle, Getty Images

This week's deadly mass shooting at a high school in Florida, the 18th incident involving a gun on a school's grounds in the U.S. this year, is again raising questions about how other schools may prepare and react in the event trouble comes to their campus. WBFO spoke with a local defensive strategy trainer and a local longtime social worker to hear their thoughts.

Those carrying out gun attacks on an unsuspecting public are becoming more tactically advanced, according to a local firearms and defensive strategies training provider.  

Stephen Felano of Defensor Incorporated, based in Grand Island, says a better understanding of how attackers think is one of the critical issues school administrators need to address when evaluating their preparedness for live shooter incidents.

"Really what schools need to think about is taking a proactive approach to situational awareness, stress innocculation for these events and being able to apply tactical medical care," Felano said.


The training that Felano's company provides includes instruction on the differences between cover and concealment, and the pros and cons. Cover is the protection that protect an individual from a handgun or rifle round, while concealment is the simple hiding from the attacker's sight. 

"Maybe you could more readily escape if you were concealed but it's something that could not stop a round coming out of a rifle or a handgun," he explained.

If some school districts are now considering new options to protect their students and teachers, one local longtime social worker suggests they instead revisit some initiatives that were introduced after the 1999 Columbine shootings. Bob James says many of those ideas, such as the school resource officer, actually worked until school boards acted to defund them.

"The school resource officer is like the mix between the community police person and a social worker," James said. "They were not only the protective presence. They were there to keep their finger on the pulse of what was happening within the school, any kind of underlying rumblings of conflicts that were coming up."

James, along with Gary Ciurczak, conducted a five-year study between the years 1997 and 2003 - before and after Columbine - during which thousands of students were gathered in focus groups and asked for their thoughts on improving school culture, including safety.

Credit courtesy Bob James
A summary of a five-year study conducted by Bob James and Gary Ciurczak involving student focus groups that looked into school culture and issues including violence prevention.

"The students echoed the same things that the national experts echoed, in terms of the need for certain programs," he said. "And a lot of those best practices programs that were installed and worked effectively slowly got defunded."

Their voices, he added, do not get enough respect.

"I think students sometimes have roles in decision-making meetings that are more nominal than substantive," James said. "What I knew from the study I did with Dr. Ciurczak is, we trained students to facilitate focus groups of other students. 

"We came up with stuff that was phenomenal in terms of depth of expertise and understanding of what was happening within the school culture, regarding school violence prevention."

The question of whether armed security should be staffed in schools is renewed following gun incidents at schools. Under New York State law, school boards can designate certain individuals to carry concealed firearms on a campus. Felano's company offers training to individuals who may become part of a response plan but he warns that not everyone necessarily is fit for that role. He acknowledged the concerns that some, even after undergoing training, might panic in the event of a live incident and become a danger in his or her own right.

"This training is not a free-for-all," he said. "We're not just handing out firearms willy-nilly to any teacher who wants one. You have to pass a selection. In many ways, it's like a military special forces selection. We're looking for a certain mindset and physical capability and a mental capability as well to be able to do the things that are necessary in this type of event."

While James suggests school districts revisit past ideas that, as he stated, worked well while properly funded, Felano encourages administrators to examine their preparedness as long-term debate goes on about how to curb gun violence.

"Yes, we're looking at various legislative ways to potentially address this scourge. But let's be honest, the effects of that legislation is many months, years, maybe decades out from having any impact," Felano said. "What are we going to do about the active killer that's going to happen tomorrow, next week, next month, next year?"

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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