Read: What I saw treating the victims from Parkland should change the debate on guns
The report is a searing indictment of the failures that day and those that led up to it, but it also offers several best practices for preventing the next school shooting. For many school-safety experts, the recommendations are all too familiar. “Overall, there were some solid recommendations in terms of best practices that came out of Parkland. That’s the good news,” Kenneth Trump, who runs National School Safety and Security Services, a school-safety consulting firm, told me. “The bad news is they’re the same as the best practices that came out of Sandy Hook, which were the same best practices that were learned after Columbine. So they’re not new.”
Trump, who is of no relation to the president, says that in the wake of high-profile shootings, school districts and legislators will often rush to implement fixes that aren’t ultimately maintained. Cameras are found to no longer be working once the incident has faded; security protocols are forgotten with turnover. School safety isn’t always just the security measures you can see, Trump says, but also the ecosystem on campus that creates an environment that shuns bullying, encourages students to report suspicious behavior, and fosters a healthy school climate.
That’s a difficult thing to explain to parents who fear losing their children in school shootings, which are still extraordinarily rare, Trump says. “You can’t just point to a culture of safety as easily as you can point to a camera and say, ‘Trust us, your child’s school is safer,’ ” he says.
The search for active prevention measures has led some people to believe that the federal government should play a larger role. The Department of Homeland Security and the FBI, among other agencies, are already trying to prevent domestic terrorism, the thinking goes. And many school shootings fit the mold, says Martha Crenshaw, a senior fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University, as a “type of violence that shocks or surprises, something that provokes outrage.” That outrage could stem from the nature of the crime or the nature of the victim, she says. “Who could be more innocent than schoolchildren?”
The National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, known as START, at the University of Maryland has been tracking terror incidents through the Global Terrorism Database. And there has been a disconnect between the government definition of terrorism, particularly domestic terrorism, and the working definition used by START, Gary LaFree, the group’s founding director, told me. To the organization, an incident of terrorism needs to be intentional; involve violence; be committed by someone other than a government agent; and, perhaps most importantly, have a political, economic, religious, or social goal. Under that definition, school shootings could be considered terrorism in some cases, as Columbine was and as the Parkland shooting likely will be, LaFree says.