Quick security risk management analysis of the St. Louis school shooting

BLUF: Thoughts and prayers for the victims. Let’s continue to learn and improve. The preparation and response to the school shooting in St. Louis showed a combination of security progress, good fortune, and ongoing challenges. Read more here.

Emerging facts at hand (as we know now):

· The shooter gained entry to school despite locked doors and guard stations.

· The guards at school were unarmed.

· The school had some active shooter protocols that were reasonably followed.

· The shooter gained access to some classrooms and not others.

· Many students were able to escape from windows due to emergency action plans.

· The shooter did not try to hide the weapon, it was openly brandished as he entered.

· There was little recourse to ongoing updates other than by fleeing students.

· Armed first responders got to the shooter roughly 8 minutes after arrival.

· Some reported that the gun jammed on at least one occasion.

· Gunman had much more ammunition that was not used.

· The school was a non-traditional school (performing arts).

· A code word was used to signal the presence of an active shooter.

There were some positive aspects of the security risk management approach. Based on what we know now, it appears that the school had received some training and held active shooter drills. This showed in the locked doors, immediate response, and basic emergency plan. There were some drills performed in the past that focused on notifications over loud speaker, locking doors, hiding, and escaping. Based on early returns, the school responded swiftly and helped to reduce access to more victims. Additionally, although the guards on premise were not armed, the responding armed officers were able to get into the school and neutralize the threat within about 8 minutes of arriving. This is a great response time and decisive actions were taken as needed in a timely manner. Fleeing staff and students were also debriefed quickly which provided time sensitive and necessary situational awareness.

The event could have turned out a lot worse, and a few factors helped mitigate this. The gun reportedly jammed at least once and not all of the ammunition brought into the school was used. The shooter did not seem to be well trained, didn’t seem to have a plan after entry, and was unstable. He was also heard yelling and was vocal throughout much of the event making it easier to locate him. This likely helped reduce casualties. The school has multiple floors and windows and this created more landscape for the shooter to traverse and for students to escape from. A SWAT team was training nearby and was able to help clear the building. If there had been a larger threat, barricaded shooter, or multiple shooters, this would have proven to be a difference maker.

Hindsight is always clearer and we must always seek to improve. The gunman entered the school DESPITE locked doors and guard stations. This means a couple of things: 1) The shooter planned this, and 2) there were vulnerabilities (probably windows or a side door) that rendered the main physical barriers useless. If there were cameras (whether they detected weapons or not), they were not overly helpful in preventing this. They did not capture the gunman (former student) casing the location and when the student entered with a gun, this did not thwart the attack. The gunman was able to enter some rooms and not others, so he was able to bypass the locked doors by shooting through them or through windows. The threat indicators, if any, from other students, social media, mental health reports, or law enforcement, were not monitored or present in this case. Time will tell how many risk indicators were present. There was also no known software, redundant communications, or information consolidation capabilities to provide real-time updates to first responders or school officials or to help account for students. It is unclear what the unarmed guards (more than one present) did when the shooter gained access to the building and what protocols they were following.

In short, the school and LEA showed great improvement in their preparedness and response to this tragedy. As more information emerges, so will more lessons and context. For now, we need to look at the gaps and opportunities to improve security risk management at other schools and workplaces. Proactive and comprehensive risk intelligence, enhanced physical security measures, crowd-sourced reporting, improved early warning, improved drills and training, and armed guards on site are a few areas that immediately stand out. We are happy to help provide access to proven consultants and introductions to some technology that can help in the future.