What the viral Sandy Hook video is trying to tell you: A risk management professional’s opinion.

Toby Houchens

This video created by the Sandy Hook Promise organization (https://youtu.be/b5ykNZl9mTQ) cut through a lot of red tape, tests boundaries, and provides a realistic view into the stark reality of school safety and security today. This direct communication is sorely needed in the education industry that is rife with special interests, politics, and critical misconceptions of risk management that create inertia. The responses to the video have been varied and egregious. Many have used it to advance anti-gun movements while others have used it as a way to advocate for more government control and support of safety and security initiatives. Others have interpreted the video in convenient ways and are spinning the content to meet their own special interests. We need to focus on the real message here, what it means, and what we can do to heed the deafening echo the video creates in our emotions and psyche. 

In many ways, the video uncovers a microcosm of a larger societal problem of increasing division and psychiatric deterioration. Mass violence situations are still relatively rare but are occurring in multiple types of public venues and in different forms. Much like domestic and international terrorists, the goal is revenge, messaging, attention, and most importantly, identity. Whether it has an external trigger (bullying, rejection, grooming, isolation, etc) or internal trigger (depression, political extremism, genetics, etc), there are issues that have causes, roots, triggers, and most importantly, indicators, that if ignored will ultimately bubble over and erupt. None of this should challenge our minds or come as a surprise. What is surprising is the decades of inaction and frail treatment of symptoms. It’s the easy solutions that make school security and governing officials feel better about themselves, yet solve nothing. More guards, hotlines, emergency buttons, guns, psychiatrists, metal detectors, and more walls to make the school look and feel like a prison or psychiatric ward are the stock answers.

Although it’s tempting, the point of this article is not to point out the countless mistakes and failed policies involved in the immature school risk management industry. Rather, when you watch the Sandy Hook video and others that will certainly follow, listen to what these voices of change are trying to say and what they don’t know how to say. There are indicators. There are signs. There are behavior patterns. There are events. There is data available if we care enough to collect it. There is technology that can help connect the dots. We can’t say that privacy must be protected at all costs and then protest increasing mass violence and take aim at the schools and governments for not doing enough. When anomalies in society are detected, it’s ok to report and collect that data as long as there are proper safeguards and quality control measures in place. We do it in almost every other aspect of business and force protection. Why should public venues and schools be excluded from monitoring and scrutiny? It’s lazy and irresponsible to hold the viewpoint of, “we can’t,” or “it’s too hard.” 

We are failing for many reasons, but one of the main reasons, is the reluctance to admit that we are all vulnerable and not immune to human risk. Any one of us can be radicalized, pushed, prodded, deprived, and capable of unspeakable acts. Any one of us can help create the conditions for these events to occur. We must also realize that any one of us can help turn the tide. Any one of us can reach out and connect. We can help create conditions and culture of openness and inclusion. Any one of us can notice the signs if we care. We might not be able to foresee every threat and all of the evil that exists, but if we try, we can do better. There is not one solution. There is no line item in a budget that will save the day. Comprehensive and strategic risk management will not guarantee total safety and security, but it will give us the best chance of realizing a holistic culture and approach that will create safer conditions, realize danger faster, help us respond to indicators, get help where it’s needed, and aid crucial decisions that will enable more intelligent and practical security programs. 

The children in the video demonstrated the reality of the society we live in. The tears and blood symbolized in the video have been shed in our neighborhoods and venues. It shouldn’t trigger anger, hopelessness, or accusations of fear mongering. Instead, it should trigger resolve and commitment to do what it takes to protect our most prized possessions. Leave our egos and politics at the door and truly understand that half measures and “feel-good” responses are not enough. Siloed physical security and symptomatic law enforcement approaches will never work. Strategic security risk management (ESRM) will help us “see the signs,” and build tomorrow’s safe and productive learning centers around the world. We should not ignore the help requested in this seminal and important video. 

Alpha Recon will continue its mission of providing comprehensive risk management solutions for schools and all types of campuses. Please follow our website and social media pages for a series of articles on improving school safety and security in a holistic risk management context. If we can help your campus in any way, don’t let cost be the reason why you don’t reach out. We are working with business sponsors and fundraising companies to get schools the technology and capabilities that will truly make a difference. 

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