Safety & Security (Protecting Campus Resources)
Who Holds the Keys?
- By Michael Dorn
- February 1st, 2017
Twelve nationally and internationally experienced school
safety experts performed a detailed
post-incident evaluation of the 2013 activeshooter
and arson attack at Arapahoe High
School in Centennial, CO, as part of an arbitration
process. Littleton Public School District
leaders who requested the evaluation were far
more open and forthright in answering our questions than has been
typical of previous active-shooter cases we have worked. At the beginning
of the investigation, the district agreed that the final report
would be released for wide public dissemination so that other school
officials could learn from any lessons gleaned from the process.
The review team logged more than 1,300 staff hours while
reviewing over 10,000 pages of documents, conducting interviews
and site visits. The resulting 81-page report identifies valuable lessons
learned for both K–12 and higher education officials and can
be downloaded at this URL: http://goo.gl/an7MSk.
Confusion About Keys and Damage to the Facility
Many campuses utilize Knox boxes containing only one or two
keys to allow emergency responders to rapidly open locked doors
during rescue and clearing operations. Arapahoe High School had
Knox boxes and district operations personnel provided additional
master keys to responding law enforcement officers.
However, in the confusion of the event, problems with keys were
encountered. The speed of the attack, the use of both a firearm and
Molotov cocktails by the attacker, the size and complexity of the school
design, the massive number of responding law enforcement officers
and the tactics used by officers conducting the clearing operations created
challenges. For example, three different teams where designated
to sweep every square foot of the school in turn. Officers used a doormarking
system to ensure that every room was cleared three times.
The decision was made for officers to use firefighters’ Halligan
tools to rip open a large number of doors because the keys did not get
distributed to some of the officers who needed them. Though officers
followed training concepts and were naturally focused on finding
any additional attackers, the breaching of doors caused significant
physical and emotional damage that might have been avoided.
Trauma Caused by Rescue Efforts
Compounding the physical damage were two challenges
relating to the mental health needs of students and staff. The
after-action review of the district’s recovery efforts revealed that
many students and staff reported being more frightened by the
clearing teams ripping doors open than they were from the sounds
of gunfire during the attack. As teachers had been trained that
responding officers would use keys to open doors, many assumed
the sounds were being made by attackers.
The recovery team requested that the district’s facilities
personnel rapidly repair damage to the school from the attacker’s
shotgun blasts, replace the damaged doors and doorframes,
remove the door markings and repair damage from a fire in the
library set by the attacker. In a truly amazing and commendable
effort, the district’s facility’s team worked with a mitigation firm to
make this request a reality.
Lives Were Saved but Lessons Learned
The report documents how the school’s emergency preparedness
measures prevented this well-planned attack by a deeply
troubled, heavily armed and intelligent student from becoming the
mass-casualty event he envisioned in his diary. While an innocent
student was murdered by the attacker, the amazingly fast and
effective response of school staff combined with the presence of a
school resource officer at the school denied him the opportunity
to kill the large number of victims the former Eagle Scout desired
when he planned his attack over a three-month time span.
Advance planning for proper key control under crisis conditions
is also important. Littleton Public Schools had to rekey a number of
locks because some of the seven keys they provided to law enforcement
officers were not returned. In another example, one of our
analysts found a grand master key to a school in a parking lot in the
police staging area after a full-scale active shooter exercise in Oregon.
These situations demonstrate the need for thoughtful discussions
between higher education facilities and safety personnel
and local public safety officials. While proximity card systems can
make this easier for some doors, officers will need access to all
interior doors. The ability of responding police to rapidly obtain
adequate numbers of master keys and printed floorplans can
prevent significant property damage, minimize emotional trauma
and could even save human lives.
This article originally appeared in the February 2017 issue of College Planning & Management.
Michael Dorn serves as the executive director for Safe Havens International, Inc., an IRS-approved, nonprofit safety center. He has authored and co-authored more than 20 books on campus safety. He can be reached through the Safe Havens website at www.safehavensinternational.org.