Safer Schools in an Age of Mass Violence: Back to the Basics of Public Health
Schools in the US are by and large safe environments where millions of our children are secure and thrive. Outbreaks of fatal violence like the recent shootings at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) are, fortunately, rare. In fact, the odds of a student losing his or her life to homicide are 50 times more likely while off school grounds. Because of the extraordinary consequences and societal shock waves caused by a low-probability mass casualty disaster in a school, this becomes one of the “all hazards” that campuses must plan to face, albeit with limited budgets and resources. This is not to say that we should bypass the opportunity to learn from the lessons and unpredicted shortfalls that any crisis reveals. Within weeks of the lethal violence at Virginia Tech, the first round of meetings to analyze the catastrophe was organized in Washington, DC. Officials from the Departments of Justice, Education, and Health and Human Services, along with a range of key stakeholders, participated in the discussions that focused on conditions or gaps that may have contributed to or exacerbated the consequences of this particular incident. The result of this after-incident analysis was a series of specific actions that could reduce the risk for a similar occurrence.
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