After Florida shooting, Minnesota schools double check security

Florida shooting
People stand outside of a prayer vigil for families of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where a mass shooting took place, at the Parkridge Church, on February 15, 2018 in Parkland, Florida.
Mark Wilson | Getty Images

A day after the shooting that left 17 people dead at a Florida high school, Minnesota school officials were examining their own security measures.

Every school shooting is horrible; tragic, but also informative, according to Gary Amoroso, director of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators. Every time another school shooting hits the news, superintendents watch closely, he said.

They look for details — anything they can use to shore up their own security, and prevent a shooting at their own school.

"We dissect what happened, and I know that's going to happen in Florida. That'll be happening now. And we take whatever information we learn, and we try to continually improve on what we do to protect our students and our staff," Amoroso said.

It's a bit early yet, to know what lessons will be taken from Wednesday's shooting, but some details are raising questions.

Florida law enforcement officials believe Nikolas Cruz, the suspected gunman, pulled a fire alarm, bringing streams of evacuating students into range.

In Minnesota, some schools have fire protocols that could limit the danger in a situation like that.

The Faribault school district, in southern Minnesota was one of the first to adopt a staged evacuation protocol almost 20 years ago. When a fire alarm goes off, superintendent Todd Sesker says someone investigates before students are sent out into the open.

"That teacher will now have to make a decision on whether they need to evacuate, or defend in place," Sesker said. "If it is a real fire, they have to get out of there right? But if it happens to be someone setting them up for whatever it ends up being, then they're better off staying in place."

After the Florida shooting, Sesker said he's going to take a hard look at that practice, because, while it might work in theory, there have been times when students have disregarded protocol, and evacuated immediately.

In Red Lake, school administrators have a similar fire system, but superintendent Melinda Crowley is looking to beef it up.

"We were discussing a new intercom system, that would be tied to radios," Crowley said. "So if a fire alarm was pulled, and we realized it wasn't a legitimate fire alarm, we could very easily get word out to everyone."

The Red Lake district was already highly vigilant. They have been, since a shooting there 13 years ago, which left 10 people dead. Crowley didn't want to comment on the past, but said her security team is always evolving, and getting better.

"We were having this conversation earlier today, looking at what happened in each of these schools, and how would that look if something similar happened in our building, and how can we prepare," Crowley said.

Early this morning President Donald Trump brought up another concern, via Twitter.

He said "So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad and erratic behavior. Neighbors and classmates knew he was a big problem."

The president also called for people to report such behavior to authorities. This highlights long standing questions about just how closely school officials should watch their students, both in person and online.

School security experts at the Minnesota Department of Public Safety have been teaching threat assessment classes to administrators for years, stressing the importance of building information networks between parents, students and staff.

Minnesota schools are already doing their best, said Gary Amoroso.

"We're more vigilant with social media now, than ever before, but as with anything, it may be difficult to catch every single post, or tweet, that talks about violence," Amoroso said.

Security lessons will be taken from the deaths in Florida. But Todd Sesker contends if those lessons don't include some sort of gun control measures, he worries nothing will change.

"As you can probably sense, I'm a little frustrated with it today," he said. "All of us want to have a plan that will eliminate all possibilities. But the reality is, there's nothing that's fool proof. It seems like every time we've got something that we think we're doing correct, then it's countered by some crazy person that's carrying a gun."

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