The Right Way, The Wrong Way or No Way. Which Will It Be?

A Note from David Thompson

Rapidly expanding public attention combined with sustaining media interest caused me to ask Tom Preston for thoughts on school safety and press commentaries.

He brings 60 years of experience with acute crisis prevention, response and resolution, ranging from secret global counterterrorism missions as an Army officer to state and federal protective roles and being appointed Homeland Security Chief for Kentucky.

Tom’s near-lifelong dealing with nearly every imaginable type of dreaded situation adversely affecting the general public, businesses, and governments involves thwarting attackers, security strategy and intelligence assessments plus law enforcement seminars.

Early in his career he owned community newspapers in our Commonwealth as well as engaging in national magazine publishing. From 1968 to today his consulting firm, now Preston Global, continues in crisis prevention, response and communication.


Part 2 of a series about securing schools against active shooters.

By Thomas L. Preston


Tom Preston

A common sense safe school model can be implemented quickly. Doing so requires only joint commitment by leaders who can carry out the mission within a brief timeline. This model is designed to prevent armed combat inside schools.

Initially, the cost might temporarily restrain those who must act affirmatively. However, as they weigh dire consequences of not adequately shielding students, faculty, administrators, other staff and visitors from active shooters or other would-be assailants, second thoughts should prevail.

The good news is how minimal funding after first-year establishment of screening units connected to school buildings becomes the norm. In addition to stopping deadly violence before murderers attack interiorly, this model will assuage fear of sudden death, injury and associated traumas among all directly or indirectly affected. It will lead to a desired learning environment, which is not the case today.

  • It demands a “can do” attitude from federal and state governments — from educational decision-makers and private sector advocates. In concert across our Commonwealth, traditional media can get the ball rolling NOW, with clarity and forcefulness about such a vital cause.
  • It requires instant funding, which under most conditions, will circulate back into involved communities, therefore becoming an economic stimulant. Federal dollars are available through emergency appropriations just as emergency financing has been relied on during prior eras.
  • It calls for modest additions to school entrances. Each contains formula-based ingress and egress controlled passageways thus assuring protected interiors.   Supervised walk-through inductive metal detectors plus X-ray units will scan for any illegal objects threatening life and limb.
  • It invites willing, dedicated adults who volunteer as trained monitors for a day or two each week at the magnetometer and X-ray viewing stations.
  • It begins an overdue process of eliminating backpacks. Hiding weapons, drugs and other baneful items in backpacks should have been addressed long ago. Printed textbooks aren’t needed since all information contained therein can be transferred to laptops. Gym clothing can be kept in one’s locker, and when necessary be brought to school in an easily searched drawstring bag.
  • It places additional law enforcement personnel in schools to supervise the overall security process.
  • It forms a basis for future actions supporting improved mental and emotional health solutions, parenting responsibilities and avoids disruptions.

As previously stated, without total interior access control, all else attempted on behalf of security within the confines of school buildings are flawed. Weapons, illegal drugs/opiates, explosives plus other illegalities will easily slip into an unprotected, falsely described “safe haven.” This can’t be tolerated!

Well-meaning citizens from young to elderly are suggesting ideas they hope might stop active shooters. Certain ones are laudable, yet in most instances they fit into a long-term implementation process. Other suggestions are counterproductive — fraught with ominous imperfections, waste of time and resources. They add to an already growing burden for teachers and administrators who must perform under the long-established and heavily tested legal rule termed “In Loco Parentis.”

While examining this increasingly complex matter surrounding active shootings, especially in high schools, recent accounts show that between 2013 and last year about one intended or accidental gun discharge each day took place somewhere in the United States.

In another study, this by the FBI for a period between 2000 and 2013, data collectors reportedly found approximately one quarter of all active shooter episodes in the U.S. happened in ‘educational environments.” And, they were on the rise, a report writer stated.

In other words, warning signs are staring leaders directly in the face. Yet, with notable exceptions, why do we hear foot-dragging?   Let’s quickly check three serious mistakes.

Mistake #1. Arm school personnel. Allowing anyone to carry a weapon on school property, other than professional law enforcement personnel, raises chances for senseless harm. Example: Two weeks ago a high school teacher accidently discharged a pistol while foolishly conducting a justice administration course.

Teachers must not become pawns for additional duty as armed guards. Interviews indicate that few educators want to be in such a situation. They understand how persons receiving weapons training, who served in the military and who possess a concealed carry license still can pose grave dangers to others.

Few adults, even those from the military, have been tested in an actual gun battle against an irate adversary intent upon slaughter. It’s one thing to practice by using paper targets, tin cans or something akin to a human head. It’s another to engage an adversary hyped on drugs, angry, perilous, yet frequently unusually calm.

If you’ve never discharged a gun in self-defense or were fortunate enough to avoid being shot at multiple times, the experience is critically alien to playing cowboy at a supervised range, on the farm or in woods where targets are defenseless.

As a gun owner practically my entire life, a veteran who relied on a variety of weapons, I support the Second Amendment, though not to the extreme of some. I fully endorse the premise of self-protection and need in assisting vulnerable people. Yet, only with constant training and daily field experience would I belong in a school as an armed resource officer.

Think ADRENALINE, a powerful, instant-acting hormone affecting body circulation as well as muscular action. Adrenaline causes excitement/stimulation precariously altering dexterity including a clear line of sight. Certain active shooters, unfortunately, remain impervious to the hormone’s usual nfluence.

Mistake #2. Show negativity. The major responsibility for all elementary and secondary school officials is providing the safest possible environment.

Postulating limp excuses not to immediately construct a simple screening addition at school entrances has no merit. The U.S. House and Senate along with state Legislative bodies can and should allocate financial resources without delay thus creating access barriers to all types of weapons and other harmful items. The portal concept is a one-time expense except for minor reserves to upgrade equipment and maintain small yet efficient passageways for ingress and egress.

In Kentucky, very preliminary estimates indicate protecting high schools would cost between 40 and 50 million to renovate entrances for a reported 192 buildings operating today. Included would be money for design-build, supplies, bullet- resistant glass doors or windows and to help pay for law enforcement officials on duty during class hours.

Trustworthy parents in every community are indicating willingness to devote, without pay, a day or two each week overseeing mag stations plus x-ray machines,   while supervised by a law enforcement officer.

Another positive is most of the money spent will circulate back into communities, thus becoming an economic boost. With few exceptions, labor, supplies and associated expenses would be purchased locally. Also, per unit expense declines when government agencies buy technology in volume from competent bidders.

History has proven that all of this can be accomplished without delay. No better example is when President Franklin Roosevelt with Congressional support did it immediately after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.

Not to be overlooked is this: President Roosevelt went before Congress for emergency appropriations. Congress acted instantly – no wrangling, no delays, no volumes of rules and regulations. The mandate was simply, “Get the job done now!”

The great industrialist, Henry J. Kaiser, further proved recognition of need when he in short order converted several of his commercial shipbuilding operations into manufacturing only military cargo and troop ships. Using imaginative, inventive methods never before attempted, Kaiser Shipyards previously averaging 230 days to build even smaller vessels, initially reduced construction time to an average of 45 days and ultimately to less than three weeks.

One yard crew set a record in November 1942 when it constructed a huge Liberty ship in four days and 15½ hours! This adage applies: “Nothing makes people more productive than the last minute.” Yes, each passing minute invites more carnage.

Aren’t we just as adept today? I believe the answer is “you bet we are!”=

Constant urging from the traditional press for a model such as this will generate necessary support. It must continue until the last school is safe. With media leadership forging ahead, all structures can and should be prepared by this fall.

Mistake #3. Complaining about affordability.  Hogwash! Check, for instance, federal records, especially those of the National Science Foundation. This agency spent 1.5 million of our tax dollars to put a mudskipper fish on a treadmill, testing its flopping speed!

NSF also spent $150,000 trying to figure out why politics stress us out.  You can find waste a-plenty! Here are a couple of other countless examples: $2.5 million for a Super Bowl commercial by the Census Bureau that was rated the worst TV spot among all aired. And, $15 million to train Kenyan farmers how to use Facebook!

Lost money that could have protected students? Consider $43 million to build a gas station in Afghanistan that no car can use because they don’t run on compressed natural gas, which is what the station offered!

How about $15 million in federal funds to research the effectiveness of golf equipment in space? Anyone read about these slipping through the cracks? Waste abounds as evidenced by annual investigations such as the ones cited here.

Look for Part 3 in our series. Maybe our state can become a national example for doing what works on behalf of today’s vulnerable citizens. Surely, editorial, columnist and reportorial interest and wisdom can prevail. Surely leaders who can make a positive difference will step up.

Otherwise, on whose hands will future blood be covered?

One response to “The Right Way, The Wrong Way or No Way. Which Will It Be?”

  1. Tom Preston says:

    Part 4 in this series, scheduled for April 20, will feature responses from readers who react to or ask questions about Tom Preston’s school security model negating active shooter intentions and attempts. If you wish to pose a question or offer a different viewpoint, email or

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *