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By Fmr. Secret Service Officer, Gary Byrne, who defended presidents, airplanes, airports, you name it over a 29 year Federal Law Enforcement career.

Just two days ago, February 14, 2018, a man with a firearm attacked a school and killed 17 and wounded many others. This pattern of school shootings and active shooters is too common. I break down the simple solutions to end this cycle with action items that could be implemented tomorrow if we are truly dedicated to ending all school shootings.

To cut to the chase, I endorse several plans: The Secret Service’s “Safe School Initiative Report,” The Department of Homeland Security’s “Run, Hide, Fight Plan" and several others I’ll mention throughout.

When I was in the Secret Service, my protectee was most often Presidents Bush Sn., Bill Clinton, and Bush Jr. When I was with the Air Marshals my protectees were airport, seaport, and train travelers. As a flying Air Marshal, my protectees were the airplane’s pilots, flight crew, and passengers. When I started in the Air Force, my work was responding to 9-1-1 calls and whenever a cop gets that call, we know we’re already too late to prevent the need for that call to have been made in the first place.

First lets address the tired “solutions” towards “active shooters” bemoaned by the talking heads on cable news:

DEMOCRATS shout gun control and push to ban “assault weapons,” but are Democrats satisfied if an attacker used a gun that wasn’t an “assault weapon” or if an attacker used a truck, gasoline bomb, or acid bomb, knife, etc? Stabbing sprees are also becoming more common and we don’t want those in our schools either.

In an old gun control advocacy commercial, a man strolls into a business with a musket and shoots his boss. As he tediously reloads, others escape. The political argument was that the 2nd amendment only applies to single shot breechloaders. But is even one death acceptable? Hell no! I served in the Secret Service for 12 years and if we lost one protectee, such as our president, that was a complete failure. So lets not lower the standard for our school children.

REPUBLICANS, or so-called, as for them… I’m hearing little more than dithering. What is their solution? We’ve seen nothing concrete and so the cycle repeats at a political stalemate.

No loss of innocent life is acceptable. Is there no solution that balances liberty and security and can actually ensure security across a plethora of dangerous scenarios? 100% yes! Here’s what real security looks like.

What I propose has worked for me protecting presidents and regular Americans. It works anywhere and anytime and doesn’t make armed camps out of our schools.

Real security is holistic, based on case study, and is comprised of interlocking interwoven LAYERS.

Layers are the key and will be the go-to keyword.

Imagine a paper bulls-eye target: every attacker has to start outside of the outer ring and work inwards towards the bulls-eye crossing over each layer. At the core is the protectee.

So strategically, we have 4 layers, like rings, an attacker must get through: beyond-outer, outer, middle, and inner. If an attacker penetrates all four layers, only then can their attack reach the protectee, in this case our school children.

LETS BE CLEAR: If a school simply and only has locked outer doors and a uniformed security guard patrolling the area with 9-1-1 on speed dial—they are setting themselves up for catastrophic failure.

Your outer layer of your perimeter is designed to deter, alert, and funnel. If it won’t deter, it at least funnels the attack into certain avenues of approach. Examples of this are roadways, fences, security booths, or front entrance signs that read: “Property under video surveillance.”

The most effective portion of your outer layer is going to be your entry-control point. Simply put, this is your doorway. What does it take to get through it? Is it keycard access? Does someone have to buzz in and identify who he or she is? Or can someone simply smile, make an excuse, and walk in behind someone who does have a key? Most good people are polite and hold the door for one another, as courtesy, so locked doors are easy to get past. You would be surprised to hear how many times this has plagued the Secret Service.

Lets use an example, Disney World, “The happiest place on Earth” because no one thinks of this place as an armed camp. Park visitors either have to trek through the woods and hop a tall fence or go through a vehicle entry control point monitored by a security booth. If someone is acting overtly suspiciously, such as wearing a gas mask and body armor, the security guards will notice. Next the visitor has to park at visitor parking. If they drive straight to the front entrance, security will take notice of the suspicious behavior. Then at the front entrance is a bag check line of screeners that now features random metal detectors. On either side is very friendly armed security and police. This is a great example of outer layer security screening.

We would hope that if someone decided they were going to attack a school, they would see a sign that says “gun free zone” and decide not to carry out their attack, but does anyone really think that would happen? With absolutely certainty, the Secret Service knew of multiple incidents (and I have personally experienced this) where multiple gunmen planned on attacking the President at a campaign event, but attempted to turn away once they met the metal detectors. That’s when the agency nabbed them and arrested them.

But what about beyond-outer? Can we stop potential attackers from ever reaching our schools? After the Columbine School Massacre, the Secret Service was tasked with creating a plan. They did and it works and is available publicly. If someone demonstrates these 4 things they should be treated as a serious threat: MEANS, MOTIVE, OPPORTUNITY, and INTENT.

Take any perpetrator of any crime and they probably displayed these facets before the attack. The Florida School shooter certainly did. He demonstrated MOTIVE by exhibiting such drastic behavioral problems that he was expelled. He demonstrated MEANS by posting pictures of his firearms online. He demonstrated OPPORTUNITY by showing up to school numerous times after expulsion where the school told him “don’t bring your back pack.” INTENT is made clear either from a threat or right before the attack itself. Once someone demonstrates these facets, law enforcement and school administrators have to pounce on it.

When someone acts suspiciously, such as having odd bulging clothing, or a long jacket in the summertime, we should be suspicious of intent. But short of someone making their threats public, the intent can sometimes only be made clear when the attacker arrives with their weapon of choice.

The Secret Service profiles, monitors, and intervenes with potential assassins. If someone threatens the president, they are evaluated based on MEANS, MOTIVE, OPPORTUNITY, and INTENT. If they are an 80-year old destitute wheelchair bound humbug, then it is clear the threat is close to nothing, but if its someone who has demonstrated severe behavioral problems worthy of expulsion, is physically fit, is posting pictures online, and has trespassed on school property before… there’s your warning signs. having odd bulging clothing, or a long jacket in the summertime, we should be suspicious of intent. But short of someone making their threats public, the intent can sometimes only be made clear when the attacker arrives with their weapon of choice.

Having been in the Secret Service, I know that as a country, we are drowning in dangerous people. Addressing cultural and mental health problems are tools that aide security but they are not the whole toolbox. Unlike the dystopian sci-fi movie Minority Report, in real life, there is no way to guarantee security by going after all possibly dangerous people. So lets focus on solutions that can be implemented starting tomorrow and will guarantee results.

Schools must take professional responsibility for their student’s safety. The first step is to liaise with police and professional security to work with schools. Here are the tools to have that discussion so that the plan ends up being holistic, not full of holes.

Start off with the agreed goal: We must guarantee safety. Full stop. Then work backwards from case study with the police. Go through each case study and plan to stop those perpetrators. Think: if attackers, just like the perpetrators from the Columbine School Massacre, were approaching my school during school drop-off, the middle of the day, or pick-up, how would we be ready?

After you’ve identified ways to strengthen the outer layers in a way that is right for your school (entry control points, bag checks or metal detectors, cameras, signage, uniformed presence, etc) the next is the middle and inner layer.


So what happens when the fox gets in the hen house…? We have the middle layer and its designed to sound the alert that something is very wrong.

For most schools, once someone has made it inside, he or she has free uninhibited access, free reign, to walk the halls.

That’s not always the case, in some schools, once a visitor or delivery person is permitted through the electronically controlled door, they have to make it through the secretary’s office or greeter’s office where the secretary inquires more about the nature of the person’s visit and asks the visitor to “sign in” on a visitor log form. The visitor then gets an identification sticker letting all teachers, staff, and students know the wearer is a permitted guest. The idea is that if a random person does not have a sticker, they are trespassing.

But the most common form of middle layer security is going to be “situational awareness.” This refers to alertness and awareness of one’s surroundings. If you were at lunch and saw someone across from you clutching their neck and with blue lips unable to breath, you would respond by calling 9-1-1 and perhaps rendering first aid for choking. But you would have to notice the person first. If you were at a store and saw someone who didn’t’ seem like an employee enter an employee-only area, would you be suspicious? What would you do? If you were at a bus stop and saw someone abandon a bag at the bus stop and then leave, would you notice? Would you call 9-1-1 about a suspicious package?

Situational awareness prevented one school shooting just before this Florida School massacre. Likewise, one brave man saved Times Square from a massive car bombing. Each attack was prevented by someone seeing something suspicious, alerting authorities, hence, my endorsement of implementing official training using the Department of Homeland Security’s “See something, Say something” measures. Implementing situational awareness training and protocols of what to do once a teacher, staff-person, or student notices suspicious behavior springs the inner layer into action.

An alert can be in the form of a secretary or teacher hitting a silent alarm, like bank tellers have at banks, or hitting a very loud alarm specifically for a lockdown procedure. You might be interested to know department clothing stores have secret alerts announced over PA system. “Ivan please call into the Shoe Department” may be a secret signal that there is a shoplifter in the shoe department. Critically important though is alerting 9-1-1. An alert can be as simple as shouting “Gun! Gun! Gun!” or “Run! Run! Run!” if the shooting has already started.

Which brings us to the inner layer. This is the last line of defense before an attacker, in this case an active shooter, reaches its intended victims, in this case: school children.

But to be clear: alerted authorities are not the inner layer; they are backup; they are the cavalry. You also have to recognize that fire code and active shooter prevention plans may work against one another. Fire exits may allow entry of a lurking trespasser or active shooter while locked front doors and key card access may hinder police from tracking down the active shooter and killing that attacker. Also know this: all police are being trained that in the event of an active shooter, to literally step over the wounded, even children, until the attacker has been neutralized. Ambulances and medics are held at the scene’s perimeter until given the all clear that the shooter has been neutralized. That’s also why the inner layer of defense is critical.

If the signage that says “gun free zone” or “private property” doesn’t deter, and the locked doors have either been snuck past or shot through, and the greeter or secretary’s office has either accidentally let someone through or properly alerted the school and authorities to the suspicious person—perhaps lock down procedures have been.

Many schools have committed to pacifism and a code of non-violence. While pacifism may be a noble personal choice, it is unacceptable to push that choice onto others without consent. But in actuality, pacifism in place of a security plan is not just inefficacious; it’s not even possible. Take for example, an ardently Quaker school whose administration and teachers swear themselves to pacifism; those zealots must still recognize their own irrelevancy; they are still depending on police to arrive to save them—and those responding police have one intention in mind: kill that attacker or accept the attacker’s surrender. We’ve seen many spree killers commit suicide at the first sign of resistance or even surrender to police as soon as they arrive. The Florida Ft. Lauderdale Airport massacre, the Colorado Aurora Movie Theatre Massacre, and even this Florida Parkland School Massacre all ended with complete surrender to the police—but only after innocents lost their lives! One female private security got such a surrender when she faced down an attempted spree killer at her school—but no one died then because she was inside the school. The irony here must be recognized; a commitment to pacifism is enticing murderers to commit their attack on our schools, targeting our children. And in numerous incidences, it is because of men and women ready to do violence to defend others that no one has been killed in the first place!

If the gunman has penetrated the building and is roaming the halls, what then?

At this point, deterrence is over. Appealing to the gunman’s morality and milk of human kindness is over.

The inner layer is made up of human beings inside the school. It is the sole purpose of the inner layer to meet the attacker at an entry control point or seek out the attacker and kill that person or accept their surrender. This inner layer can be a uniformed or non-uniformed police contingent stationed inside the school at key entryways. It can be private security. It could be volunteers made up of school employees, parents, etc. It can be a mix.

How we defend our schools is about more than life and death; it’s about morality and consent.

So even if a school’s principal or a school board are pacifist fanatics, first they should have very strong beyond-outer, outer, and middle security layers, with consistent training programs. However, by not having an inner layer, they are still depending on someone else doing violence to save them and the kids they are responsible for. So lets stop being intellectually lazy and cowardly, because, “ready or not” the threat is real and it’s not stopping, unless you (yes, I mean you) commit to stopping it.

If a school refuses to take responsibility, and stubbornly insists that only police can do violence on their behalf and bizarrely insists that police must hunt down spree killers starting from outside the school working their way in, instead of having defenders defend the school from inside-out, I recommend the school issue parents and students permission slips each year getting their brazen policies.

It’s a matter of consent. Parents and students need to consent to this level of negligence. Imagine if the Secret Service only carried walkies and cell phones to call 9-1-1 whenever an attacker arose. We used to have such a policy during the time of Abraham Lincoln, William McKinley, and James Garfield, but they’ve long since been assassinated.

Security plans for any place where many people congregate, need to be holistic, well thought out and based on case study. We can no longer afford to listen to the intellectual lazy as they pound tired drums of their own political agendas. “Gun free” zones without all of the layers I mentioned are creating “free-fire zones” and literally making schools more attractive to potential spree killers.

I fully endorse school boards and schools to:

  • Recognize you are not security experts, no more than Abraham Lincoln was an expert in his own security;

  • Liaise with local police and take their guidance wholeheartedly;

  • Seriously consider adopting the Secret Service’s Safe School Initiative, The Department of Homeland Security’s “See something, say something” initiative as well as the “Run, Hide, Fight” Plan;

  • Have your local police consider adding a permanent inner layer contingent inside the school or contacting professional armed security companies to hire private security or look into the National Rifle Association’s School Shield Program if a school wanted to provide their own security in a more budget-friendly yet equally serious manner.

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