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Are schools prepared for school shootings? RTI International launches nationwide study

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, NC— Since the 1999 Columbine killings, American schools (kingerdarten through grade 12) have experienced more than 184 firearms incidents, with 329 victims injured or killed.

With each disturbing act of violence, families and educators become more concerned, and public officials speculate on how to prevent the next act. Meanwhile, putting plans into action to protect schools in an emergency situation can prove challenging.

This month, researchers at RTI International will launch a comprehensive study of preparedness for violent emergencies in the nation’s schools. The two-year study is funded by the National Institute of Justice.

By examining evidence at the state, district, and school level, they aim to determine the extent to which schools are following federal safety guidelines, identify districts with the strongest policies, and learn more about the needs of school systems with different characteristics.

“Active shooter scenarios or other forms of serious violence can happen anywhere, and no school is totally insulated from attack,” said Josh Hendrix, Ph.D., a criminologist at RTI and the project’s co-principal investigator. “Because these events can cause irreparable damage in a matter of minutes, it is critical that schools are prepared for immediate action and the rapid deployment of resources and personnel. This study will help us to understand as a nation how prepared our schools are in the event of a violent emergency.”

Through the Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools Technical Assistance Center (REMS), the U.S. Department of Education provides guidelines and recommendations to school systems to help them prepare for violent emergency situations. In 2013, the REMS Center released a guide for developing high-quality emergency operations plans.

“What is not clear is how readily this guidance is reaching school districts and schools and how many of the recommendations are being implemented by schools,” said Suyapa Silvia, Ph.D. a senior research analyst at RTI and principal investigator for the project. “Our study aims to fill this gap.”

The researchers hope to gather enough data to create performance indicators that can help school systems refine and improve their emergency plans.

The preparedness study is one of several projects at RTI involving school safety and related issues of mental health and justice. Other topics RTI researchers are investigating include:

  • Bullying and violence on school buses
  • School-based mental health services in Charlotte-Mecklenburg (North Carolina) Schools
  • A comprehensive school safety initiative for Shelby County, Tennessee
  • Now is the Time, an initiative to increase access to mental health services

View infographic here