Layers of Resistance for School Safety

On December 14, 2012, Adam Lanza moved around Sandy Hook Elementary with unrestricted access to victims and executed our most vulnerable and precious gems with minimal resistance. The attack resulted in one of the nation’s most horrific and emotional tragedies involving our schools and questioned everyone’s thoughts on school safety.

The release of the After-Action Report (AAR) detailing the incident’s investigation revealed many points in the report that are noteworthy of attention – specifically on the topic of resistance.

After reading the report in its entirety, I realized that if there were layers of resistance to avert the attacker from gaining access to victims, then there could have been a different result in the amount of lives lost on that dark, December day.

The Sandy Hook AAR states that after Lanza murdered his mother at their home, he then drove directly to Sandy Hook Elementary and parked near the front of the school. Armed with an assault rifle and two handguns, Lanza made his approach to the front entrance doors of the school. Up to that point, the rules during the hours of operation were to funnel any visitors to a single point entrance at the front of the school. At the front entrance, the school had installed a camera and intercom and outsiders could only enter when buzzed in. At this point Lanza met his first layer of resistance and I can only assume he had planned for this barrier. With rifle in hand and death in his mind, Lanza fired the semi-automatic weapon at the glass window next to the secured front entrance doors. After firing eight rounds of 5.56mm through the large glass window Lanza moved into the front lobby of the school. As he moved into the front lobby, Lanza encountered the school principal and school psychologist, who were responding from a meeting in room number nine. At this time, Lanza engaged and struck Dawn Hochsprung and Mary Sherlach in the hallway who both died as a result of their wounds. Two other adults were wounded outside the conference room. One laid in the hallway and played dead while the second made her way back into the conference room with other adult staff.  After Lanza fired approximately sixteen rounds from his rifle in the lobby area he moved into the front office where he did not locate any of the staff who were hiding under their desks. He continued back into the north hallway where he had just taken his last shots. Lanza then loomed near first grade classroom number eight and entered through the unlocked door where he committed the most gruesome act. He executed two adults and fifteen children and then progressed back to the north hallway and emerged near classroom number ten. Again, Lanza was able to freely move into a second, unsecured classroom that housed more innocent first-grade children and killed two more adults and five children. This is where Lanza decided to take his life with a self-inflicting wound to the head. In my professional opinion, Lanza decided not to pursue the remaining children in the room or move on to another classroom because he met his second layer of resistance: the approaching sounds of police sirens.

After studying the sequence of events mentioned above, I can presume that if all classrooms had their doors locked, Lanza would not have been able to murder 26 people that day. In fact, during my review of many active shooter incidents I have yet to find a time any assailant came to a locked door and forcibly breached it. All reports have indicated that these cowards hunt for the most vulnerable victims in the most opportune moments. They do not want to waste time forcing their way into the unknown of a room that could possibly be empty or encounter people with the mindset to fight back.

When layers of resistance are placed in front of the assailant it provides them with fewer opportunities to complete their mission. When these incidents occur and layers of resistance are present it creates time to be controlled in the favor of the victims. When it takes the assailant more time to penetrate through security barriers it allows people to carry out their plan and fight back. Whether staff call 911, alert the rest of the school, barricade the room, hide children, evacuate or prepare to fight back, these additional layers prolong the attacker from harming victims. When Lanza shot his way into the school he met his first layer of resistance. This barrier caused him to waste ammunition, alert the school and most notably, prevented Lanza from killing anyone before the school knew he was there. This layer of resistance also sparked several staff members to call 911 and hide.

We do know, however, after Lanza moved into the school he did not meet another layer of resistance until police were within earshot of the scene. On an everyday basis, keeping doors locked is easy and free of cost. At Sandy Hook Elementary, they had solid wood doors that opened outward toward the hallway. Consequently, if they were locked then Lanza would’ve had to breach the door by prying it open. He could not kick it in because the door frame would prohibit it. Even if he attempted to shoot the locks out, the fragmentation would most likely jam into the frame, making it more difficult to open. These barriers not only force the assailant away from the desired room at the moment, but it’s saving lives by allowing time to lapse for first responders to arrive. Additionally, the sounds of law enforcement arriving on scene are a layer of resistance because it tells the attacker time is up. The assailant knows an overwhelming amount of force is gaining upon them quickly, so the attacker is forced to execute their final objective and that is traditionally suicide or surrender. I believe if all classroom doors were secured at Sandy Hook we may have only lost two adults that day.

In conclusion, our children’s schools are expected to maintain a firm grasp on security issues and ensure the upmost safety at all times. It would be completely ignorant for any of us to discount the lessons learned from Sandy Hook and other tragic school events, and thankfully I don’t see that happening. Schools are taking steps to improve their safety plans and security features. Our company strives to educate administration, teachers and parents on what today’s trends are regarding safety risks. In order to combat violent attacks to the masses, layers of resistance have to be already in place and additional layers have to be implemented through training and routine drills. Remember, no matter how many layers of resistance are set in place, it is nearly impossible to stop serious wounds or fatalities in every instance. But, it is possible to mitigate mass casualties. For now, start simple and cheap and keep all classroom doors locked at all times- it’s a robust layer of resistance that could save lives!!


Stay Safe, Stay Prepared


About Steven S. Smith

Steven S. Smith, the President and Founder of Guardian Defense, offers active shooter training programs to staff within schools, colleges, churches, law enforcement agencies, businesses, and hospitals; in order to build confidence and save time in the event of an intruder, active shooter or killer, or other terror attack. Mr. Smith is a current certified law enforcement officer and has a range of experience on school and public safety, and investigation work. He is currently a team leader and instructor on the SWAT Team, for which he joined in 2009. Mr. Smith graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology, with a concentration in Criminal Justice, in 2005 from Nova Southeastern University.