Michele Gay is all too familiar with the heartbreak of active shooter incidents. Gay’s daughter Josephine Grace was among the 20 children and six staff members killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012.
One of two co-founders of Safe and Sound Schools, Gay’s current role and mission to “support school crisis prevention and protect every school and every student, every day” brought her to NFPA’s headquarters for the first of three Massachusetts School Active Shooter Symposiums this month. The mother-turned-advocate hailed organizers for setting the bar for other policymakers across the country to hold similar programs and support efforts that will reduce risk in schools.
"Without strong leadership and leaders putting money where their mouth is, it’s like pushing a giant boulder uphill,” Gay said. "Safety is something we all say we want. The mission statement for every single school in America says something about providing a safe and secure environment but when it comes down to the realities of what it takes to keep people safe, we often turn away because it’s uncomfortable, expensive, or may cause us to get into arguments. We need community leaders to work together, and our policymakers to champion, endorse and support collaboration.”
The Massachusetts School Active Shooter Symposium was developed at the request of Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, and co-hosted by State Fire Marshal Peter Ostroskey and NFPA President/CEO Jim Pauley. Following the release of NFPA 3000TM (PS), Standard for an Active Shooter / Hostile Event Response (ASHER) Program, Baker asked the fire marshal, the Secretary of the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, and the Undersecretary of Homeland Security for the State of Massachusetts to bring together school, police, fire and EMS officials to discuss the unified planning, response and recovery strategies outlined in NFPA 3000. It is believed that Governor Baker is the first governor in the country to convene such a summit on school active shooter protocol. Two additional summits will be held later in the month. In total more than 500 first responders and educators are expected to participate.
NFPA 3000, the first standard of its kind, provides the framework for entire communities to organize, manage, communicate, and sustain an active shooter/hostile event program. NFPA’s Jim Pauley told the full-to-capacity crowd, “What brings us here today is a whole different level of concern. Without question, schools and campuses have been the most engaged audience since we released NFPA 3000; this is not surprising, considering the lives you are entrusted to care for.”
The state fire marshal underscored the importance of developing and reviewing comprehensive school emergency plans annually before school starts – a requirement that has been in place in Massachusetts since 2002. “We’ve worked together to develop medical emergency response plans, protocol for bomb threats, and to place defibrillators in schools. These joint efforts, and the dialogue today, are the building blocks that we can use to address this next major school safety issue," Peter Ostroskey said.
Rounding out the program were presentations from:
- the Department of Fire Services Fire Safety Division about maintaining building and fire safety while addressing new threats
- Town of Needham fire, police and school leaders highlighting the rescue task force concept they employ for a variety of school emergencies
- Northeastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council (NEMLEC) members sharing what they are doing to help communities identify at-risk students to prevent incidents from happening in the first place
For more information on NFPA 3000, visit www.nfpa.org/3000news.