EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado - School security is not as simple as arming teachers or banning guns, a former Navy SEAL told local school officials.
The Eagle County School District hired security expert Bill Gnesda following the latest school shooting, the Sandy Hook massacre in Newtown, Conn.
"Security is about a complex combination of strategies and tactics that work together to limit opportunity and discourage targeting," Gnesda said.
Gnesda is the principal partner with Idein Technologies, LLC, a Department of Defense contractor specializing in developing, testing and manufacturing products and processes to support Special Operations Forces. After the Sandy Hook killings, his company was inundated with requests for security consulting, so they launched Nicholson Tactical.
Gnesda spent 27 years as a U.S. Navy SEAL officer.
During his time in the SEAL teams, he served with or trained the FBI hostage rescue team, FBI SWAT, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Department of Education, U.S. Customs, U.S. Marshals and other government agencies. Gnesda has defined security protocols for presidents, nuclear facilities, and high-value military assets.
Gnesda visited a dozen local schools over two days this week. He likes most of what he learned.
"There are plans in place everywhere I've been," he said.
It's a new set of eyes trained to see things in a much different way.
"I look at things differently than a third-grade teacher does. I don't care if it's hard to find a key to unlock a door. If it increases safety, that door should remain locked. If I step on a toe, I'm sorry, but this is what I saw," Gnesda said.
The protocols can be widely applied, he said. If there are earthquakes, tornadoes, fires, or even if bleachers collapse, the procedures are in place. Gnesda said.
"You don't need a shooting to test what you're doing. You can have someone come through and take a look," he said.
Reinforcing the resources
The school district and Colorado Mountain College already have procedures in place.
"My goal is to overlay an objective perspective and see if we can fine tune the protocols to increase the security of already safe environments," Gnesda said.
Gnesda met with School Resource Officers Tad Degen and Megan Richards, along with school and district administrators to assess existing protocols.
Degen and Richardson walk school buildings while school is in session looking for glitches in security - has a door been left unlocked or open by mistake? Is anyone there who's not supposed to be?
Then there's the Sheriff's Active Shooter program.
Several times a year, on nights and weekends when schools are deserted, the Sheriff's Office and officers from other law enforcement agencies train for several different scenarios in which an active shooter might have infiltrated a local school.
An officer or two plays the bad guy and the other officers have to track them down and "neutralize" them, Hoy said.
Several things happen. First, officers know what to do if the unthinkable happens. Second, almost every officer knows the layout of every school in Eagle County.
"The officers take this very seriously. When they're done they discuss what went right and what could have been done better," Hoy said.
Programs like the active shooter and other protocols came about because of Columbine and all that has happened since then, Hoy said.
"Prior to Columbine you'd wait for SWAT to get there. Now the first two officers on the scene work as a team. As other officers arrive the team gets bigger and bigger," Hoy said. "Heaven forbid the call ever comes in, but in a situation like this you'll know exactly what the procedure and protocol is as you move from hallway to hallway and room to room."
Colorado Mountain College installed security cameras in its Edwards building when it was built, and more when it was expanded last summer, Peggy Curry, manager of CMC's Edwards campus.
"We're trying to make sure it's as safe as it can possibly be," Curry said.
Besides the security cameras, the college runs lock-down drills, has put together an emergency response team and practices those procedures, and has created a communications tree so everyone knows who's in charge of what in the case of an emergency.
"We're making sure we're as prepared as possible before something escalates," Curry said.
The afternoon after Adam Lanza's Sandy Hook elementary school massacre, Curry was on her way to somewhere else, but to get there she had to drive by a couple local elementary schools.
"I wanted to bar the door," she said.
Local public school administrators are certified in emergency preparedness by FEMA through the National Incident Management System, and each school follows state and federal emergency protocols to implement their own building-specific plan. Due to the resort community, and the international events they host, local law enforcement agencies routinely collaborate with federal agencies, and train extensively to ensure public safety.
"Our goal in bringing in Bill is to ensure that our security and safety protocols are the absolute best that they can be," said Sandra Smyser, superintendent of Eagle County schools.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.