A member of the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission offered a simple school security step—laminating glass at building entry points—which he said could help to fortify Connecticut schools by slowing down potential aggressors.
The commission was established by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy a year ago following the murders last December in Newtown where a gunman entered an elementary school and killed 20 first graders and six adults.
The group has worked to draft recommendations on a number of issues related to the shooting including ideas for making Connecticut’s schools safer. The commission has been seeking a balance between hardening school facilities and not interfering with the educational experience of students.
During Friday’s meeting, Robert Ducibella, a security consultant and member of the commission, suggested reinforcing but not necessarily bullet-proofing glass entry points to schools.
The gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary School used a rifle to shoot out the glass doors of the school and then quickly carried out his attack. Police arrived about nine minutes after the shooting began. The gunman killed himself within one minute of their arrival.
Ducibella said the school’s staff did their jobs and locked down the facility but unfortunately the building’s “antiquated,1954 infrastructure” did not slow the shooter down. He said “every second counts.”
He suggest reinforcing glass at the logical entry points to schools not with ballistic or bullet resistant glazing, which he said was heavy and expensive, but with laminated glass.
“You can discharge your handgun or a long gun, small rounds or large rounds, multiple times and you will likely not fail the laminated glazing adequate to gain immediate access into the building,” he said. “An individual will need to show up with a number of attack tools in order to gain entry quickly.”
Ducibella said laminating glass at points of entry might add two to four minutes to the time it takes an attacker to enter a school. He said the hope is that law enforcement will be able to arrive at the scene of an attack between three and eight minutes after it starts.
However, he acknowledged the suggestion could be a problem for first responders like firefighters attempting to gain access to a school in another type of emergency.
“Chopping their way through laminated glass or ballistic resistant glass is not something that’s in our best interest. They need access very, very quickly,” he said. “One of the things we have to balance as a group is how do we keep people out of spaces? … How do we do that working with law enforcement and EMS so that when they need access they have rapid access?”
Even with those concerns, the commission’s chairman Hamden Mayor Scott Jackson said the group will be looking to recommend some proposals to slow potential attackers down.
“There’s a clear understanding—a data analysis of these types of events say that the arrival of law enforcement brings an end to the event. So to the extent that we can keep any aggressor away from any target for the amount of time it takes law enforcement to respond… that’s what we’re going to try to do,” he said.
The Sandy Hook Advisory Commission issued an interim report last March in time for the legislative session. The group suspended its work for months while it awaited the release of official reports on the shooting from the state’s attorney’s office and the state police. They resumed working last month but Friday’s meeting represented the first since state police released several thousands of pages of records related to their investigation.
Daniel Klau, an attorney assisting the commission, told the group he is in the process of helping to create a searchable database of the files released by the state police.
Jackson said the commission is hoping to have a preliminary report for lawmakers by the end of March.
The state has already taken some steps to fortify its schools in the aftermath of the shooting. It has borrowed $21 million to reimburse local districts for their efforts to harden their existing school infrastructure. The money will help fund projects at 604 schools in 111 different school districts. Depending on the project, towns are being reimbursed between 20 and 80 percent of the total cost.
As the commission finishes its work, members of the group have discussed reaching out to shooter Adam Lanza’s father to help them get a better understanding of the troubled young man. On Friday, Jackson said he has been in touch with a representative of the family in hopes of getting mental health records. He said the shooter’s father “wants to be cooperative.”
“He understands that this is a story that has to be told in order for us to enhance our own community safety,” Jackson said. “The mental health professionals have identified specific documents … that would be extremely helpful for them to understand what happened over the last seven or so years of Adam Lanza’s life.”