With the recent horrible school shooting in Parkland, Fla. that has left 17 people dead, the never-ending debate of gun control has once again surfaced. What particularly caught my attention was the comparisons to the Israeli gun mentality, and how schools handle security. With that said, many of these comparisons are simply unsound. Since I grew up in Israel, I hope in this article paints a clearer picture as to how we handle school safety — bear in mind that what works in the desert won’t work in the jungle. School activities naturally divide into two categories, the first is static, as of all activities are taking place within the school premise; the second is mobile, meaning activities such as trips or outdoor camps that take place outside of the school compound.
The Israeli schools aren’t bunkers. Really, they aren’t. However, each one of these schools does has subsurface shelters. Not only this, but schools and kindergartens all over the country are regularly practicing the evacuation of students in different scenarios. This includes earthquakes, rocket attacks, unknown threats or even CBRN in some rare occasions. Keep in mind that these drills get students to take initiative, rather than just having them run to safety.
Currently, most Israeli school premises are completely fenced in and usually with only one gate. In the cases of bigger schools, there might be a few additional gates. In addition, there are two to three emergency gates which are locked (and look like normal fences) during regular, non-emergency hours. To prevent any VBIEDs, school parking lots are often (yet we fail on this) located a bit further away from the school structures.
As for the gates: each gate is accompanied by a small guard cabin and an armed guard. He or she meets a certain standard to carry and do their job. The static guard is funded and under the responsibility of the Israeli police (though they are a sub-contractor and not a cop). The guard is mostly to be the first responder, but also logs traffic, maintains situational awareness and conducts hourly patrols along the school fences. In my experience as a kid, the presence of such a figure was not only practical, but also a psychological boost as us kids felt safer. That was also the first time I learned how a Glock works, but that was not really any part of the school educational program.
According to the official standard of the government, the guard will:
- Ensure that the premises is locked and under control in all time.
- Sweep and search any person who comes in.
- Have security authority.
- Ensure that foreign individuals are fully ID’d and their personal details are logged. Foreign vehicles must be documented as well.
- Assist the school occupants.
- Be aware on anything within the immediate environment of the school.
Any military guy knows – being in transit from points A to B is where things can get hairy. Back in my time, Israeli schools were avoiding being too mobile, especially since a group of 90 kids can not be ignored and would probably be a magnet to any suicide bomber or active shooter in Jerusalem. Traditionally, all school trips require a plan B in case of emergency. This is being discussed with both the teachers and students in briefings before and during trips. In addition, each trip outside the school premises uses former combat soldiers who act as an active escort. These guys generally carry M2 or M16 carbines, and sometimes pistols, and this includes one qualified combat medic. They are responsible for a specific group or class and they act under strict performance rules. They don’t just tag along.
Schools in Israel have two security approaches — both are good and make sense on the practical side of things. But at the end of the day, and similar to combat scenarios, the person is the one who makes a change. I personally believe that mindset is the first foundation of security. In Israel, the mindset is tragically strong due to our never-ending experience with violence and terror. If I were to give advice to school security, I would not tell you to build towers or walls. I would simply ask you to invest more time preparing your kids for violence. Remember, violence is not a negative word. It is a wake up call, and it either wakes you up or keeps you asleep.
Featured Image: Israeli school children walk past security in Jerusalem’s Old City Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015. (Mahmoud Illean/AP)