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Thursday, April 22, 1999 Published at 11:47 GMT 12:47 UK

World: Americas

Massacre 'could have been prevented'

School security concerns fade after shootings such as Colorado

By BBC News Online's Kevin Anderson in Washington

School safety officials say tragedies like the Colorado massacre could be prevented if education authorities take basic precautions.

In the wake of school shootings last year in the states of Arkansas and Oregon, districts around the country contacted the National School Safety Centre for advice on how to prevent school violence.

The school districts were interested in three prevention techniques:

  • Hotlines for students to alert authorities to potential threats
  • Threat assessment protocols
  • Camera surveillance.

In all of the events, including the shooting in Littleton, a call to a school violence hotline could have prevented the incidents, said June Arnette, associate director of the National School Safety Centre.

[ image: Students often could foresee violent acts]
Students often could foresee violent acts
"Students were the ones that could foresee this happening," she added.

School security is low at a large majority of schools, according to a report by the US Department of Education.

In a study released last year, the US Department of Education found that 84% of public schools had no guards, no metal detectors, but controlled access to the school building.

Only 2% percent of public schools had stringent security measures.

Stringent security was defined as schools with a full-time security officer. Students were required to pass through metal detectors on a daily basis or were subject to random searches.

Security measures varies

Ms Arnette said school security measures vary widely in the US.

Locally-elected school boards are responsible for setting much of the policy of a school district, Ms Arnette said.

Asked what the role of the government is in preventing tragedies such as the shooting in Colorado, she said : "Our system of education does not rely on the government to control our schools. We tout it as a freedom."

The level of school security depends a lot on local citizens, she said.

"If someone is willing to take the ball and run with it and develop a safe school plan and a crisis plan and put it on the agenda, those are the school districts that are doing something about it," she added.

School security is not just the responsibility of school officials, she said, adding that it has to be a community-wide effort.

Dealing with the threat

The state of Georgia set up a state-wide school violence hotline in response to the shootings last year.

Schools are also establishing set protocols on how to deal with possible threats.

In the state of South Dakota, a school district has developed a plan and laid out responsibilities for students, staff and parents to address possible threats of violence.

Several schools are also exploring camera surveillance. They hope that the cameras will act as a deterrent to violence.

One district in California hired someone to roam the grounds with a video camera, Ms Arnette said, but she added that the effectiveness of camera surveillance is largely untested.

Lack of sustained effort

But Ms Arnette that despite the attention the shooting in Littleton is receiving, the focus on school security wanes after the most recent school violence fades from the public's memory.

Until last week, only nine students had been killed in US schools this year, as opposed to 42 fatalities during the whole of last year.

"This can't be a quick fix. It has to endure over the long haul," she said.

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