Our view: Safety expert’s school advice makes sense

Wooldridge -

Funny thing about school security these days: Everybody talks about it but nobody puts a price tag on it.

Enter Mason Wooldridge, who readily admits he can’t boast about years of service in law enforcement and risk assessment, an admission that would typically be a deficit but in his case comes across as a very handy asset.

Wooldridge recently toured schools in several Luzerne County districts with what he insisted is a new approach to assessing safety. He differentiated it by saying he doesn’t do the traditional “risk assessment” usually based on guidelines from the federal Department of Homeland Security. Instead, he said, “We do a life-threat assessment.”

The difference, he explained, is that his two-person nonprofit Our Kids Deserve doesn’t spend a lot of time scrutinizing risks that haven’t played a major (or any) role in past school attacks — he cited sidewalk curb heights as an example. Instead, it looks “for where you are vulnerable based on past events.”

The sorts of issues he cited as common examples certainly seemed to support his argument: overgrown shrubbery outside windows can hide a remote-trigger bomb, hollow-core doors (two thin sheets of laminate glued to a wooden frame) are easy to kick or even punch through, a long sidewalk leading straight from parking lot to entry door practically invites a car to come crashing through.

But the real value of his assessment — and the thing he got most animated about — was the three-tier approach to drawing up cost estimates for upgrades: Cheap actions that can be done right away, medium-term changes that still don’t cost an arm and a leg, and a third level of more costly and complicated changes designed primarily to speed up and focus law enforcement responses.

Wooldridge argued his system gives school districts very concrete information they can use when seeking money for safety upgrades, which in turn can help state and federal governments better focus the distribution of school safety grants — a money pool that has been increased in many places since the recent spate of high-profile school mass shootings.

He gets particularly passionate when he talks about the big-picture of safety funding, contending that having clear objectives, evidence of the value in reaching them, and price tags for them will spur governments to substantially increase school safety spending.

That, in turn, could convince states that it’s time to write new building codes for schools, mandating features proven to reduce successful gun attacks the same way fire safety codes have all but eliminated death by fire in schools.

His vision is not only compelling, it’s common sense.

Whether or not his proprietary assessment and costing-out system is the right one to use (and he makes a convincing argument it is), it’s well past time that some such system be codified — and a steady funding stream be set up to implement it — so school administrators have a clear blueprint in their efforts to secure schools and protect students.