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Emergency Management Programs: How Sandy Hook Changed Our Schools

Learn how two mothers have channeled their grief and become personal masters of emergency management.

Crisis often spurs change, and few examples are as horrific as the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shootings. Twenty children and six adults were fatally shot by a lone gunman, in one of the few places parents would normally consider a safe zone that shouldn’t require emergency management—their children’s school. The incident marks the deadliest elementary school mass shooting in U.S. history, and it became a catalyst for change within the public school system.

Two Mothers on a Mission

To honor the children they lost and do their part to prevent similar incidents, the mothers of two Sandy Hook students took action. While Michele Gay and Alissa Parker aren’t emergency management professionals, they developed and implemented a program to help correct the school safety measures that had failed them in such a devastating way. Safe and Sound: A Sandy Hook Initiative provides resources to help schools and communities create a safer school environment. Its three-phase “assess, act, and audit” model calls upon schools to:*

Emergency Management Programs: How Sandy Hook Changed Our Schools

  • ASSESS the plans, programs, and procedures already in place and decide what change is required.
  • ACT by taking the necessary steps to implement, repair, or change those items identified in the assessment.
  • AUDIT and refine the safety plan on a regular basis.

The renewed national awareness of school safety led districts around the country to enhance their own safety measures. Because there is no universal set of safety measures, school districts can determine the best course of action for their particular schools. As a result, a number of best practices have emerged, some of which include:

  • Direct video surveillance feeds from schools to police precincts.
  • Rolling furniture to block doors.
  • Electronic entry doors and labeled exit ways.
  • Retired or unused police radios placed in schools for faster response times.
  • Limited access to school property and a restricted visitors entrance.‡ 
  • Police officers assigned to patrol school grounds.
  • Intruder and lockdown drills.
  • Bulletproof whiteboards.
  • After-hours security.
  • Recycled police radios in schools
  • Predetermined and escapable “out of sight” hiding spots
  • Movable furniture outfitted to block doors‡ 

Formal Responsibility for Professionals

Following Sandy Hook, much of the burden of “preventative measures” fell to two particular groups—school principals and emergency management professionals. Emergency management professionals generally hold a degree focused in emergency management and are trained to handle crisis situations. Many emergency management professionals work with school districts to develop and deliver disaster prevention training and response plans. Similarly, school principals may hold an EdS in Educational Leadership and Administration, which provides them with the skills to effectively lead in a school environment. Sandy Hook added a new level of responsibility to the school principal role, in the area of security and student safety.

Leaders in the field of emergency management are always looking for individuals with a passion for public safety. If you are interested in exploring a career in which students benefit as a result of your hard work, you may wish to consider an online university’s emergency management programs. Walden University offers degree programs which allow you to specialize in emergency management. Some choices include:

When you earn a degree focused on emergency management, you could be collaborating with first responders and critical incident-management teams, working with government leaders to improve school safety measures, and developing and delivering training to response teams and communities. It’s a powerful career choice—one with the potential to help save lives.

*Safe and Sound: A Sandy Hook Initiative, “Our Model,” on the Internet at
†Safe and Sound: A Sandy Hook Initiative, “Inspiring Ideas,” on the Internet at
USA Today, “Schools Tighten Security After Sandy Hook,” on the Internet at