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The NRA’s Guide To School Design In The Age Of Active Shooters

In 2013, the NRA had some ideas for how to stop school shootings–including thorny bushes.

The NRA’s Guide To School Design In The Age Of Active Shooters
[Source Photos: dja65/iStock, junak/iStock, philsayer/iStock, mipan/iStock]

In the aftermath of the Parkland shooting this month, the focus of the NRA and President Trump has been on arming teachers. But after the Sandy Hook shooting in 2013, an NRA task force published a report that detailed other measures schools should take to secure themselves against shootings–including architectural ones, as Mother Jones’ Stephanie Mencimer reported last week.

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The 225-page document, available here, outlines a number of measures that the NRA suggests schools take to protect children and teachers against shootings. The task force behind the report was led by Asa Hutchinson, the current governor of Arkansas, and includes former law enforcement, Homeland Security, and military officers, as well as the CEO and four employees of Phoenix RBT Solutions, a supplier of “reality-based training solutions for law enforcement, military and private sector security.”

It invokes CPTED, or Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design, the controversial 1970s-era theory that the design of spaces could stop crime, and lists a number of defensive measures that fall under its umbrella. That includes descriptions of how schools themselves should be planned (like an onion, with independent “layers of defense”) down to details like material choice (“use fencing material that clearly demonstrates territorial ownership,” the authors suggest). It is a sickeningly frank set of design standards and protocols for an era of regular mass shootings.

[Source Photos: dja65/iStock, junak/iStock, philsayer/iStock, mipan/iStock]
For instance, the report recommends detailed plans for landscape design. In general, it says, keep vegetation to a minimum and make sure trees are far from any buildings (at least 10 feet) to create clear sight lines across campus.

It also suggests “thorn-bearing and sharp-leaved plant species” to deter shooters (but keep in mind, they “may also impede emergency egress”).

Windows, meanwhile, are necessary so students and teachers can surveil the surrounding area in an active shooter situation. As such, they should be ballistic-strength.

Strong, tall perimeter fences won’t just deter shooters or keep them from escaping, the authors note–fences are also good for keeping “concerned parents” and others “at a distance” after shootings “to avoid their interfering with efforts to neutralize the threat and assist those in need,” the report notes. Mencimer identifies a final, low-cost recommendation from the report: a rubber door stop, available for $5 at home depot.

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[Photo: Aleks_G/iStock]
Every school should take every precaution it can afford to protect its occupants, of course. And indeed, in recent years architects have been faced with integrating defensive protection, including many of the details mentioned in the report, into their school projects. “For us, the most important security aspect is for you not to feel it–for it to feel like any other school,” architect Jay Brotman  told Co.Design in 2014 while designing the new Sandy Hook school. “You won’t know where the glass is resistant, or where the doors might prevent entry.”

Yet the NRA-funded document’s list of protective measures only serves to underline the one politicians refuse to take. This week, Mencimer reported further on the NRA’s National School Shield program, writing that though the project was meant to encourage these retrofitting practices and fund them, only three school grants have been awarded by the NRA Foundation “for a total of less than $200,000.” As Mencimer points out, one school district used the money to upgrade its locks and apply non-shattering film to its windows.

You can read Mencimer’s full story here, and find the report here. If you have experience designing schools that protect against active shooters and would like to share your perspective, email us at CoDtips@fastcompany.com.

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About the author

Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan is Co.Design's deputy editor.

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