Lessons From Red Lake

Much has been written about specific school shootings and school violence, in general. Relatively little is known, however, of the Red Lake High School shooting that occurred in March of 2005. That incident claimed the lives of ten and injured a dozen more in Red Lake, MN. RETA Security’s involvement in a post-mortem assessment of the Red Lake High School brought to light important issues regarding building design, door hardware, and emergency preparedness. Hopefully, these lessons will help your school to address and combat vulnerabilities.

Lesson #1 – Utilize a locked vestibule at the main entry.

Red Lake High School followed a closed campus policy – exterior doors were locked and visitors had to enter through a supervised main entrance. The main entrance opened into a vestibule outfitted with a walk-through magnetometer (metal detector) and monitored by unarmed security personnel. For some reason, the second set of doors in the vestibule was not capable of being locked. As a result, the student gunman in Red Lake was able to shoot the security guard in the vestibule and walk right through the second set of doors into the building.

Lesson #2 – Classroom doorways must be designed with lock down capabilities in mind.

Red Lake High School classroom doors had full-length windows next to them. That design feature presented the possibility of accessing a room through a window despite the adjacent door being locked. Evidence indicates that the gunman exploited that very design flaw in one room where a teacher and six students were killed.

Lesson #3 – Classroom evacuation maps must be accurate.

Red Lake High School had emergency evacuation route maps posted in each classroom. The second classroom that the gunman entered displayed faulty evacuation routes. While a teacher heroically delayed the gunman, she directed her students to flee the classroom. Instead of evacuating through a nearby door to the outside, students followed the route displayed on the classroom map. That route sent the students past the very classroom in which the gunman was looking for more victims. As a result, the gunman had opportunity to take several more shots at fleeing students.

Good security equipment may make a real difference at your school but there is no substitute for good planning and regular testing. Let’s not fail to learn lessons from Red Lake.

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