Are Broward schools safer since the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas?

A multi-layered approach to school safety is an effort to help avoid another tragedy like the Parkland massacre.

PARKLAND, Fla. – The tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School created a deep pain across a community that prompted a district-wide discussion on how to better secure school campuses.

Debra Hixon is a Broward County Schools board member and a widow. Her husband, Chris, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Athletic Director, was one of the 17 killed at Parkland.

“There have been a lot of upgrades in security. They have a large number of security monitors,” Hixon said.

Hixon said she believes that, for the most part, schools are safer than they were in 2018 but adds that there is a continued need to focus on mental health resources.

“I think at the end of the day, we have to make sure our students are in the right mental health space,” Hixon said.

Broward Schools interim superintendent Dr. Vickie Cartwright said as part of a multi-layered approach to school safety, technology upgrades have also been instituted.

“We have increased our security as well as mental health staffing,” she said. “As a parent, as a spouse, I can’t imagine what these families are going through right now, my heart really goes out to them. We have our beautiful souls whose lives were cut shorts and families with loved ones who were hurt. I am so sad for those families and I am so sorry this ever happened.”

There are more surveillance cameras, a new 24/7 security operations center, and additional radios.

“So, if something is happening we can zoom in pretty quick in real-time to see what is going on,” Cartwright said. “We have also added $17 million in intercom upgrades. Our single point of entry at all of our K-12 schools is another change that has happened since that devastating day.”

Hixon said that was always a safety policy. “When visitors come in throughout the day all the gates are locked, which was policy before which just wasn’t implemented all the time. Everyone has to check-in and they have to check out so you know who is on your campus,” she said.

Handheld metal detectors are deployed at large sporting events.

Cartwright also said they continue to improve on behavior threat assessment training, a related item for Tuesday’s school board meeting.

She calls this a multi-layer approach to school security which aims to incorporate best practices through recent research related to school safety

They have also implemented Alyssa’s Alert, a mobile duress alert, which is a panic button via a cell phone app. Part of Alyssa’s Law was named after Parkland victim Alyssa Alhadeff. The governor signed Alyssa’s Law in 2020 requiring the alert system at every public and charter school across the state.

“Mobile panic alert system capable of connecting diverse emergency services technologies to ensure real-time coordination between multiple first responder agencies beginning with the 2021-2022 school year. Such system, known as ‘Alyssa’s Alert,’ must integrate with local public safety answering point infrastructure to transmit 911 calls and mobile activations.”

This year, the board has approved a new crisis communication plan and a family reunification plan.

In October, Nikolas Cruz told a judge he was guilty of hurting and killing 17 Marjory Stoneman Douglas staff and students on Feb. 14, 2018. His guilty plea on the first-degree murder counts sets up a penalty phase of the death penalty case where 12 jurors will need to unanimously decide whether Cruz should be executed.

Jury selection is expected to begin in April.


MSD Public Safety Commission Reports

MSD High School Public Safety Act

About the Author:

Christina returned to Local 10 in 2019 as a reporter after covering Hurricane Dorian for the station. She is an Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist and previously earned an Emmy Award while at WPLG for her investigative consumer protection segment "Call Christina."