PRESENTATION BEFORE THE EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE
FEBRUARY 5, 2014
· Mr. Chairman, members of the Executive Committee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today for a brief few minutes.
· My name is Robert Bernat and by profession I am both an attorney and a physician. I reside in Highland Park, Illinois with my wife, Beth, and two young children, Alex 11 and Charlie 8. I am here today in support of Senate Bill 2747.
· As you are aware, this bill is an enabling Act creating the Illinois School Security and Standards Task Force. It is the product of this Task Force which will be of high importance to Illinois school children and their parents, and in fact to the rest of the nation as well.
· You may not, however, be aware there currently exists no compendium of best practices to provide to school districts and private and parochial schools as well as first responders so that they can have the knowledge to make proper decisions in order to better keep our children safe.
· It must be a collaborative effort since no one person, agency or government has a monopoly on all the answers. Two weeks ago I was told by David Esquith, Director of the Office of Safe and Healthy Students at the US Department of Education, that 16 other states have formed or are forming task forces. We need to learn from them and them from us.
· Time is also of the essence. According to the June 2013 federal report entitled Guide for Developing High-Quality School Emergency Plans written by an alphabet soup of federal agencies including the DOE, FBI, DHS, FEMA and HHS at the request of the Vice President there occur an average of nearly 3 active shooter incidents per year in schools within the United States. I am very familiar with this report as I was afforded, through the good offices of Senator Durbin, the opportunity to provide input into the federal task force and was invited to the White House for its unveiling.
· It is, however, a report from the 30,000 foot level. What are needed are best practices that can be operationalized.
· Nevertheless, it does contain useful data. For example, it is in part premised upon Texas State University statistics on active shooter incidents which determined that pistols were used 60% of the time, rifles 27% of the time and shotguns 9%.
· No state is immune. I am sure some in this room are old enough to recall one of the first incidents in modern memory which occurred in the Northern Suburbs of Chicago involving Laurie Dann. I am equally sure that everyone here will remember one of the nation’s worst attacks which occurred at NIU in Dekalb.
· In its January 16, 2013 release the White House acknowledged that it is truly up to the localities to protect their school children. And we need the Illinois Task Force to tell us how best to do it.
· Finally, you may ask yourself how does Robert Bernat come by his expertise in this area?
· I am quite sure each and every person in this room remembers the events of December 14, 2012 when 20 first graders and 6 school staff were murdered by a deranged youth, Adam Lanza, at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut.
· I was, as I am sure you were, terribly troubled by this and on Sunday, December 23 at 3:00 o’clock in the morning I did something I had never done before – I sat down at my kitchen table and wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal which was published on December 29, 2012. Since then I have founded an advocacy organization, the Safer Schools First Foundation, met with multiple legislators both in Washington and Springfield, attended a meeting at the White House on school security, spoken with Governor Quinn about this issue, met with members of the federal task force as well as local law enforcement officials, been appointed as a member of the Illinois School District 112 Task Force and spoken at a Homeland Security Conference, among other things. Most recently I have had published my latest article dissecting the Connecticut Division of Criminal Justice report on Sandy Hook and comparing it to the recent shootings at Arapahoe High School in Centennial, Colorado. It is entitled “What We’ve Learned From Sandy Hook” and was published in The Hill on December 23, 2013.
· I have copies of both articles available should you wish to read them.
· A key point I made in each article was that at Sandy Hook, it was not the failure to plan; it was the failure of the plan.
· For example, the doors of Classrooms 8 and 10 where the children were shot could not be locked from the inside, only from the hallway.
· Law enforcement was on the scene at 9:39AM, 3 minutes and 21 seconds after receipt of a 911 call from the school at the Newtown Police Department. But Adam Lanza penetrated Sandy Hook at approximately 9:30AM. Why the 5 minute 39 seconds delay? Because the school relied on staff dialing 911 and those that survived were all hiding in fear for their lives. Reliance on telephones cost lives.
· And there was no emergency notification throughout the school itself. Inadvertently someone flicked on the school intercom. Thank God they didn’t pull a fire alarm as the carnage would have been worse as students spilled out into hallways.
· It is clear therefore that a very few minutes is a lifetime … in fact it is 26 lifetimes.
· A government’s first duty is to safeguard the lives of its citizens, particularly the most defenseless among them.
· We need to develop methodologies to do three things: first, slow the progress of an active shooter; second, speed up the response times of the first responders; and third, give teachers and administrators the tools, such as pressure dressings, to save lives within the schools.
· And layered on top of this we need better intelligence. Often there are clues prior to an event. We need to better educate people that “if you see something, say something.”
· And this Task Force is best way to do it.
· Less than two weeks ago I was informed by Senator Durbin’s office that the recently passed Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014 contains $75 million for a research focused Comprehensive School Safety Initiative, of which $50 million will be available for pilot grants. If we move expeditiously, Illinois may be able to secure some of this federal funding.
· I hope that you will move promptly to pass this enabling legislation and form the Task Force as well as grant me the opportunity to serve on it as a full member in one of the parental slots.
· This Task Force is not purely a Republican idea, nor purely a Democratic idea; it is simply a common sense idea.
· Thank you and if you have any questions, I would be delighted to try and answer them for you.
Today every media outlet in America is reporting on the “Report of the State’s Attorney for the Judicial District of Danbury on the Shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School.” Press reports are concentrating on the lack of motive behind the senseless killings that took 27 lives, including those of 20 children.
What is important about the report is that while many questions remain unanswered, there is valuable information in the findings, but probably more important, new questions have surfaced that must be asked by every school safety and security task force in the country.
Check out our website “Resources” page to get important fact sheets and guides to creating safer schools for our children. There is still much work to be done, but this is an important step in the right direction.
“It is our mission to promote the development of sound, common sense solutions to the crucial problem of school security in an open, non-political and non-partisan manner with the goal of saving lives among America’s school children.”
Safer Schools First is a non-profit group working with law enforcement, elected officials, educators, community leaders and concerned parents to find common sense approaches to protect our children from tragedies such as Columbine, Chardon and Sandy Hook from ever happening again. We are moms and dads who refuse to believe that school shootings are simply horrific events that take place in a free society. By working together, we can find ways to make it harder for violent individuals to get to our children – giving law enforcement the opportunity to preempt these incidents before harm can come to our kids.
Safer Schools First has no political agenda and is strictly a non-partisan organization willing to work with all members of the human family determined to prevent any recurrence of the nightmare that took place on December 14, 2012.
The Safer Schools First concept is the brainchild of Chicago attorney, physician and parent Robert Bernat. Still distraught over the tragedy that took place in Newtown, Connecticut, Bernat wrote an opinion editorial that has served as a wake-up call on how our society should prioritize the steps necessary to make schools safer. Since then, Robert has been spearheading the effort by galvanizing law enforcement leaders, parents and elected officials in Washington and back in his home state capital of Springfield, Illinois. We hope you will join Robert in prioritizing – Kids before politics – and support the efforts of Safer Schools First.