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Bruce Andriatch: Tragedy (almost) always forces immediate change

For a place that brings so much joy to so many people every day, I rarely make it one lap around the meadow at Delaware Park without feeling sadness.

To understand why, you have to know that in 2015, a woman and her two children were walking in the part of the park that is adjacent to the Scajaquada Expressway when a driver apparently fell asleep, jumped a median and hit all three of them with his car, killing her 3-year-old son.

Almost immediately, the speed limit on the expressway was reduced and a barrier was installed, making the likelihood of something similar happening almost impossible.

The death of one child forced a long-overdue change.

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It’s difficult to be in any American airport and not think of Sept. 11, thanks to what it takes to be allowed on a commercial airplane.

The Transportation Security Administration was created to try to ensure the safety of every person who travels through the air, to enforce regulations that seek to make any attempt to replicate the horrors of that day almost impossible.

And those procedures have been updated as other real and perceived dangers emerged. Unless they have received prior clearance, all passengers must remove their shoes because someone once tried to blow up a plane with a bomb in his shoe. Because of a terror plot that started in London, passengers are now prohibited from bringing certain liquids on board with them or those liquids must be limited to minuscule amounts. Every time you have to stand in a tube with your hands over your head while a machine scans your body and a couple of people in uniforms wait nearby is another reminder of how the world changed 17 years ago when thousands of innocent lives ended in an instant.

But we endure it because we understand we are being protected from harm.

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In 1995, Pendleton native Timothy McVeigh exposed a fatal flaw in the security of the federal building in Oklahoma City. He drove a rental truck packed with explosive material to the street in front of the building. When the truck exploded, it destroyed the building and claimed the lives of 168 people, many of them children.

Within weeks of the tragedy, the United States was re-examining security at all government buildings. Soon, the General Services Administration ordered changes, including that federal buildings needed to be set back from the street, to try to prevent a future calamity.

Today, concrete barriers or massive cement planters adorn the front of federal buildings. And much like with airports, security inside the buildings was tightened, meaning anyone who has business in one of those buildings will be examined to determine if he or she is a threat to safety.

Why? Because we can't let Oklahoma City happen again.

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Delaware Park, Oklahoma City and Sept. 11 are not outliers. To the contrary: They fit neatly into a larger narrative.

Tragedy constantly leads to previously unconsidered efforts to prevent more tragedy, efforts that seem so obvious in retrospect. When bicyclists and motorcyclists were seriously injured or killed in accidents, wearing a helmet became mandatory. When sports fans were injured or killed in arenas and stadiums by balls or pucks inadvertently blasted into the stands, nets were placed or extended to prevent that from happening. Penalties for drunk driving and texting while driving were strengthened because of the numbers of deaths they caused.

Now, in the wake of an epidemic of school shootings, the national discussion is about making it harder for mass murderers to take the lives of unsuspecting students.

This conversation began in earnest in 1999 following the deaths of 15 people at the hands of a pair of gunmen at Columbine High School. School districts across the nation began re-examining their security systems after that and decided they needed to do more. So they installed cameras, security doors, buzzer entry systems. The New York Times reported this month that sales of security equipment and services to the education sector reached $2.7 billion in 2017, up from $2.5 billion the year before.

But unlike all the other cases, which largely had the desired effect and reduced injuries and death, school shootings are becoming more commonplace. So some districts have decided they have to do more. Two local districts, Lockport and Depew, are considering adding facial recognition and tracking software, which district officials hope will make their buildings even more secure.

"That's the world that we're living in,” Lockport School Superintendent Michelle T. Bradley told The News. “Times have changed.”

If this doesn't work, you can bet schools will try other tactics. Maybe the idea of cutting down on the number of doors will catch on. Maybe we'll get more metal detectors or armed teachers. Or maybe someone will come up with an idea we haven't heard of yet. But you know we'll keep trying. It’s the continuation of a well-documented trend: In the United States, we respond to tragedy by trying to make sure nothing like it will ever happen again. We have shown that we will do anything to protect innocent people from harm.

Well, almost anything.

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