About Michael Dorn

Michael Dorn serves as the Executive Director of Safe Havens International, a non-profit school safety center. The author of 27 books on school safety, Michael’s campus safety work has taken him to 11 countries over the past 34 years.

Fatal Shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Florida

Today’s tragic news of a fatal shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County Public Schools in Parkland, Florida hit home. Some years back, I served as an expert witness for another fatal shooting in this same school district.  Like many other school districts of its size, Broward County Public Schools serves a number of communities with significant violent crime issues.

While it is far too soon to accurately know what transpired in this attack, it is a good time for school officials to review their prevention, preparedness, response and recovery procedures.  We urge our clients to focus on those concepts that have proven to be effective over the years.  While no school violence prevention or preparedness measures are 100% effective or foolproof, there are numerous approaches that have helped to avert multiple planned school attacks.

Effective prevention measures for school shootings involves a comprehensive approach.  There are many different factors that can lead to a school shooting.  Reliance on just a few prevention strategies can quickly prove to be ineffective.  While it is always difficult to say what could have prevented an incident like the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school, here are a few comprehensive measures:

  • Measures to reduce the number of fights. Fights are one of the most common precursors to fatal school violence. In general, the more fights and other triggering factors a school has, the more likely they are to have a weapons incident.
  • Multi-disciplinary threat assessment and management approaches. This is one of the most effective measures to prevent planned school shootings, bombings and mass casualty knife attacks.
  • Training to support threat assessment. Behavioral training can help staff spot at-risk youth and potentially dangerous individuals. These students can be given extra attention and referred to a threat assessment team as appropriate.
  • Suicide prevention strategies. Suicidal ideation, suicide attempts and other behaviors that demonstrate an increased risk for suicide are always a concern. In particular, these traits have been a factor in a number of planned school shooting incidents.  Suicide prevention training for students and staff is critical. Effective suicide risk screening measures can also be an effective prevention tool.
  • Police or armed security personnel. Armed security and police personnel who have been properly screened, trained and deployed have averted or mitigated a number of planned school weapons assaults.
  • Weapons Search Dogs. Firearms detection K9s can detect firearms in student vehicles, lockers, public areas. There are now canines that can be used to detect firearms in large crowds.
  • Thoughtful and effective student supervision. Proper student supervision can not only help to reduce the types of interpersonal conflict that precede most school shootings but can reduce casualties if an attack occurs.  This is because properly supervised students can be sheltered more rapidly.
  • Effective access control. Securing unsupervised exterior entrances and reducing the number of unlocked doors can be an effective layer of prevention for outside threats. This can even be a mitigating factor for a student attacker who attempts to enter the school surreptitiously.  A building design where visitors are routed through a single point of entry where they can be visually and verbally screened by school staff. Florida has had legislation setting Safe School Design Guidelines since the 1990s.
  • Random surprise metal detection and for some situations, entry point metal detection. Though not appropriate for all situations, these approaches have been effective for a number of school districts.

While these are only a few examples of proven prevention measures, I have found them to be among the more effective approaches in use by many school systems.  While there are no guarantees, there are distinct probabilities and possibilities to reduce the risks of violence on our school campuses. Finally, I would like to remind you that schools are still safe places. You are less likely to be a victim of violence on a school campus than anywhere else. And even though school buses are the safest form of transportation there is, students are more likely to die of a transportation related cause at school than a shooting. The shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School should serve as a reminder and a stark warning to update our plans but we must also remember to keep our focus.

Violence is not a leading cause of death in schools.

Violence is not a leading cause of death in schools.


Active Shooter Training Cover Story in January Issue of ASIS Security Management Magazine

Security Management Magazine released it’s January issue this week with an article I was asked to write as the cover story.  The article addresses the increasing concerns relating to training injuries, civil actions and accidental operant conditioning caused by a number of options-based active shooter training programs in recent years.  Security Management Magazine is the official publication of the American Society for Industrial Security International (ASIS).  Read the article here:

ASIS Magazine Active Shooter Training article

Put Training to the Test: By Evaluating the Effectiveness of Scenario-Based Training, School Administrators and Faculty Can Learn to React Appropriately to Active Threats, Possibly Circumventing Tragedy

Web link: https://sm.asisonline.org/Pages/Put-Training-to-the-Test.aspx

PDF Download of the entire issue:  https://sm.asisonline.org/ASIS%20Issue%20PDFs/January%202018.pdf

The article focuses on the dire need for proper fidelity testing of options-based active shooter training programs.  The article is also designed to help people understand that programs that focus primarily on active shooter events can actually reduce the ability of school staff to respond to emergencies.  We have already had quite a bit of positive feedback on the article and I am honored to have been asked by ASIS to write the article.  With many injuries and traumatic reactions being experienced by school employees and students around the country, we are hopeful that this article will lead to improvements in how we prepare school employees to address active shooter incidents and the other types of more common school crisis events that cause more than 95% of all deaths on American K12 school campuses.

This article can help people recognize the potential danger of poorly designed and delivered active shooter training programs and videos.  As described in the article, any program that does not perform well when trainees have to run through a variety of different types of scenarios is of questionable effectiveness.  When people who have been trained in active shooter response programs cannot properly handle audio and video scenarios for basic crisis incidents, their performance will not typically get better when faced with the stress of a life-and-death event.  If it does not test well, it will not improve when tested by and actual event.  As Lt. Col. Dave Grossman has said, “We do not rise to the occasion, we sink to the level of our training.”


Book: Bath Massacre: America’s First School Bombing

Arnie Bernstein’s book on the 1927 bombing of the Bath School in Michigan
is well-written, informative and provides valuable lessons for school safety
practitioners and experts.

I just finished reading a very well-written and informative book about the deadly 1927 school bombing in Bath, Michigan. Authored by Arnie Bernstein in 2009, Bath Massacre – America’s First School Bombing, details the second deadliest K12 school attack in United States history that we are aware of and the first school bombing.  With 42 fatalities, the attack at the Bath Consolidated school still ranks second in lethality behind the 1958 arson attack carried out by an elementary student that killed 95 students and teachers at the Our Lady of Angels Sacred Hearts School in Chicago.


While many people believe that mass casualty school attacks are a new phenomenon, there have been many acts of violence including school shootings, arson attacks, school bombings and other acts of extreme violence carried out at both public and non-public schools in the United States dating back to at least 1764.   While it is extremely important to learn from modern acts of school violence, we often see that the fundamental lessons in improving safety have not changed much since the 1800s.  For example, the first successful school lockdown that we are familiar with took place in a one-room school house in Danbury, Connecticut in 1900.  Over a century later and just a few minutes drive away, our nation’s deadliest school shooting would occur in Sandy Hook in an incident where most of the fatalities occurred in two unlocked classrooms.

Safe Havens Analyst Found Story of successful school lockdown

A Safe Havens analyst found this story of a successful school lockdown in 1900 while conducting research for a school security assessment for a Connecticut school district.

Bath Massacre provides valuable lessons for those who work in the school security arena.  The author does an excellent job of providing details of the attack and its aftermath that show significant similarities to modern school attack.  The Bath School attack was likely the first suicide school bombing in the United States and should serve as a warning to school and public safety officials as one attack method that many school emergency plans do not address properly, a school bombing followed up by a secondary attack such as another device or an ambush.  As with Michelle McBride’s book The Fire that Will not Die, this book may be an emotionally difficult read for many educators.  However, as I often tell clients, that it is better to hear about catastrophic events than to experience them because it is too uncomfortable to discuss and learn from them.