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.

School Bus Terrorism in New York

This week’s deadly truck attack in Manhattan is being investigated by the FBI as a possible terrorist attack.  As the attacker rammed a school bus during the attack, a finding by the FBI that this was indeed a terrorist attack would make this the first act of school bus terrorism in the United States (See also: “School Bus Terrorism: A Practical Analysis with Implications for America’s Schools” by Chris Dorn.

As described in a chapter on attack methods in our upcoming book Extreme Violence – Preventing and Preparing for Active Shooter, Active Assailant, Hate Crimes and Terrorist Attacks, bad actors have many options for carrying out mass-casualty attacks.  Favored targets of terrorists who opt to target school children, school buses have been attacked numerous times even though relatively few countries have school buses as we know them in the United States.

Terrorists who have carried out attacks on school buses in Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Africa, Asia, the Middle East and other regions of the world have previously utilized vehicle ramming attacks, fire, explosives, shootings, edged weapons assaults and hostage takings to create terror in school bus attacks (See “Is your Campus Prepared for Vehicle Based Attacks”, School Safety Monthly September 2017).  In many cases, mass transit buses have been attacked at times of day when large numbers of children were riding them.  We have long been concerned that terrorists or other types of attackers might select school buses in the United States.  While it appears likely that the school bus that was attacked in this case was more likely a target of opportunity than the primary intended target, the implications of this attack are significant.

This attack and a thoughtful review of other school bus attacks in the United States and abroad indicates that a focus on the threat of active shooter incidents on school buses without an appropriate emphasis on other attack methods that have been repeatedly utilized is unwise.  Balanced training on ways to prevent and prepare for a wider array of attack methods is important.  For example, the number of school bus hostage situations in the United States, as well as those that have taken place in other countries, demonstrate that this is a relevant training area for American pupil transportation personnel.

There is also ample evidence that other emerging attack methods that have become popular in other countries may also become problematic in the United States.  For example, attacks, where acid is thrown onto victims, have rapidly become common in Europe, with London experiencing more than 1,800 such attacks in the past three years.  while these attacks are usually not fatal, they often result in horrific disfigurement and therefore generate considerable fear.  These attacks have become a problem in British schools as well with acid being a weapon of choice for gang members.

Now is a good time to evaluate your plans, procedures, training and drill processes to see how they measure against the array of attack methods that have been repeatedly and successfully employed against school buses. Proper all-hazards approaches can help staff spot indicators of danger regardless of the intended attack method.  Comprehensive emergency plans, training, and drills can also improve the ability of staff to react more effectively to virtually any attack method.  As with training for other staff, training using audio and video scenarios and/or role play will improve retention of the information presented while also helping trainees learn how to address a much wider array of attack methods.

The Failure to Try

I just finished viewing one of the most powerful five-minute video clips I have ever watched.  The video features Tom Satterly who retired from the United States Army as a Master Sergeant after many years of service as a Delta Force Special Operator.  Master Sergeant Satterly was awarded six Bronze Stars for his service in combat in four countries.  His first exposure to combat was an 18-hour firefight in Mogadishu and was depicted in the movie Black Hawk Down.  At the time, this was the longest sustained continuous gun battle for American soldiers since the Vietnam War.   If you have read Staying Alive – How To Survive Deadly Encounters, you likely recall that Satterly was directly involved with the captures of both Manuel Noriega and Saddam Hussein.  In his new video, Master Sergeant Satterly delivers a powerful and much-needed message about how important it is for people not to fail to try when confronted with opportunity, challenges and even the seemingly overwhelming odds of survival.

Master Sergeant Satterly’s new video is even more powerful and valuable.  I urge you to take five minutes to hear a powerful and important message by watching this video  I can assure you that you will find the segment to be worth your time.

Tom also contributed to a series of free training videos on our website:

Staying Alive – Combat and Lessons for Every Day Crisis Stress from Safe Havens International on Vimeo.

All of the videos can be accessed at our “Staying Alive” resources page:

Staying Alive

Feedback from visitors to our website has been that these compelling videos have been helpful to many educators and public safety officials from around the world. Master Sergeant Satterly is scheduled to testify before the United States Congress on the topics of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and how our military can better serve those like him who have allowed the rest of us to enjoy the freedom and safety that is truly unique in contrast with other democracies let alone the majority of nations.

I am thankful to Tom Satterly and the thousands of other brave men and women who serve as soldiers, police officers, firefighters, security personnel, mental health professionals, educators and other selfless professionals who sacrifice in different ways to make our world a better place.   Master Sergeant Satterly’s powerful message reminds us that we can achieve much as long as we do not fail to try.

Las Vegas Concert Active Shooter Incident Has Implications for K12 Special Events

Once again, our nation has been shocked and saddened by a tragic mass casualty shooting.  Over the course of the past year, more than a dozen members of our authoring team from the United States and the United Kingdom been conducting a massive amount of research on these types of attacks for a lengthy page university textbook Extreme Violence – Preventing and Preparing for Active Shooter, Active Killer, Terrorism and Hate Crimes.  This research verifies that America and most other countries have experienced periodic active shooter attacks.  In fact, American school attacks date back to the first active shooter incident in a Catholic school in Newburgh, New York in 1891.  Our research team has found active shooter events in dozens of countries including Argentina, Mexico, Canada, Scotland, England, South Africa, South Korea, Australia, Germany, India, Vietnam, Brazil, China, the Philippines, France and Norway to mention only a few.

While active shooter incidents have been a part of the American landscape for more than a century, this week’s unusually deadly attack indicates an increased risk level for densely crowded open-air events like football games and elementary school festivals.  While there have been several sniper attacks involving American schools in the past few decades, most of these have not received widespread media coverage.  The shooting of a middle school student by the Beltway snipers is a notable exception.  Many of the averted and successfully executed planned attacks I have worked have involved pre-attack research by the aggressors.  We also know that previous attackers have been focused on setting new records for shooting victims.  Two of the most prominent examples of this in recent times is the Sandy Hook Elementary School and the Utoya Island Norway attackers.  The Sandy Hook attacker assembled a database of more than 500 attacks from around the world and planned extensively in an effort to kill more victims that the killer from Norway.  When combined with the tendency for attackers to copy specific and successful attack methods, the deadly toll of the Las Vegas attack is cause for concern.

As I have stated for many years, there are no measures that can help the United States or any country eliminate the threat of active shooter events.  As this week’s attack demonstrated, simplistic approaches such as Run, Hide, Fight can be rendered ineffective by simple variance in attack method.  In fact, as more than 100 years of fire science research documents that people in large groups move to safety slower when they attempt to run, many current active shooter training approaches can increase the opportunity for active shooters to kill more victims by causing delays in evacuation in some specific scenarios.  There are, however, a number of strategies that have demonstrated effectiveness in reducing the risk they pose.  While there no absolutes in active shooter prevention and preparedness, there are excellent possibilities and probabilities which are worth the time, energy and fiscal commitment needed to implement them.