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.

Are you Prepared for an Acid Attack on Campus?

Caustic acids have been a weapon of choice for attackers in parts of Africa, in Vietnam, India and other developing countries for more than four decades. The acid attack – where a person simply throws the substance on the victim – has have been traditionally used as a convenient weapon to settle interpersonal disputes. Where firearms have often been used in acts of interpersonal violence in the United States, strict gun control laws, and the fact that battery acid is cheap and readily available has often led people to use this alternative and devastating means of harming others in many developing countries.

An acid attack is easy to carry out, exceedingly painful, and can leave brutal injuries including blindness, horrific disfigurement as well as severe physical and emotional scarring. As with attacks with knives and firearms, an acid attack is sometimes fatal. Acid attacks are difficult to prevent using physical security measures because acid can be carried in a wide variety of containers and cannot easily be detected by metal detectors and security X-ray equipment.

While many Americans had not heard of the use of acid as a weapon until four American tourists were attacked with acid in France recently, it is likely that acid attacks will become well-known in the U.S. in the future. One reason for this is the increased media attention of acid attacks by American media. The use of acid attacks as a weapon of choice by terrorists also increases the risk that terrorists will opt to use acid for attacks. Al Qaeda has used acid to attack school girls and has successfully used the threat of acid attacks to intimidate girls who wish to attend school in Afghanistan.

The Acid Attack as a Rising International Trend

Perhaps the greatest indicator that acid attacks could become problematic in the U.S. is the rapid spread of this attack method in Europe. For example, the use of acid as a weapon has increased dramatically in with an estimated 1,800 acid attacks in London in recent years. Gang members, dangerously mentally ill attackers, people involved in bar fights and school children have increasingly turned to acid to carry out terrifying attacks. While I pray that I am wrong, in my experience, we are but one heavily publicized acid attack away from seeing the types of attacks that have become increasingly common in both developing and developed nations. Should this occur, we can anticipate a sudden frenzy similar to what we have seen with anthrax attacks and active shooter events with similarly ineffective solutions.

A solid approach to school violence prevention includes a variety of prevention measures that can be effective in reducing the risk of acid attacks. This is because an effective approach can reduce the risk of violence regardless of the type of weapon used. For example, efforts to reduce fights, control gang activity and student threat, evaluation and management efforts can all reduce the risk of violence regardless of weapon type. To a lesser extent, proper emergency planning provides a broad enough array of emergency protocols to help school staff respond to such an attack. As with firearm and knife attacks, having room clear and reverse evacuation protocols are two important examples of protocols that can help staff address an acid attack in an inside setting or an attack outside of the building.

Staying Alive: Abe and Erin's Story

As we describe in our book Staying Alive, there are many other types of dangerous attacks besides firearms.

Other alternative attack methods, such as mass casualty edged weapons assaults, the use of fire as a weapon, and attacks where vehicles are used to run over victims, also demand our attention. In this same vein, the use of commonly available acids as a weapon is also of increasing concern. Fortunately, holistic prevention and preparedness approaches can help to address these frightening events.

Any prevention and preparedness measures that are heavily focused on a single attack method such as active shooter events are subject to becoming obsolete in the wake of a single frightening and well-publicized attack. A proper array of prevention and preparedness approaches will offer a reasonable degree of protection regardless of the type of weapon used. Our research for the upcoming Cognella textbook Extreme Violence – Preventing and Preparing for Active Shooter, Active Killer, Hate Crimes, and Acts of Terrorism indicates that acid attacks are worthy of our attention as part of the all-hazards
approach to school security and emergency preparedness efforts.

Warning: The following video is graphic

This video was taken during the Station Nightclub fire in Rhode Island in 2003. It shows just how quickly a small fire can spread and cause panic. The effects of people being stuck in the doorway are similar to accounts from other major fire disasters that we are aware of, as well as many other incidents involving mass panic. This video is from a cameraman who was at the concert to do a news story on nightclub safety after an incident just 3 days before where 21 were killed and 50 were injured in a stampede caused by pepper spray.

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.

Clinton County School

Michael Dorn meets with advocates for the children when presenting for the Clinton County, Kentucky School District.

I had the opportunity to meet some outstanding advocates for the children when I presented for the Clinton County, Kentucky School District. These amazing people were able to teach a number of new school safety tricks to an old dog. With the school year about to start, Albany Elementary School Principal Tim Armstrong and Officer Rick Marcum took time during a busy time of year to show me an array of outstanding safety, security and emergency preparedness measures that have been implemented.

I had the great privilege of presenting for the Clinton County, Kentucky School System just before the school year started. I am so glad that I had the opportunity to present at the district’s back to school event. The district has implemented a wide array of excellent practices relating to school safety, security, emergency preparedness, climate, and culture. The enthusiasm of the staff, excellent working relationships between support staff and educators and the competence of the building and district leadership personnel made working with them a true joy.

I arrived early so I could do a brief parent presentation at Albany Elementary School. After the presentation, I spent a couple of hours touring the school with Principal Tim Armstrong and the dedicated Custodial Supervisor Michael Hood. As with every building tour I have participated in, I was able to point out some options for consideration to enhance safety, security and emergency preparedness. However, I found far more things being done extremely well than I did things that could be done better. Without question, the school’s approach to a safe, orderly and efficient flow of traffic in the mornings and in the afternoons is remarkable. Mr. Armstrong has worked with a software programmer who has extensive experience developing identification systems to develop a QR code reading system that allows school staff to rapidly scan parent identification tags as they enter the parking lot. This pulls up the parent’s photo and shows that they are on the authorized list to pick up their child. At the same time, the system cues staff in the school’s gym to bring the child to the door so they can get into their vehicle. The system combined with a loop driveway and awnings has taken a situation that used to be slow, disorganized and unsafe, and turned it into a system that is far above leading practice. As data shows that student arrival and afternoon dismissal offer the most potential for death of students and staff of any school activity, this effort is among the most practical and effective efforts to reduce the dangers associated with vehicles strikes, abduction of students by noncustodial persons and vulnerability for mass casualty acts of violence during these vulnerable times.

The next morning’s activities were absolutely awesome and I had a blast delivering my thirty-minute message set in between two extremely thoughtful and impactful audio-visual presentations (www.clinton.kyschools.us). The final audio-visual segment was an extremely well-done video depicting school district personnel as superheroes. These presentations, opening remarks by the superintendent and key staff combined with my keynote were designed to help drive home an effective and important message to all categories of employee that they all have the opportunity to be super heroes for the students they all serve. At the end of the 90-minute session, staff appeared to be fully energized and pumped up to start the new school year on the following Monday. I also had the distinct honor to meet an amazing school resource officer. Officer Rick Marcum is a dedicated veteran law enforcement and highly educated officer who has worked closely with the district to help them develop a number of the impressive practices I saw during my visit. Officer Marcum is working on his doctoral degree in education. Though I have never pursued a doctorate, I know how hard it is to attend college and work as a law enforcement officer.

From the interaction between staff, students and parents the afternoon before my presentation it is clear that the dedicated and highly-motivated men and women who make up the Clinton County School System achieve superhero status for school children on a daily basis. I feel so blessed to have been afforded the opportunity to meet and interact with the remarkable people who have built what I wish every school system could be – a place where superheroes help protect, nurture, educate and inspire those who hold the keys to our future.

 

Navigate Prepared Sponsors Free School Safety Summits

Navigate Prepared Sponsors Free School Safety Summits

I am honored to have been selected to keynote eight free school safety summits in Ohio, New York, and Pennsylvania this September and October. These summits were sponsored by Navigate Prepared to better serve their many school district clients in these states and to provide a free resource to school districts who are not clients. I keynoted a series of similar school safety summits in Ohio and Pennsylvania last year and we had excellent feedback. Navigate Prepared received a number of requests from attendees for Navigate Prepared to host summits in their communities as well as requests to bring the summits to New York. The summits are focused on ways to improve emergency preparedness for schools. This year’s seminars will include updated information on emerging threats such as acid “dosing” attacks and new school emergency preparedness technology tools.

 

One feature of the summits that has been extremely well-received involves splitting the attendees into groups and conducting school safety, security and emergency preparedness walk through tours at the schools hosting the events after lunch. These school safety seminars have attracted diverse audiences including a variety of types of school and public safety officials. I have been particularly impressed to see a number of school superintendents take the time from their busy schedules to attend. I have also been impressed that attendees have traveled from other states to attend the summits.

 

I look forward to these exciting events.

 

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