School Safety Support

School Safety Support

Most school security directors, police chiefs, risk managers, and other professionals tasked with creating and maintaining school safety will tell you that one of the biggest challenges they face is obtaining buy-in for school safety measures. This is one reason many school safety leaders push to get their organizations to incorporate passive design features like crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) while also attempting to get security cameras and other technology solutions. With the many success stories of CPTED in the school setting and the truly amazing improvements in school security technology, these can be wise investments. Smart camera technologies with remarkable video and audio analytical capabilities and proven design features can go a long way to create safer schools. However, these assets are much more reliable when they are combined with a well-informed and highly motivated team of administrators, teachers and support staff.

Obtaining School Safety buy-in

Safe Havens has been working closely with the South Carolina Department of Education on a series of five school safety train the trainer programs with a focus on providing tools for South Carolina school districts designed to help address the critical human aspect of school safety. Using a system of more than 50 carefully scripted video and audio school crisis scenarios; this project has been extremely well-received thus far. The training series provides staff with a variety of options for interactive staff development activities combined with a modern approach to school drills and district-level implementation of a comprehensive drill program. The result is that South Carolina school officials can now more easily build interest and support for their written policies, plans, and procedures by providing staff with scenario-based activities that provide a strong impact on trainees. Our experience has always been that a few minutes of scenario-based training can accomplish more than a year of staff development sessions that fail to grab your attention and result in no buy-in from staff. As the cost of the entire statewide program is less than a school security camera system for a single elementary school, the return on the time, energy, and effort will be significant. As schools can, and when possible, they should continue to implement these highly robust school security technology and building design concepts. They should also be sure to keep up efforts to develop school employees that are just as high-tech – using human factors.

The winning combination for supporting School Safety

The combination of great physical safety and security measures and an increasingly competent workforce can improve on the impressive advancements in school safety we have witnessed over the past three decades. While there are significant on continually evolving school safety challenges, we have never before had the quality of human skill sets and physical safety options to get the job done. To me, the progress is remarkable, meaningful and timely.

School Safety Strategies: Strategy 19: Share Success Stories

One great resource for building school safety support internally is Safe Havens’ report “20 Simple Strategies for Safer Schools” produced for the Maine Department of Education.

Violence, Literacy and Hope in Trinidad – Tobago

Violence, Literacy and Hope in Trinidad – Tobago

I was blessed to be able keynote again in Trinidad – Tobago (affectionately called TT by people who live in or are from Trinidad). I have developed a great admiration for the people of this small Caribbean nation. Before my keynote for the first national school violence conference in TT last year, I had the opportunity to conduct informal school security assessments in the Port of Spain and to meet with officials from the Ministry of Education. These visits gave me a much better idea of the way schools in the small Caribbean nation operate, how the schools achieve one of the world’s highest literacy rates, and the challenges the schools in this nation of 1.3 million people face. That night, I stayed up very late and dramatically changed the presentation I had planned to deliver. The site visits made me realize much of the information I had planned to present would be of little use to school and public safety officials. The CORE Foundation sponsored the conference and received excellent reviews on conference presentations and panel discussions. Before he conference was over, I was asked if I could return to keynote another conference. After the conference, I spent several days watching leatherback sea turtles nest in the Grande Riviere with my family and we had a wonderful experience. My family and I began to fall in love with the people and culture of Trinidad. Like many developing countries, TT has many opportunities to be a better place. However, I experienced a level of kindness, humble pride, and many people with a deep passion to affect positive change in their country’s schools.

The week before last, I received a short notice request to keynote a violence prevention conference that had been planned in response to a series of particularly brutal homicides. I had blocked the week off to work on our new textbook so my calendar was open. The CORE Foundation confirmed the booking that Friday for me to present the following Monday and Tuesday. This conference was not focused on school safety but on violence prevention in any setting. I decided to develop two brand new presentations on Saturday and fly to TT on Sunday. Fortunately, things worked out well and the conference was a success. The CORE Foundation has already asked me to do a live distance learning session to make it easier for people from both Trinidad and the separate island of Tobago to participate.

I not only had the chance to meet many caring and passionate people on this trip, but also had the good fortune to hear some excellent presenters from TT. I had my second chance to hear Dr. Anthony Watkins, a master storyteller and caring advocate for children and youth. I really enjoyed the privilege of listening to a dynamic and potent presentation by Gillian Wall from an organization called the Powerful Ladies of Trinidad – Tobago. Jillian made a passionate appeal to the audience – “Help us Rebuild the Village that used to Raise our Children.” I had the opportunity to spend time with some impressive police and security officers and learned fascinating background which helped me understand why some of the unique law enforcement tactical techniques have been developed. My fondness for TT has grown with each visit. My heart has been touched by so many wonderful people who have pride in the great goodness that exists in a country with some daunting challenges. Most importantly, I was blessed to have the chance to see the burning passion in the eyes of a diverse group of professionals who came from across the islands of Trinidad and Tobago to make their country an even better place.

School shooting and suicide in Mexico: Initial Thoughts

Ver a continuación traducción de este artículo al español.

On Wednesday, January 18th word quickly spread of the sad tragedy unfolding in the city of Monterrey, Mexico at Colegio Americano del Noreste (the American School of the Northeast), a bilingual private school. According to media reports, a 15-year old male student used a .22 caliber handgun to open fire on his classroom. He severely wounded four and quickly took his own life. Three of the victims (a teacher and two students) were shot in the head and are in serious condition. The fourth victim was shot in the arm.

Much as we see in the US after events such as these unfold, there is a lot of speculation and there have been expressions of anger by the public. Blame is placed, and claims are made that this sort of phenomenon is new and the result of some social evil. The terrible fact is that these types of events have happened throughout modern history and in countries in most parts of the world. In a region where drug and gang violence is typically the biggest threat, what is shocking to many people in Mexico is that the incident involved a student attacker inside a school and that it resulted in a suicide.

Though school shootings are rare in Mexico they are not unheard of. Instances of shootings inside of school buildings are not commonly reported in the media. However, there has been enough drug and gang-related violence to push schools in northern Mexico to develop “duck and cover” procedures to protect against stray bullets. As with many of the active-shooter focused planning models in the U.S., such a focus on a single type of incident can mean that training might fall short when it comes to other types of incidents such as hostage situations and suicides.

We know that school shootings may occur in public, private or charter schools in any community across the globe. At the same time, due to a lack of funding, awareness or interest many schools still lack effective prevention measures.

It has been suggested, though not confirmed, that the shooter suffered from depression for which he was receiving treatment. Some are asking whether or not bullying played a role in the matter. As there is no exact Spanish translation for the English word bullying, many Mexicans use the English version (pronounced “boo-leeeng”). Some use Spanglish verbs like “buleando.” This lack of cultural awareness creates additional challenges for a problem that has had considerable media attention in the U.S. over the past few decades. Our analysts have seen this as a dynamic in many of the countries we have worked in such as Vietnam, Bolivia, South Africa and India.

In 2014 a 12-year-old Tamaulipas boy died of injuries sustained in a beating by classmates after being grabbed by a group of young assailants and flung against a wall. Published reports claim that the boy had complained to his teacher about being bullied but was ignored. Like any other school tragedy, we must exercise caution when our primary source of information involves media reports. This tragedy made national headlines and hundreds of people held a demonstration demanding justice for the boy’s death. Supporters started a Twitter campaign with the hashtag #ElBullyingNoEsUnJuego (“Bullying is not a game”).

Mexico’s human rights commission announced that it would work with teachers as part of a national campaign to tackle bullying. Like many programs and initiatives in the United States, it is unclear how effective these measures have been. In the hours following the event, alleged CCTV video of the event has been shared and gone viral on the internet and television around the world. This video is graphic and shows the entire event and will disturb most viewers. This is another factor that has been seen in other shootings in the United States and elsewhere. State security spokesman Aldo Fasci has been quoted saying that those responsible for posting photographs of the shooting on social media would be punished. He also asked of the news media to avoid using the images, which show minors.

While school violence is not a new problem, and will probably always exist in some form, we can still work to reduce risk and improve our response during a crisis. Students and staff can benefit from practical and understandable information that can help them increase their chances of survival in a variety of crisis situations. One tool that can be useful in situations like this one is a procedure known as a “Room Clear”. Schools can practice a room-clear protocol in any event where students need to quickly remove themselves from their current location and find safety elsewhere. This could be a hostage situation or suicide scenario like this one, or it could be used for something more mundane like a utility failure or medical emergency.

“Why is a Room Clear Protocol Important?” from Ask Safe Havens video web series:

“¿Por qué es importante un protocolo de “Room Clear” de Ask Safe Havens

Here is another simple concept that can be helpful for schools and teachers responding to a crisis: The Window of Life (Available as a free download on our “Staying Alive” resources page)

Aquí hay otro concepto simple que puede ser útil para las escuelas y los profesores que responden a una crisis: “La ventana de la vida” (Disponible como descarga gratuita en nuestra página de recursos “Staying Alive”)

The Window of Life is a tool to help school employees reduce danger to themselves and others in a school crisis situation. The Window of Life is especially important for active shooter incidents where calling 911 before communicating the need for a lockdown can cause a lengthy delay in taking protective actions that can save lives while law enforcement officers are on the way – even when officers are assigned to the campus where the attack is taking place.


Safe Havens staff on using the Window of Life concept:

Tiroteo Escolar en Monterrey México: Primeras Impresiones


El miércoles 18 de Enero se difundió rápidamente la triste noticia de la tragedia que estaba ocurriendo en la ciudad de Monterrey, México, en el Colegio Americano del Noreste, una escuela privada bilingüe. Según reportes de la prensa, un estudiante de 15 años utilizó una pistola calibre .22 para abrir fuego en su aula. Hirió de gravedad a cuatro personas e imediatamente se quitó la vida. Tres de las víctimas (una maestra y dos estudiantes) recibieron un disparo en la cabeza y se encuentran en estado grave. La cuarta víctima recibió un disparo en el brazo.


Tanto así como vemos en los EE.UU. después de acontecimentos como éste, hay mucha especulación y ha habido expresiones de enojo por parte del público. Se culpan unos a otros , y se afirma que este tipo de fenómeno es nuevo y el resultado de algún mal social. Lo terrible es el hecho que éste tipo de eventos han ocurrido a través de la historia moderna y en países en la mayor parte del mundo. En una región donde la violencia de las drogas y las pandillas es típicamente la mayor amenaza, lo que más conmociona a muchas personas en México es que el incidente involucró a un estudiante que atacó a sus compañeros y maestra dentro de una escuela y que resultó en un suicidio.


Aunque los disparos en las escuelas son raros en México no son inauditos. Los casos de disparos dentro de los edificios escolares no son comúnmente reportados en los medios de comunicación. Sin embargo, ha habido suficiente violencia relacionada con las drogas y las pandillas para empujar a las escuelas del norte de México a desarrollar procedimientos de “duck and cover” (agacharse y cúbrirse) para protegerse contra las balas perdidas. Al igual que ocurre con muchos de los modelos de planificación centrados en los tiradores activos en los Estados Unidos, tal enfoque en un solo tipo de incidente puede significar que el entrenamiento puede quedar corto cuando se trata de otros tipos de incidentes como situaciones de rehenes y suicidios.


Sabemos que los tiroteos en las escuelas pueden ocurrir en escuelas públicas, privadas o charter en cualquier comunidad en todo el mundo. Al mismo tiempo, debido a la falta de financiación, la concienciación o el interés de muchas escuelas aún carecen de medidas de prevención eficaces.


Se ha sugerido, aunque no confirmado, que el tirador sufría de depresión por la cual estaba recibiendo tratamiento. Algunos están preguntando si la intimidación (Bullying) jugó un parte en el asunto. Como no hay una traducción exacta al Español de la palabra inglesa bullying, muchos Mexicanos usan la versión en Inglés (pronunciada “boo-leeeng”). Algunos utilizan verbos spanglish como “buleando”. Esta falta de conciencia cultural crea desafíos adicionales para un problema que ha tenido una atención mediática considerable en los EE.UU. en las últimas décadas. Nuestros analistas han visto esto como una dinámica en muchos de los países en los que hemos trabajado, como Vietnam, Bolivia, Sudáfrica e India.


En 2014 un niño de 12 años de edad, Tampiqueño murió de heridas sufridas en una paliza por compañeros de clase después de ser agarrado por un grupo de jóvenes asaltantes y arrojado contra una pared. Informes publicados afirman que el muchacho se había quejado acerca de ser intimidado pero fue ignorado. Como cualquier otra tragedia de la escuela, debemos ser cautelosos cuando nuestra fuente primaria de información involucra reportes de los medios de comunicación. Esta tragedia hizo titulares nacionales y cientos de personas realizaron una manifestación exigiendo justicia por la muerte del niño. Los partidarios comenzaron una campaña de Twitter con el hashtag #ElBullyingNoEsUnJuego.


La comisión de derechos humanos de México anunció que trabajaría con los maestros como parte de una campaña nacional para combatir el acoso. Al igual que muchos programas e iniciativas en los Estados Unidos, no está claro cuán efectivas han sido estas medidas. En las horas posteriores al evento, el video de la CCTV del evento fue compartido por la red y en las noticias y se ha vuelto viral por todo el mundo. Este video es gráfico y muestra todo el evento y perturbará a la mayoría de los espectadores. Este es otro factor que se ha visto en otros tiroteos en los Estados Unidos y en otros lugares. El portavoz de seguridad estatal Aldo Fasci fue citado diciendo que los responsables de publicar fotografías de los disparos en las redes sociales serían castigados. También pidió a los medios de comunicación evitar el uso de las imágenes, que muestran a menores de edad.


Aunque la violencia escolar no es un problema nuevo, y probablemente siempre existirá de alguna forma, todavía podemos trabajar para reducir el riesgo y mejorar nuestra respuesta durante una crisis. Los estudiantes y el personal pueden beneficiarse de información práctica y comprensible que puede ayudarles a aumentar sus posibilidades de supervivencia en una variedad de situaciones de crisis. Una herramienta que puede ser útil en situaciones como esta es un procedimiento conocido como “Room Clear” (Aula vacía). Las escuelas pueden practicar un protocolo “Room Clear” en cualquier evento donde los estudiantes necesitan retirarse rápidamente de su ubicación actual y encontrar seguridad en otro lugar. Esto podría ser una situación de rehenes o un escenario de suicidio como éste, o podría ser utilizado para algo más mundano como un fracaso de servicios públicos o una emergencia médica.





Safe Havens Team Chosen to Author University Textbook on Extreme Violence

A team of three Safe Havens Analysts and more than a dozen of their colleagues has been selected to author a 600-page textbook for undergraduate students, graduate students, and practitioners who desire advanced information regarding the prevention of active shooter incidents, active killer attacks, acts of terrorism, and violent hate crimes. The working title for the book is Extreme Violence – How to Prevent, Prepare for and Recover from Active Shooter, Active Killer, Hate Violence and Acts of Terrorism. Extreme Violence will focus on what to do about the threat of extreme violence rather than focusing on the history or driving forces behind them. Rather than focusing on geopolitical solutions, the intensively researched book will be focused on how to address these extreme and highly lethal acts of violence at the local and state organizational level.

Safe Havens signed a contract with Cognella, a major publisher of more than 2,000 different textbooks, in November. Les Nichols, Phuong Nguyen and I will serve as co-authors and a distinguished team of subject matter experts have agreed to serve as contributing authors for the most comprehensive textbook on the subject in print. After a careful review of more than 100 books on related topics, we have identified a significant gap in textbooks that provide a comprehensive treatment of the prevention
of, preparedness for and recovery from these devastating types of extreme violence. The talented Safe Havens audio-visual, team will also be developing an array of support web tools to give the learner perspectives that are new to the field of textbook publication. The book will include more than 30 chapters on a wide array of related topics and will be heavily illustrated. The research and writing team has been hard at work and we are proud of the work they have done so far. We feel honored to have been selected by one of the nation’s most respected textbook publishers and to have the chance to work with such a diverse team of amazing subject matter experts to produce this much needed work.

South Carolina Department of Education Train-The-Trainer Program

South Carolina Department of Education Selects Safe Havens International Selected to Develop a School Safety Train-The-Trainer Program

South Carolina Department of Education Selects Safe Havens International Selected to Develop a School Safety Train-The-Trainer Program

South Carolina Department of Education Selects Safe Havens International Selected to Develop a School Safety Train-The-Trainer Program

After a lengthy competitive bid selection process, Safe Havens International was chosen by the South Carolina Department of Education to create a new train-the-trainer program. Through this program, 250 carefully selected instructors will be selected to participate. SHI will conduct five training sessions in different regions of the state this winter. After successfully completing the program, participants will be able to provide multiple blocks of instruction to local school officials across the state. Participants will also be trained in the SHI “Dorn Drill” process and will be provided with a series of custom audio scenarios for use in prompting staff to initiate emergency protective actions such as lockdown, evacuation, reverse evacuation, room clear, severe weather sheltering, sheltering in place for and hazardous materials. Graduates of the program will be able to load the audio scenarios onto portable devices and tablets to use them to prompt staff to initiate school-level drills, to conduct one-on-one spot checks of staff, and for use in structured staff development sessions. Graduates of the program will also receive a variety of other tools such as drill scoring instruments to help them improve fidelity and to provide improved documentation for their drill processes.

Safe Havens has been honored to conduct other types of school safety projects in a number of states including Indiana, Wisconsin, Hawaii, Maine and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.   Our project team is excited to have this opportunity to help the South Carolina Department of Education provide helpful tools to further enhance safety, security and emergency preparedness throughout the state.

School Bus Seat Belts: Opening a Dialogue

Seat Belts on School Buses?

A fatal bus crash in Chatanooga that killed six children has intensified the demand for seat belts on school buses.  This dialogue is similar to the use of various Active Shooter programs after Sandy Hook.  The dialogue is important, but decisions should be made rationally, not in response to the emotions of the tragedy.

So what are the facts about school buses and fatal crashes?

School Bus Safety Facts

According to the National Highway and Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), since 1988 there have been over 416,000 fatal crashes in the United States.  1,265 of these involved school buses, or 0.03%. 1,409 people have died in accidents involving school buses, of which 113 were students (8%).  As is seen in the graphic below, 1% of students killed during normal school travel hours were on a school bus, making school buses the safest way to get to school (NHTSA, 2009).

school bus seat belts

School Bus Seat Belts: Pros & Cons

In any rational dialogue on a topic, it is good to consider the pros and cons.

Some good things about seat belts on school buses:

  • Prevents children from being thrown from their seats
  • Teaches children to use seat belts
  • Their use may protect against litigation
  • Can improve student behavior

Some areas of concern:

  • It can cost up to $15,000 to retrofit a school bus with seat belts, including the hardening of seat frames to be able to properly install lap & shoulder belts.
  • Students can, and have, use the belt buckles as weapons.
  • It would be next to impossible to ensure that all students remain properly buckled.
    school bus seat belts

    (Image from

  • After an accident, disoriented and panicked students may find it difficult to get out of their seat belts.
  • The proper use of seat belts requires they be adjusted each time they are used.  This will take additional time.
  • The installation of seat belts will reduce bus capacity, requiring more buses be used to deliver the same number of students.
  • Students who fail to use seat belts properly may be thrown into belted students, creating a double impact.
  • As of yet, there are no federal standards to outline proper installation of seat belts in school buses.

Start the Dialogue

The safety of all children should be the goal of everyone who cares for them, so the ultimate goal is to have zero children killed while in our care.  Therefore, fair consideration should be given to any idea that can improve child safety, including the use of seat belts on school buses.  However, that means considering all the pros and cons.  The ones above are just a start.

Having passion for the care of children is a wonderful thing, but we need to take care to not let that passion cloud our decision-making.  The stakes are too high.