New Year for School Safety

Increased Concerns Relating to Terrorism and School Safety


New Years fireworks celebration by Rachel Wilson

2015 has seen a considerable amount of activity in the school safety arena.  The clear indications of increased risk and fear of school-related terrorism have been driving a significant movement for school and public safety officials to re-evaluate their school security strategies. The 2015 terrorist attacks in France and in the United States are causing significant concerns that many school crisis plans are inadequate to address the current threats of terrorism. The variety of terrorist attack methodologies that have been used against schools, school buses and school-related events, makes it imperative that all-hazards planning approaches be utilized. In addition, the wave of threats against school districts just before the holidays has many school and public safety officials on edge.

The Active Shooter Trap

The tendency to overemphasize active shooter in school safety efforts since the deadly Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting has been pronounced. The highly emotive emphasis on this one deadly, catastrophic but rare form of school violence leaves schools particularly vulnerable to terrorist attack. While we understand the emotional reactions we are seeing to active shooter events, the results they cause are troubling. Our school security assessments for more than 1,000 K12 schools over the past three years have revealed that the majority of K12 schools in 38 states we have assessed have not conducted a shelter in place drill for hazardous materials incidents in recent years.

Of even greater concern is the tendency to try to boil school safety down to an unrealistic level. For example, it has become increasingly common for sheltering for external hazardous materials incidents to be lumped into one protocol with severe weather and earthquake sheltering. This is an incredibly dangerous practice. The actions steps for each of these three very different hazards are different. Creating a single set of action steps for all three different emergencies results in a plan that could easily cause mass casualty loss of life.


What does this mean for school safety?

Recent terrorist attacks have prompted a dramatic surge in requests for school safety assistance. Many school and public safety officials who have contacted us for assistance have concerns that their current approaches are too focused on active shooter incidents. Now is a good time for school and public safety officials to review their school safety plans to see if they address acts of terrorism involving not only firearms but fire, explosives, chemical weapons, biological incidents and other means of attack available to terrorists. Perhaps more importantly, the New Year is a good time to verify that school safety plans address the much more common types of school safety incidents that result in fatalities than those that garner the most media coverage but actually cause far fewer deaths.

School Terrorism Web Courses

Coming Soon – School Terrorism Web Courses

Photograph taken during filming of the first 30 seconds, weapon scenarios. - See more at:

Photograph taken during filming of the first 30 seconds, weapon scenarios. – See more at:

Safe Havens Analysts Authoring School Terrorism Web Courses

Last year, Safe Havens agreed to author a series of web courses on terrorism prevention and preparedness for Scenario Learning Incorporated.  Safe Havens analysts have authored a number of school safety web courses for Scenario Learning, including the six recently released active shooter web courses for K12, colleges, and work places.  We have also authored an active shooter course for students at institutions of higher learning.


Comprehensive Topical Coverage

Scenario Learning now offers more than 300 courses for the K12 sector and adds new course offerings each year.  Scheduled for draft completion in January 2016 the six new terrorism prevention and preparedness courses are based on the book Innocent Targets When Terrorism Comes to School, which is now in its eight print run, as well as our experience working with schools in terrorism prone regions such as Nigeria and Kenya.  In light of the recent series of terrorist attacks and thwarted attacks globally, Safe Havens and Scenario Learning will be completing the courses well ahead of the original publication date.  We had discussed and planned for this possibility more than six months ago.

School Terrorism Web Courses Authoring and Editing

Safe Havens is honored to be selected to author these School Terrorism Web courses which are sadly now very timely. Feedback from our clients and from insurance carriers about Scenario Learning has been excellent.  The short time format of the awareness level courses, combined with excellent tracking capability, low cost, ability for school officials to create custom web courses and features that allow school officials to document the distribution of critical policies and crisis plan components, have been very popular with dozens of our clients.   Our authoring team has been working closely with the Scenario Learning Companies editorial team to produce accurate, concise, actionable and informative courses on these relevant topics.


Full Disclosure

Safe Havens does not receive any form of royalties; our analysts author courses for Scenario Learning for a one-time nominal fee.   While our analysts can generate far more revenue through other forms of service delivery, we have found the approach utilized by Scenario Learning Incorporated to be highly practical for our clients.  Safe Havens never accepts any form of monetary compensation for recommending any product or service.

Active Shooter Obsession – A Deadly Trend

Active Shooter Obsession deadly trend.

The active shooter obsession is a deadly trend.

Obsession with Active Shooter Scenarios Degrades School Safety

While running school crisis scenarios during a school security assessment this week, a teacher at a faith-based school attacked people during two of the six school crisis scenarios he was presented with. In both instances, the test subject failed to initiate a lockdown or prompt anyone to call 911. Instead, he attacked a suspicious person who is depicted as ignoring staff who ask him what he is doing in the building. In fact, neither scenario involved an active shooter incident. Later in the week, another employee at a school where a hostage situation had occurred also opted to use physical force in two scenarios where it would clearly increase danger to do so. These types of responses have become increasingly popular since the Sandy Hook attack. Prior to the Sandy Hook attack, such responses were exceedingly rare. Unfortunately, our nation’s obsession with active shooter events is having a significant and negative impact on how effectively school employees across the nation are prepared to make effective and prompt life-saving decisions.

Seeing is Believing

During a keynote presentation for the Tennessee Department of Education a couple of years ago, I asked a volunteer to come up to the stage and assist me in a demonstration. My volunteer turned out to be a very compassionate and deeply safety-conscious building principal for a faith-based high school. I asked him to respond in real-time fashion by verbalizing what he would do after he watched a video school crisis scenario. In the video, a student placed the muzzle of a 9mm semiautomatic pistol to his temple with his finger on the trigger and threatened to kill himself. The more than three hundred school administrators and law enforcement officer in attendance were shocked to hear his reply that he would attack the gunman. I was not shocked as I have seen this reply on numerous occasions during keynote presentations and during controlled simulations in schools across the nation.

Recognition Primed Decision-Making

Dr. Gary Klein has written extensively about the role of recognition-primed decision-making plays in the ability of people to make life and death decisions rapidly with limited information. He emphasizes the importance of providing people with a base of knowledge that will prepare them to recognize the situations they face more rapidly. Our analysts have observed indicators that school employees are becoming increasingly primed to anticipate active shooter situations as the most likely situations involving guns they will face. We increasingly see school employees responding to situations in a manner that would be more dangerous because of this type of inadvertent operant conditioning. We urge school and public safety officials to take great care to prepare school staff for the types of weapons incidents that result in the most injuries and deaths, not just those that garner the most media attention.