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.