Are you missing school safety incidents?

Safe Havens Analyst Found Story of successful school lockdown

A Safe Havens analyst found this story of a successful school lockdown in 1900 while conducting research for a school security assessment for a Connecticut school district.

A couple of weeks ago, I was running school crisis scenarios as part of a large school security assessment project for faith-based schools. A teacher who was participating in the scenarios told us that he had been taken hostage in his school in the early 1990’s. After we finished with the scenario evaluation, our team had an extended conversation with the teacher. We found this to be extremely helpful, learning important details of the case. For example, the teacher had responded to the classroom because he was part of the school’s crisis team. Not being aware that a student was holding a room full of students hostage, he walked into the room. Once he realized that the student was holding a handgun, he moved towards the student in an attempt to disarm him. He told us that the student quickly produced a second handgun and pointed both firearms at him. Realizing that he had made a serious mistake, the teacher began talking to the student and was able to get him to release all of the students in the classroom. With the assistance of an administrator, the teacher was able to persuade the student to put down both guns and surrender. A Safe Havens analyst found this story of a successful school lockdown in 1900 while conducting research for a school security assessment for a Connecticut school district.

The 24 hour news cycle and school safety

Prior to the active shooter event at Pearl High School in Mississippi, school active shooter incidents rarely garnered extensive national media coverage. Media coverage relating to school shootings is now extensive. However, we regularly learn of major school safety incidents that have previously gone unnoticed outside the communities where they occur. As but one example, last year David Woodward from the Indiana School Safety Specialist’s Academy forwarded a copy of a newspaper article about a 1960 shooting rampage in his state. In this case, an elementary school principal opened fire in his school with a shotgun. Even though two teachers were killed, we have never before seen this incident listed in any report on school shootings. Had a School Safety Specialist from Indiana not tripped up on the event and passed it on to Director Woodward, few people outside the community would be aware of this tragedy.

Myths can kill

There are now many myths about school safety that result in ineffective strategies, dangerous experimental approaches and other negative outcomes. These often reduce the actual level of safety in schools. The dangerous claim that school lockdowns are ineffective combined with the significant number of injuries and pending litigation relating to one popular options-based active shooter training program demonstrate this concern. Since myths can and do result in injuries and deaths, educators and public safety officials should work diligently to address the range of school violence issues, not just those that garner the most media coverage.

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.

Active Shooter Incident in South Africa


I just returned from a two week trip to South Africa. As with my previous trips there, I found it to be a fascinating journey. A beautiful country that I love to visit, South Africa also has its share of violence in and out of schools. A shooting rampage in Alexandria last Wednesday demonstrated that active shooter events can occur in any country. In this tragic case, a South African Police Services Constable attacked a police station and killed four people including his former partner. The officer also fired upon two other police officers but missed them.

Police Officer Becomes an Active Shooter

The officer had taken his girlfriend and a man hostage about a month earlier after he found them together. During the standoff, he threatened to shoot responding officers. Police seized his service pistol and he was not apparently able to purchase another one because of South Africa’s strict gun laws. Instead, the officer was able to convince an officer at the police station to give him another police service pistol which was then used in the attack. After the attack, the officer fled to a residence and killed himself with the weapon after firing upon responding police tactical team members.

Media Reporting on Active Shooter Events Distorts Reality

Like a number of active shooter events in other countries, this case received little if any national media coverage in the United States. In fact, I only learned of the incident when I read a South African newspaper on my flight home. The way media organizations cover active shooter events has considerable bearing on how we perceive the chances we will directly experience them. Active shooter events in many countries make it clear that any public or non-public school in the world could be the next school to experience and active shooter incident. No school official should ignore this possibility. At the same time, available data confirms that more than 99% of all deaths at American schools do not involve active shooter incidents. In fact, more than 90% of all homicides at school do not involve active shooter incidents.

Appropriate Responses to Active Shooter Events

Careful data evaluation reveals that it is exceedingly dangerous to focus most of our available time, energy, and fiscal resources on active shooter events. We urge our clients to thoroughly address the risk of active shooter incidents while devoting appropriate effort to address the array of hazards that claim far more lives each year than active shooter events. Taking the time to carefully review accurate school safety incident data can help to overcome the natural tendency to overemphasize active shooter risks for schools.