Tennessee School Safety Specialists Academy – Excellence in School Safety

The Tennessee School Safety Specialists Academy is a best in class state-wide approach to school safety.   Like the Indiana School Safety Specialists Academy, the program uses a blend of live and web-based training to develop a high degree of school safety expertise in local communities.

The Tennessee School Safety Specialists Academy is a best in class state-wide approach to school safety. Like the Indiana School Safety Specialists Academy, the program uses a blend of live and web-based training to develop a high degree of school safety expertise in local communities.

School Safety Specialists Academies – Advanced State-Wide Programs

I had the honor to be allowed to present for the Tennessee School Safety Specialists Academy this week and was deeply impressed by the program. Though I have keynoted for the Tennessee Department of Education before, this was my first opportunity to be a part of this exceptional program. I was even more fortunate to be able to present on Monday to the Advanced Academy group and again on Tuesday to the Basic School Safety Specialists Academy. Modeled in some regards after the highly respected Indiana School Safety Specialists Academy, the Tennessee School Safety Specialists Academy utilized a forty hour basic academy which includes four days of live training with one day of web-based training. The graduates from the first Basic School Safety Specialists Academy last year completed their training this Monday while the Basic School Safety Specialists began their training on Tuesday.

All-Hazards School Safety

Like Indiana’s superb program, the Tennessee School Safety Specialists Academy is focused on the all-hazards approach to school safety.   Like the Indiana School Safety Specialists Academy, The Tennessee School Safety Specialists Academy is also attended by practitioners from a wide array of job roles and professional backgrounds. As I told Pat Conner from the Tennessee Department of Education, I really enjoyed presenting to their advanced group because you have to be on your best game when presenting to a group of practitioners who have had the benefit of advanced-level school safety training. Passionate advocates for the children like Pat and Mike Hermann have made the new program so impactful just as Clarrissa Snapp, David Woodward, Gary Green, Ryan Stewart and others have built and grown Indiana’s amazing school safety program.

I have always felt this way about the Indiana School Safety Specialists Academy. I have presented for the Indiana School Safety Specialists Academy every year for more than a decade and will be presenting for both the Advanced and Basic Academies again this year.

A Best in Class State-Wide Approach to School Safety

Like their counterparts in Indiana, the Tennessee Department of Education personnel tasked with school safety carefully vet their presenter and closely monitor feedback from attendees.   Indiana’s program has been incredibly successful for this reason. The Basic Academy already has more than 500 participants registered with more than 300 people who had to be turned away due to lack of space while more than 900 participants are registered for the Advanced School Safety Specialists Academy. The numbers speak for themselves. From the feedback I received from participants in both groups this week, Tennessee’s new School Safety Specialists Academy has also been an overwhelming success. I have had been privileged to present for about half of the nation’s state departments of education and have seen many other great approaches to school safety though many of these excellent programs have suffered severe budget cuts in recent years.   We are now working with another state department of education that seeks to develop a similar program and are hopeful they will be successful. I certainly wish more states would emulate these two awesome and cost-effective approaches. Our nation’s schools would certainly be safer for it.

School Terrorism – Are we Less Prepared Now?

School-related terrorism events are low probability-high consequence events.  Like the active shooter incidents that have been of intense concern for school and public safety officials in recent times, school terrorism events can impact any school in any community in the United Sates.  Fortunately, there are practical ways to address the threats of active shooter events, school terrorism and the many far more common types of school crisis situations that have thus far more lives than either.

School-related terrorism events are low probability-high consequence events. Like the active shooter incidents that have been of intense concern for school and public safety officials in recent times, school terrorism events can impact any school in any community in the United Sates. Fortunately, there are practical ways to address the threats of active shooter events, school terrorism and the many far more common types of school crisis situations that have thus far more lives than either.

Security Assessments for hundreds of Schools Reveal Many Schools are less Prepared for Terrorism

Recent events have school and public safety officials concerned once again about the potential for school terrorism. Our school safety, security, climate, culture and emergency preparedness assessments for hundreds of public, charter, parochial, and independent schools in nearly forty states since the Sandy Hook attack reveal that the majority of schools were ill-prepared for terrorist attacks at or near schools. In fact, our analysts have noted that many schools are less prepared for terrorism, tornado, fire, student suicides, medical emergencies, and a host of other more common events that we noted in our assessments of thousands of schools prior to the Sandy Hook tragedy. This is important because though active shooter incidents are one potential attack methodology for schools, school buses and special events, it is not the only mass casualty attack methodology employed by terrorists in the United States and globally to date. Fire, explosives and chemicals either as alternative attack methodologies or in combination with attacks using firearms have all taken place in school terrorist attacks. Therefore, the intensive focus on active shooter incidents has in many instances reduced the amount of time, energy and fiscal support for other types of school safety incidents including terrorist attacks on schools.

What Research and Experience Tells us about School Terrorism

My colleague Rod Ellis and I both have had the opportunity to travel to Israel to learn advanced anti-terrorism concepts from the Israel Police, Israeli Defense Forces and Israeli Security services. During our intensive ant-terrorism training and briefing sessions, senior Israeli officials urged us not to get into the habit of focusing on the last attack as we consider what future attacks might look like. Just as it is dangerous to focus on fire, tornado, or hostage situations to the exclusion of active shooter incidents and school terrorism, focusing primarily on active shooter incidents is an unsound approach. A narrow approach could be an especially costly error for school terrorism events where mass casualty loss of life can be a primary goal of well-prepared, equipped and experienced individuals or groups.  The millions of dollars that are currently being spent for medical care and worker’s compensation as a direct result of active shooter training are important for two reasons. First, as school insurance premiums rise due to these now common types of claims, less funding will be available for schools to address other statistically more common and deadly hazards. Secondly, there is a growing body of evidence that these as yet unproven concepts may cause deaths when they are misapplied under the stress of an actual event. For example, test subjects who have completed these types of programs frequently respond to a scenario of a student threatening suicide with a handgun pointed at their temple and their finger on the trigger of the weapon by “attacking the gunman”.   This indicates serious flaws in current training methodologies which will likely require extensive retraining once the expected civil actions make their way through the courts in the next few years.

School Terrorism Risk is better addressed with an All-hazards Approach

Based on extensive testing, evaluation and research, our analysts feel that preparedness approaches which concentrate on one or two categories of security incidents such as gang activity or active shooter incidents may reduce rather than increase survivability in school terrorist attacks. This is because these attacks often utilize different types of active shooter approaches as well as utilize fire, explosives, chemical or biological weapons. Only an all-hazards approach can provide a reasonable level of protection against a practical spectrum of school terrorism events.

While I make no specific predictions relating to terrorist attacks on campus facilities or transportation modes, the possibility is quite real. Ignoring this and other deadly threats by focusing an inordinate amount of training time, fiscal resources, and energy on active shooter events may result in an otherwise preventable mass casualty loss of life.

School Attacks Around the World

School Attacks

Two different school attacks show that school safety isn’t just an American problem.  In Hubei Province, China, a man went on a stabbing spree, killing three children in Dongfang Primary School.  He was reportedly upset that his daughter did not get into the school after failing to complete a summer assignment. He entered the school and stabbed eight children and a teacher before jumping off a building, killing himself.

In the Philippines, a policeman went to the Lingayen National High School in Pangasinan to collect a debt.  For a yet unknown reason, he opened fire in front of a classroom of the school, killing the debtor and two others. He was taken into custody.

Chinese School Attack

Chinese school children practice defending themselves from an attacker

School Attack Analysis

The safety of children from school attacks is a problem all around the world.  In Staying Alive: How to Act Fast and Survive Deadly Encounters, readers learn that on the day of the Sandy Hook massacre, 22 school children were injured in a knife attack in China (Dorn, 2014).

It is because of incidents like these that we stress not focusing on Active Shooter Incidents.  People use knives, hammers, cleavers, clubs, baseball bats, and all manner of non-projectile weapons in school attacks.  Thus schools should be stressing overall security, not just a response to a single type of incident.

The All-Hazards approach starts with a risk/threat assessment to identify specific risks faced by the school.  Then planning is conducted to mitigate against, prepare for, respond to, and recover from the identified risk.  Once the plan is in place, then the school should exercise that plan to iron out real-life problems with the plan, prior to having to use it.

Keep calm and don’t over-react.  School-related deaths make up less than two percent of all homicides among young people (Cornell, 2013), making schools one of the safest places for children to be.  Common sense and prudence can make schools even safer.