I had the great pleasure of presenting on school security assessments for a general session yesterday at the 2013 Minnesota Symposium on Terrorism and Emergency Preparedness (M-STEP) conference. I was a keynote speaker at the same conference in 2002 and felt honored to be asked to return. Deputy Fire Chief Todd Seitz of the Brooklyn Park Fire Department wanted me to present the findings of our extensive research from writing our newest book Staying Alive – How to Act Fast and Survive Deadly Encounters to the group. He especially wanted me to share with the audience what we have found during thousands of controlled one-on-one crisis simulations during school security assessments we have performed.
One simple but powerful concept we covered is what Dr. Gary Klein refers to as a pre-mortem exercise. While it is valuable to conduct post-mortem activities to learn what went wrong as well as what worked well in a school crisis, finding and correcting opportunities for improvement before an incident occurs is more proactive. The school security assessment process is an excellent opportunity to do this.
According to Klein, a pre-mortem activity involves an exercise which simulates that our prevention measures, crisis plans or other critical activities have failed in an incident. Participants who have a deep understanding of the approaches involved are tasked with clear instructions. They must accept the concept being tested has indeed failed no matter how confident we are in the approach. They must also determine what would most likely cause such a failure. Klein’s work has demonstrated that people who are closely attached to the concepts being tested often have an excellent ability to spot serious planning flaws even when they are emotionally attached to their plans. We have found this to be true when our analysts use pre-mortem exercises during school security assessments and staff development sessions.
Consider using pre-mortem exercises as part of your school security assessments to more effectively vet plans, procedures and strategies. Find and correct deadly assumptions now rather than during an event when lives are at risk.