I just returned from a weeklong trip to conduct a school security assessment at a Christian school in Kenya. Two parents who have children at the school were killed in the terrorist attack at Westgate Mall. One student was trapped in a car with his father’s body for an extended period of time before being rescued. Another student was badly burned in the explosion that claimed his mother’s life. A group of students and a teacher were trapped in the mall during the attack and were thankfully rescued through the efforts of the school and a courageous U.S. government official. Naturally, school leaders wanted to revisit school security in light of the increased risk of terrorism evidenced by the bold and deadly attack. It is important to understand that the mall was frequented by the ex-patriot community.
Sharon Fisher from Human Technology (HT) assisted with the assessment. We worked with Mrs. Fisher on the White House school safety initiative and she has worked with U.S. embassies across the globe. Mrs. Fisher has also authored 140 courses for FEMA. Her assistance on this high-stakes assessment was invaluable.
I have always found it to be extremely insightful to conduct site visits at schools in other countries. Whether the school is located in South America, Europe, Asia or Africa, site visits in other countries are always incredibly revealing. The school has already had site visits by security officials from a number of foreign government agencies and had extensive security measures in place. For example, the school is protected by a number of highly visible Kenyan Diplomatic police officers armed with selective fire rifles while security officers with K-9s secure perimeter posts.
In spite of the previous work, we were able to develop dozens of new recommendations to enhance school safety, security and emergency preparedness. While a number of these would rarely be considered in American K12 schools, a number of them were very similar to the types of opportunities for improvement that we find in the U.S. The school began to immediately implement quite a few of our recommendations while we were onsite and will be implementing others shortly.
During the assessment, we visited the still closed Westgate Mall to gain a deeper understanding of the attack and how it impacts the appropriate security posture of the school. A reported attempted terrorist attack on the airport on the morning of my departing flight enhanced my understanding of these dynamics.
Sharon and I, and the SHI team who provided offsite assistance, all feel truly honored to be able to participate in this project. I am also grateful to the kindness and generosity shown to me by the citizens of Kenya that I had the chance to interact with.