Media Driven School Safety Culture

Americans by and large are a media driven culture.  This has been both one of our nation’s greatest strengths and a tremendous weakness.  For example, the serious problem of school shootings was largely ignored in the United States for decades.  The intensive media coverage of a school shooting at Pearl High School in Mississippi changed that.  Unfortunately, the overemphasis on this one very rare type of event has resulted in many other deadly threats not being properly addressed as prevention and even more so, emergency preparedness measures are often out of balance with the actual problems faced including those relating to active shooter situations.

Having worked closely on seven of these incidents in U.S. and Canadian schools has made it very clear to me that quite a bit of inaccurate information on these incidents is reported in the media and  then becomes ingrained in training programs, school crisis plans etc.

This phenomenon is not new.  As an example of how out of balance people can become when basing their actions on media accounts we can go back to 1897 for a great example.  The Seattle Post – Intelligencer ran a story on July 17, with a headline of Gold! Gold! Gold! accompanied by a story that claimed that more than sixty men had found large quantities of gold in the Klondike.  Even though explorers had in reality found only a few ounces of gold, the story spread like wildfire through the newspapers around the country.

Since this news came in the middle of a depression, tens of thousands of men rushed to the area in search of gold, most of them losing everything they had while never even completing the difficult journey.

We are privileged to have a free press.  Our press organizations are often for profit businesses that must deliver what we want to stay in operation.  This means that it is up to each of us to consider and question what we read and hear in the media to sort out factual and reliable information from that which is less accurate.  This is incredibly important when it comes to life and death issues like school safety. 

We should all try to avoid gold fever when addressing school safety concerns.

About Michael Dorn

Michael Dorn serves as the Executive Director of Safe Havens International, a non-profit school safety center. The author of 27 books on school safety, Michael’s campus safety work has taken him to 11 countries over the past 34 years.