New Year for School Safety

Increased Concerns Relating to Terrorism and School Safety


New Years fireworks celebration by Rachel Wilson

2015 has seen a considerable amount of activity in the school safety arena.  The clear indications of increased risk and fear of school-related terrorism have been driving a significant movement for school and public safety officials to re-evaluate their school security strategies. The 2015 terrorist attacks in France and in the United States are causing significant concerns that many school crisis plans are inadequate to address the current threats of terrorism. The variety of terrorist attack methodologies that have been used against schools, school buses and school-related events, makes it imperative that all-hazards planning approaches be utilized. In addition, the wave of threats against school districts just before the holidays has many school and public safety officials on edge.

The Active Shooter Trap

The tendency to overemphasize active shooter in school safety efforts since the deadly Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting has been pronounced. The highly emotive emphasis on this one deadly, catastrophic but rare form of school violence leaves schools particularly vulnerable to terrorist attack. While we understand the emotional reactions we are seeing to active shooter events, the results they cause are troubling. Our school security assessments for more than 1,000 K12 schools over the past three years have revealed that the majority of K12 schools in 38 states we have assessed have not conducted a shelter in place drill for hazardous materials incidents in recent years.

Of even greater concern is the tendency to try to boil school safety down to an unrealistic level. For example, it has become increasingly common for sheltering for external hazardous materials incidents to be lumped into one protocol with severe weather and earthquake sheltering. This is an incredibly dangerous practice. The actions steps for each of these three very different hazards are different. Creating a single set of action steps for all three different emergencies results in a plan that could easily cause mass casualty loss of life.


What does this mean for school safety?

Recent terrorist attacks have prompted a dramatic surge in requests for school safety assistance. Many school and public safety officials who have contacted us for assistance have concerns that their current approaches are too focused on active shooter incidents. Now is a good time for school and public safety officials to review their school safety plans to see if they address acts of terrorism involving not only firearms but fire, explosives, chemical weapons, biological incidents and other means of attack available to terrorists. Perhaps more importantly, the New Year is a good time to verify that school safety plans address the much more common types of school safety incidents that result in fatalities than those that garner the most media coverage but actually cause far fewer deaths.

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.