School Security Expert Tip – Disturbing New Trends in School Security Assessments

Safe Havens analysts are currently working on 20 school security assessment projects covering several hundred public school and non-public school facilities.  Our analysts are all reporting some very unique trends in contrast to the school security assessments we assisted our clients with prior to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December.  These trends should be of considerable concern to school and public safety officials. 

With a base of comparison from school security assessment projects covering  more than 2,000 public and non-public schools in the forty-eight months prior to the shooting and several hundred public and non-public schools since then, our team of school security experts are observing some very noticeable and troublesome trends across the country.  In fact, in many instances, the results of the school security assessments show an apparent decrease in performance of many staff in these simulations and recent actions that have degraded rather than improved physical security in many schools.

For example, we are encountering numerous school employees who respond that they would immediately “attack” people when they are posed with video clips depicting school crisis scenarios with aggressors and even individuals who are depicted as simply non-compliant.  Evaluation participants routinely make comments to us that this is how they are now supposed to protect students by putting themselves in danger and physically confronting potentially violent people.  This is a very disturbing trend as the scenarios we are asking them to respond to include a variety of situations where attacking the person depicted would be a very ineffective and dangerous response.  Scenarios where we are getting this response include:

  • An angry parent who pulls a knife and threatens staff from a stationary position
  • A student who pulls a handgun, places it on his temple and threatens to kill himself
  • A man who is not wearing a visitor badge and refuses to stop for staff as he walks down a school hallway

Having conducted and scored many of these scenarios under controlled conditions in recent years, we are often seeing less effective responses after the Sandy Hook incident than we saw before the incident.  Our school security experts have been using these custom video scenarios and our scoring tools when we conduct school security assessments for some time now and are seeing these trends in different regions of the country. 

Further interviews with the test subjects that provide these responses reveal that the media coverage of Sandy Hook incident combined in some cases with staff having viewed videos on the web that teach people to attack an active shooter as a last resort has influenced their decision-making.  These are not the only problems we are noting in our assessments.  We are seeing a significant increase in school employees who cover up windows because they are afraid of gunman. This can actually increase the risk of death at a school because it can result in missed opportunities to identify a dangerous person before then enter a school or after they have done so.  Blocking classroom windows can also cause a host of other problems for school officials and can increase exposure to civil liability.

School officials should provide guidance for staff on deviating from carefully and properly developed school crisis plans by adopting strategies that are often theoretical, unproven and in some instances are outright dangerous.  For example, one popular video instructs people to immediately evacuate if they hear gunshots in the building.  In a high school of 2,000 students, this would flood the building with potential victims.  If you have ever seen the crowding of hallways in the typical high school at class change, the jamming of people that will occur with this approach could easily prove the be catastrophic in the event of an active shooter.

We anticipate that over time this trend will likely result in preventable fatalities and successful litigation against school organizations where these situations occur as well as for the organizations disseminating this type of information.   The findings of these school security assessments are clear, school and public safety officials should exercise caution before adopting these types of approaches.  Controlled testing has demonstrated that they may increase rather than decrease the risk of death as staff and students misapply the concepts even under the mild stress of a simulation.  Now is the time for thoughtful, analytical and assessment-based approaches to school crisis planning rather than fear-based approaches.

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.