SHARK! – Do our School Safety Efforts match our Real Risks?

Shark attacks in the U.S. and Australia have been in the headlines a bit lately.  And while no one wants to be bitten by a shark, the data on shark attacks in the U.S. indicates that shark attacks are exceedingly rare but often terrifying events. 

But in contrast to other animals which cause the deaths of far more Americans, shark attacks due tend to garner much greater media coverage.  For example, on Wikipedia indicates that while most people are more afraid of bears than deer, only two or three people a year are killed in the U.S. annually while more than 30 are typically killed by dogs and more about 150 are killed in collisions with deer.  According to U.S. News and World Report, the figures are even more out of kilter with our perceptions of fear with only ten fatalities from shark attacks in America in the past ten years, 28 fatal bear attacks but 1,017 people killed in collisions with deer from 2005 through 2009, a much shorter time frame.

We see the same effect in school safety where people are focused on the incidents that garner the most upsetting news coverage over things that result in more student deaths each year such as allergic reactions to peanut butter, heart stoppage and other causes.  

For example, searches of the internet will reveal dozens of video segments on how to attack an active shooter.  These videos often focus exclusively on active shooter scenarios, sometimes feature unproven concepts and often contain content that could result in death if they are misapplied to other far more common weapons situations such as a person who is brandishing a firearm but has not opened fire yet.    

While these efforts are well intended, some experts have questioned their effectiveness and are concerned that they are creating a deadly form of tunnel vision in campus emergency preparedness.   I share some of these concerns and will be detailing them in a soon to be released white paper on teaching active resistance for active shooter situations co-authored with Steve Satterly.   School safety efforts should be balanced and cover the things that cause death and serious injury most often as well as those that result in the most voluminous and graphic media coverage.

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.