A Realistic Look at Security Threats

An 18-year-old from Elmira, N.Y., was arrested when he was found with 18 bombs and two guns in his gym bag. In Hoyt, Kan., police arrested three teens after a search of their homes revealed weapons, bomb materials, white supremacist literature and a map of their school. A planned hostage taking by two middle school students in Temple, Ga., was averted when police and school officials responded to a tip and searched two students as they arrived at school. Weapons and a roll of duct tape were found in their book bags.


As more communities are using multidisciplinary evaluations and the information available from sources such as“Early Warning Signs/Timely Response” and the FBI and U.S. Secret Service reports, dozens of near catastrophes have been averted. As recent events have shown, though, we are not out of the woods. While schools and police are responding more effectively, the number of attempted planned weapons assaults is alarming.


Mental health professionals and experts from other disciplines provide us with causal factors and conditions to explain why a small percentage of our youth feel the need to enact major acts of violence in our schools. In“Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill,” Lt. Colonel Dave Grossman and co-author Gloria DeGaetano make a good case that modern video games help unstable youth learn to kill with military efficiency. But where else do young people learn how to wage war on our campuses? The answer is a mouse click away.


The Information Age provides ample opportunity for anyone who wants to acquire the knowledge to create mayhem. Regardless of the motivations of those who desire to lash out, the means to do so has never been so easy to obtain. A routine inquiry using an Internet search engine will reveal considerable information on bomb making and other more deadly endeavors. This is a good reason to make sure that such sites are properly blocked on your school’s computers. There have been a number of incidents where students have downloaded information on bomb making and hate group literature from computers in their school’s media center.


An even wider selection of deadly instructions can be obtained from hundreds of books, instructional manuals and videos. A short list from one catalog contains titles such as The Guide to Germ Warfare, Ragnar’s Homemade Detonators, Improvised Land Mines, Field Expedient Hand Grenades, Improvised Radio Detonation Techniques, The Poisoner’s Handbook, The Militia Battle Manual, The Black Book of Arson, Homemade Grenade Launchers, Urban Combat, Homemade Submachine Gun Plan and volumes I and II of How to Make Disposable Silencers.


There is also a considerable amount of information available through internet chat rooms. A number of individuals have already been prosecuted for supplying internet information used in at least one mass school shooting.


The implications of this situation for school administrators are significant. Some of our youth have and will continue to use this type of information to harm others. While the likelihood of a major planned event is slight in any given school, the consequences of failing to prevent such an incident are beyond description. Measures must be in place to reduce the chances that a planned event will occur.


It is equally important that emergency operations planning be adequate to address situations created by perpetrators who are intelligent and well studied in the ways of death and destruction. Keep in mind that a number of assailants have been extremely intelligent; some were even honors students.


We have seen the consequences when communities have been caught unprepared. Having reviewed plans for districts from across the United States, it is clear to me that most communities are not properly prepared to handle the types of major school crisis situations that we have already seen. Even fewer communities are ready to handle the type of situations that we have come very close to experiencing but have thus far been spared. As horrible as the tragedy at Columbine High School was, it could have easily been far worse. Experts from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms estimate that more than 400 people would have been killed if the improvised propane device had detonated in the school’s cafeteria.


Have you measured your prevention strategies against these potential challenges? Are you really confident in your emergency operations plans? Have you tested your plans through appropriate crisis exercises? Unless they have been tested through extensive practice or actual experience, prevention and response measures are still based in theory. Can you afford to rely on what may or may not work when the stakes are so high?



Michael Dorn is a school safety specialist with the Georgia Emergency Management Agency. He is also the former Chief of Police for the Bibb County (Ga.) Public School System, which is widely used as an international model for school safety.


About the Author

Michael Dorn serves as the executive director for Safe Havens International, Inc., an IRS-approved, nonprofit safety center. He has authored and co-authored more than 20 books on campus safety. He can be reached through the Safe Havens website at www.safehavensinternational.org.

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