PROTECT ALL AND YOU PROTECT NOTHING

Before the history buffs become upset by this title, I will give credit where credit is due — in the classic ancient treatise on war, Sun Tzu warns us that those who try to protect everything, end up protecting nothing. Military commanders have long found the axiom to be true in countless battles through the centuries. The oft-cited military adage has application to school security efforts as well.


Some have criticized the Office of Homeland Security for not dedicating specific funds to K-12 schools and have even urged that a separate office of homeland security be created for K-12 schools. Having worked in a state government school safety center, as well as in a state office of homeland security antiterrorism unit, I would have to take a different view. I realize how this approach would seem logical to those without formal training and experience in antiterrorism, but I also know this approach could be wasteful and even counterproductive to our efforts to protect schools from terrorism.


The idea of an office of homeland security for schools goes against the very advantages of the homeland security strategy. The approach is designed to harmonize the efforts of the numerous agencies with duties relating to the protection of our country from terrorists and other hazards. While I concur that there should be close coordination of resources for K-12 schools, they should be focused locally, with support from existing resources at the state and federal level. While there are clearly valid concerns about our schools as potential targets of terrorism, there may be more practical ways to address them.


While in Israel for antiterrorism training, Israeli police officials emphasized to our group the critical need to focus resources efficiently to counter the threat of terrorism. When visiting there, it is apparent that nothing short of a miracle makes it possible for the state of Israel to survive with incredible hostility in the region, let alone their inherent vulnerability to both military and terrorist attack. This is particularly evident when the enormous economic impact of terrorism on the relatively fragile Israeli economy is considered. The Israeli military, police and intelligence officials I have met also typically concede that Israel has made a number of mistakes in dealing with terrorism through the years. Among the mistakes they caution against is the tendency to try to commit resources in too many places at the same time.


When terrorists struck their schools, the Israelis assigned military and police officials to every school. When other types of targets were hit, such as school buses and shopping malls, they shifted resources to those types of settings. This type of response has at times proven to be somewhat ineffective, while also creating an enormous drain on their available assets. Most Israeli officials I have interacted with have candidly admitted that Israel may not be the best at dealing with terrorism but point out that they are among the most experienced at it. Overall, a very humble and modest group, ranking members of the Israel Police and Israel Defense Forces are quite willing to share not only their successes, but also their failings, in a very frank and direct manner.


Having been trained in antiterrorism by Israeli police officials, I think the lessons they offer have relevance not only for combating terrorism, but for overall school security efforts. Like their Israeli counterparts, only on rare occasions do school systems properly fund safety personnel, equipment and other resources. The reality of this situation is that school officials must prioritize, adjust and often respond in a more reactive manner to safety issues.


A host of state and federal agencies offer a wide range of technical assistance, free training and useful information. Be sure that you are drawing on all available free resources. It also pays to learn about available grant funding. Last year, the United States Department of Education funded more than 130 school districts with emergency preparedness grants. Another round of awards will be made this fall, and it looks good for a third year of funding. A number of school systems have been able to pay for supplies, equipment, training, consulting and other valuable resources through these and other types of grants.


Most importantly, whether considering the threat of terrorism, tornadoes or trespassers, be sure to use available resources wisely by focusing on what you can protect most effectively.


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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