Safety & Security

School Terrorism

School and public safety officials have once again been considering the possibility of school and school bus-related terrorism. During school security assessments in nearly 40 states since the Sandy Hook attack, our analysts have noted that more schools appear to be poorly prepared for terrorist attacks at or near schools. Our analysts have noted that many schools are also less prepared for tornadoes, fires, student suicides, medical emergencies and a host of other far more common events as well.

Having assisted with school security assessments for more than 6,000 K-12 school facilities before and after the Sandy Hook shooting, we are distressed to see that the number of critical action steps missed by school employees participating in one-on-one video and audio scenarios has gone up rather than down. There are clear indications that many schools are less prepared for emergencies than they were prior to the Sandy Hook attack. This is especially distressing given the time and money spent of school safety has gone up dramatically in many of these school organizations.

Less diversity of drills reduces survivability

Extensive research by five of our analysts found that the ability of students and school employees to survive critical incidents can be enhanced through a wider variety of types of emergency drills. This is especially important when school terrorism is concerned. Terrorists utilize an array of attack methodologies. Our analysts have noted that the number of schools performing shelter-in-place drills for hazardous materials incidents as well as other important types of drills has decreased since the Sandy Hook incident.

Though active shooter incidents are one very real potential terrorist attack methodology for schools, school buses and special events, it is not the only mass casualty attack methodology employed by terrorists in the United States and globally to date. Fire, explosives and chemicals, either as alternative attack methodologies or in combination with attacks using firearms have all taken place in schools before. Therefore, the intensive focus on active shooter incidents has in many instances reduced the ability of students and staff to respond to more common types of emergencies, which actually cause more deaths, as well as for less likely, but potentially more catastrophic, types of school terrorist events.

School terrorism patterns

When I had the chance to travel to Israel for 14 days to learn advanced antiterrorism concepts, senior Israeli officials urged us not to get into the habit of focusing on the last major attack. They cautioned us that focusing intently on any one-attack methodology can make it easier for terrorists to successfully carry out attacks. Just as it is dangerous to focus on fire, tornado or hostage situations to the exclusion of active-shooter incidents and school terrorism, focusing primarily on active-shooter incidents is an unsound approach.

Millions of dollars are being spent on staff injuries from active shooter training. One insurance carrier has confirmed that they have paid more than $300,000 in emergency room medical bills for Iowa school employees who have been injured in active shooter training accidents. These claims are for a 20-month time period, and are the result of just one company that offers this type of training. The figure does not count pending surgeries, physical therapy or lawsuits. Millions of dollars are now being spent for medical care and worker’s compensation as a direct result of active shooter training programs. As insurance premiums continue to rise due to these now common types of claims, less funding will be available for schools to address other statistically, more common and deadly hazards. The serious flaws in current training methodologies will also likely require extensive retraining once the expected civil actions make their way through the courts in the next few years.

School terrorism risk is better addressed with an all-hazards approach

Only an all-hazards approach can provide a reasonable level of protection against a practical spectrum of school terrorism events. While I make no specific predictions relating to terrorist attacks on campus facilities or transportation modes, the possibility is very real. Ignoring this and other deadly threats by focusing an inordinate amount of training time, fiscal resources and energy on active shooter events may result in an otherwise preventable mass casualty loss of life.

This article originally appeared in the November 2014 issue of School Planning & Management.

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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