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School Safety Expert Tip – Use Caution When Considering New School Safety Measures
School safety is naturally more on the minds of parents, students and school officials since the deadly school shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school. School officials across the nation have spending millions of dollars and making major changes in school safety measures. Unfortunately, there are a host of increasingly popular school safety concepts that have not been validated as effective. In some cases, schools are changing to approaches that we have some solid indications are likely to increase rather than decrease danger.
For example, we are seeing some very troubling reactions when crisis simulations are run in schools where students and staff are taught to attack a gunman as a last resort. With more than 3,000 one-on-one crisis simulations to date, we are seeing bizarre reactions such as an incident where a teacher and students prepared to attack a public safety officer in an Iowa school after they completed a training program of this type. As we outline in our paper on the topic, an 18 month research project revealed that a number of school employees have already been shot and killed needlessly attempting to disarm people with guns in K12 schools.
During school safety assessments of more than three dozen public, parochial and independent schools across the nation since the Sandy Hook tragedy, we have seen a startling increase in the number of staff who respond that they would attack people who are threatening to commit suicide with a gun or who would travel across the campus to attack a drunk brandishing a gun when these responses clearly increase danger. We predict that school officials and public safety agencies will be successfully litigated when students and staff misapply these techniques under stress and attack people who are not active shooters causing injury and/or death.
We urge school officials to resist the temptation to adopt school safety concepts that may sound good but have not been validated by testing. Just as importantly, school officials should keep in mind that most serious injuries and deaths on K12 campuses are not related to school shootings. In fact, school violence is not a leading cause of death for students or school employees in the United States. Focusing too intently on active shooter incidents has and will likely again result in the deaths of students and staff.
School Security Expert Tip – Attacking the Active Shooter – Has School Lockdown Really Failed?
There are people saying that the school lockdown is a failed concept that is outdated and in dire need of replacement. This argument has not been established as a fact. This assertion is hotly contested by most leading experts in the field of school safety. When pressed for examples of where lockdown has failed in schools, proponents of abandoning school lockdown usually cite four instances:
- The library at Columbine High School which was actually never locked during the attack.
- The Virginia Tech shooting where lockdown was not in place as a protocol, practiced by the faculty and most rooms did not even have locks.
- The Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting where we do not even know the key facts of the case at this point and will not know them until the official report is released this summer.
- The Red Lake Reservation School Shooting which I worked as an expert witness finding no evidence of concept failure.
When evaluating school lockdown, we should be especially careful not to confuse application failure with concept failure. For example, if an aggressor is able to attack victims in a room because there is no viable lockdown protocol, staff do not have a key to the room they are teaching in, lockdown drills have not been conducted, etc. The cause can be and usually is from a failure to be able to apply the concept of school lockdown rather than a failure of the concept itself.
We respectfully submit that most of the problems we have seen with school lockdown do not indicate that this is a faulty concept, but instead that there is much evidence that many school staff are not properly prepared to apply the concepts under the stress of actual incidents.
School Security Expert Tip – Mass Casualty Attacks In Chinese Schools Leave Hundreds of Students and Staff Wounded and Dead
For nearly a decade, we have been tracking a series of horrible mass casualty shootings, stabbings, fire attacks, and other mass casualty attacks in schools in the People’s Republic of China. While people in the United States as well as in China have been deeply interested in mass casualty shootings in American schools, the horrific attacks which have left hundreds of Chinese students and educators dead or seriously injured have been largely ignored by the media in both China and the U.S.
In one recent March attack, a knife-wielding attacker killed two relatives and then slashed eleven people including six school children outside a school in China’s commercial hub of Shanghai.
These numerous and deadly attacks demonstrate that even a country with a swiftly applied death penalty for possession of firearms and strict regulation of large knives, school shootings and other mass casualty weapons assaults are a very real threat.
These incidents also demonstrate that school officials should plan, train and prepare for mass casualty weapons assaults using edged weapons, fire, explosives, chemicals, and other weapons that have been utilized for mass casualty attacks in other countries and in some cases in the United States. The two most lethal school mass casualty attacks to date in the United States involved fire – (95 murdered) and explosives (more than 40 killed).
School Safety Liability Expert Tip – School Safety Efforts Should be Comprehensive
I had the opportunity to present a session at a conference for attorneys at the Walter F. George School of Law this week. The session was focused on how the Sandy Hook tragedy is likely to impact school safety liability. We discussed the potential for increased civil liability exposure from a number of increasingly popular yet theoretical approaches to school safety such as the lockout/lockdown approach to school lockdowns and efforts to teach students and staff to attack gunmen in active shooter situations.
While lives will likely be lost from these types of approaches, we feel that most litigation will still center around traditional school safety incidents such as accidents, medical emergencies, sexual assaults and other situations that occur far more often than school shootings. Since most serious injuries and deaths in American K12 schools do not involve acts of violence, it is important for school officials to use a comprehensive approach to school safety.
The presentation also reviewed how ineffective it can be for school officials to make major changes in school safety without a comprehensive school safety, security, climate, culture and emergency preparedness assessment. The need for due diligence when selecting school safety experts and products was also an important part of the discussion. It was great to have the opportunity to interact with so many attorneys who were interested not only in reducing the exposure of civil liability for schools, but in improving school safety as a primary means to do so.
School Security Assessments – How to Get the Most out of Your Project
I was asked by Utica National Insurance to present information on how schools can select qualified vendors at competitive prices after a number of their clients paid rather high fees for school security assessment projects. The company was also concerned that some of the firms lacked a track record working with K12 schools. We felt that some of the information I covered in my keynote at the conference might prove to be useful to others.
We were recently selected to perform a school safety, security, climate, culture and emergency preparedness assessment project for about $40,000. Though the client scored our proposal as more comprehensive and told us that we have performed far more assessment projects than the other vendors, the next lowest bid came in at about $130,000 above ours.
School security experts are conducting more school security experts than any time in the past decade. As school officials try to move rapidly to evaluate their approaches to school security, they can easily move too quickly, compromising quality and wasting large amounts of precious budget resources. If they rush too much, they can also create increased exposure to civil liability. Careful research and a proper bid process can cut the cost of a security assessment project for a public, private or independent school organization by as much as 70% while improving quality.
Having assisted school officials as both a government analyst conducting school security assessments at no cost to schools as well as through a non-profit center that does so on a low-cost basis, I have a series of tips that can help school officials cut costs while reducing the cost of school security assessments by as much as 70% while reducing exposure to civil liability:
- Seek competitive bids from numerous vendors. A widely circulated bid combined with contacting 15 to 20 vendors via a thorough internet search should yield a number of competitive bids.
- Allow vendors at least four weeks to respond to your bid solicitation. Any qualified vendor in the country should be working on at least a dozen school security assessment projects and even the largest firms can prepare a better bid if you afford them ample time.
- Weight cost for at least 25% of your scoring criteria but not more than 50%. 25 to 30% weighting should create tough competition without the increased exposure to civil liability that too much emphasis on cost can create should you experience a safety incident after your assessment.
- Require six to twelve references for school security assessment projects and attempt to check all references before signing a contract. There are many vendors who can provide a dozen or more references without difficulty.
- Require bidders to disclose any open records requests, lawsuits by or against clients and termination of projects by clients. This step can be extremely revealing.
- Clearly state what you would like vendors to assess and provide vendors an opportunity to ask questions for clarification.
These simple steps can help you dramatically reduce the cost of school security assessments while improving quality and preventing trouble with poor quality vendors.
School Security Assessments – Why Evaluating Climate, Culture and Emergency Preparedness Can Also be a Life and Death Matter for Public, Private, Charter and Independent Schools
Our analysts are currently working on more than thirty school security assessment projects for public, parochial and independent schools. When reviewing the requests for proposals (RFP’s) and requests for qualifications (RFQ’) for these and other projects, we have noted that school officials have often been emphasizing school security. When describing the scope of work for their school security assessment, there has been a pronounced tendency to focus on school security protocols and technologies. While these aspects of a school security assessment are very important, our best opportunities to prevent the loss of human life in schools can often be found in other equally important areas. For example, we have seen numerous instances where major incidents including mass casualty school shootings have taken place after a heavy investment of school security technology following a school security assessment that was too narrow in scope. For school security technologies to work more reliably to prevent violence, the culture and climate of a school should be assessed along with school security technologies and policies.
Perhaps our best opportunities to reduce the mass casualty loss of human life in schools involve a careful assessment of school crisis preparedness. As we review past incidents, there are striking examples of the loss of human life when individual school teachers, custodians, administrators, and other personnel were not properly prepared to take life-saving action fast enough. For example, all 95 deaths in the deadly 1958 Our Lady of Angels Sacred Hearts School fire could have been averted had the monthly fire drills been conducted differently. Sadly, most schools are still using 1958 style fire drills where staff are not required to make decisions and to communicate as they may be required to do in the event of a fire, tornado, earthquake, medical emergency, or an act of violence.
School Security Assessments – Try to Avoid Conducting School Security Assessments During the Summer Months
School security assessments are an invaluable tool to improve school security, school climate and school emergency preparedness. While there are some instances where school officials have no choice to do otherwise, school security assessments conducted when schools are closed are less effective. School security assessments are more effective when they are conducted when assessors can observe students and employees arriving in the morning, departing in the afternoon and moving about the school during the school day.
Having assisted in school security assessments for more than 5,000 public and non-public schools over the years, our analysts have all noted that they have more findings when assessments are conducted when schools are in session. For example, one of the most important aspects of a school security assessment involves the evaluation of student supervision. Improving student supervision helps to reduce the risk of violence, student abductions, arson, vandalism, accidental injury and a range of other crisis situations. Good student supervision also helps school employees more rapidly and effectively shelter students from a gunman, a tornado or a hazardous materials incident.
Schools should try to avoid conducting school security assessments when schools are closed even if this means delaying them until the next school year. This is especially true if major changes such as implementation of new school security technologies will be guided by the school security assessment process. Whether your school organization is an independent school or a large public school system, school security assessments conducted during the school year will yield more useful information and thus value.
School Security Video – Why the Room Clear Protocol Can Enhance School Safety
When we worked with the Lincoln County School District in Oregon several years ago to produce a series of more than 30 school safety training videos, we were very impressed with a protocol they had included in their school crisis plans. The protocol is called a room clear protocol and had traditionally been thought of as a means to clear students quickly in a classroom for situations such as a medical emergency or a disruptive student. We realized that this simple but important protocol could also be utilized to move students out of any area in a school such as a media center, main office, gymnasium or cafeteria.
Many of our clients now utilize the room clear protocol to better protect their staff and students.
Chris Dorn and his awesome video crew are about to release another new school safety video on the importance of reverse evacuation protocols. Our crew is also working on another eight free school safety video podcasts and three new school safety training videos which will be released as they complete them.
School Safety Expert Tip – Consider Whistles for Life for Life-Saving Low-Tech Emergency Communications
School Safety Expert Tip – Consider Whistles for Life for Life-Saving Low-Tech Emergency Communications
As is our standard practice as an independent school security organization, Safe Havens never accepts any form of compensation in return for endorsing or recommending any school safety, technology, product or service. Though we are contacted by vendors on a weekly basis who would like to pay us to endorse their products or services, we have maintained our independent school security posture since the inception of Safe Havens many years ago.
Instead, our analysts often recommend and sometimes even endorse school security technology solutions, products or vendors that have impressed us and our clients. One such vendor is Whistles for Life. The companies’ owner sent me some samples of his rescue whistles a couple of years ago. These inexpensive and amazing whistles are designed to be heard from the bottom of a canyon or in the middle of the woods when a hiker or other person enjoying the great outdoors is in distress. This is a real and reliable method for low-tech emergency communications. Cloud-based emergency response tools, iPad access to crisis plans and other emerging technologies are great, but for instant and reliable implementation tried and true methods that don’t rely on electricity or internet access are hard to beat.
Rescue whistles can be an invaluable low-tech emergency communications tool for school crisis situations. School staff who detect danger can use a rescue whistle to rapidly gain the attention of 300 students in a noisy cafeteria, spread out in an outdoor area or facilitate response in many other situations. This can help school staff rapidly direct students to take shelter from an approaching tornado, dangerous individual or other hazard. Some school staff we speak to use hand signals, color coded cards and other visual communications methods to give updates on students and relay other information. Including whistles in this procedure is a great way to fill in the gaps where funding is not sufficient to allow two-way radios for all staff members and a simple low-tech emergency communications method is needed.
Providing each staff member with some type of reliable whistle or other personal amplification device can have benefits for other situations, not just school crisis events. Whistles can be helpful when supervising students at recess, working student drop-off or pick up duty or when breaking up fights and other altercations on campus. Many schools have used parent-teacher organization funding or donations from local vendors and foundations for these types of supplies. Some vendors or local businesses may provide these types of items at a free or discounted rate in return for the chance to gain exposure through the inclusion of their logo or name. Remember to consider the low-cost low-tech emergency communications methods when looking at the finer details of your response plans.
Whistles for Life website:
Disclaimer: No compensation was provided for this review. This is not a product endorsement but a review of a piece of safety equipment that we find useful and one option to consider as part of an all hazards approach to school safety.
School Security Assessments for Independent Schools – Unique Challenges for a Unique Environment
I just finished another independent school security assessment this afternoon and it dawned on me that we are averaging one independent school security assessment per week. While we have worked with independent schools regularly over the years, we have never had the volume of requests to conduct independent school security assessments before. I have always enjoyed working with a wide variety of schools because it is such a great opportunity to learn. As with every school security assessment project, I learned things during this assessment that were new to me. As with public and other type of non-public schools in different regions of the country, we see many unique situations working with our independent school clients. For example, a number of independent schools have students of prominent parents who are protected by professional bodyguards. Some independent schools have multiple bodyguards on or near their campuses each day.
I look forward to working with two more independent schools in the next couple of weeks to see how they address school safety, security and emergency preparedness in ways that are tailored to their own unique situations.
School Security Video – Safe Havens Vide Releases New Free School Crisis Preparedness Video
Our video crew has just released a new free school security video podcast focused on how school officials can improve the speed of implementation of critical protocols. Due to the tremendous increase in requests for school security assessments, conference keynotes and other forms of assistance, they have not been releasing as many videos. Our dedicated video crew is now working on another nine free videos and three new staff development videos. Please sign up for our free e-newsletter as new resources are typically announced via the newsletter.
School Security Expert Tip – Bid Your School Security Assessment Project to Cut Costs and Improve Quality
School officials sometimes pay $10,000 or more for school security assessments when the most experienced evaluators in the nation regularly conduct more comprehensive school security assessments for far less money. While our analysts have assisted with school security assessments for more than 5,000 public, charter, parochial and independent schools, we have never billed a client that much for even the most comprehensive assessments.
We recommend that schools and school districts seek multiple competitive bids for school security assessment projects. School officials should also conduct due diligence in selecting vendors from what is an almost totally unregulated field. While a medical doctor or attorney can lose their ability to practice for severe misconduct, there is no such mechanism for school security consultants.
While there are many solid school security experts, the lack of regulation in the field combined with the massive demand for services has resulted in a proliferation of school security experts who have serious skeletons in their closet such as a felony arrest for theft, or who lack appropriate relevant professional qualifications to perform proper school security assessments.
Here are a few tips that can help school officials determine the most qualified school security experts while also reducing costs of a school security assessment project by as much as 70%:
- Bid the project widely. A proper bid circulation can result in 20-30 competitive bids.
- Make cost count for at least 25% of the decision-making for the project. While weighting costs too heavily can increase the exposure to civil liability in future school security litigation, bidders for school security assessment projects should have incentive to keep costs down.
- Require and verify at least six to twelve references for K12 school security assessment projects.
- Require bidding vendors to list any client who has fired the firm or terminated a contract for services.
- Require vendors to list all open records requests they have filed, protests and litigation involving clients can be most revealing.
- Make falsification of credentials or untruthful answers to any of the above requirements grounds for immediate termination of the contract. As with applications for employment, you should retain the ability to address any situation where a vendor is untruthful.
These simple steps can help you weed out problematic vendors while making the cream rise to the top. The closer you look, the better the most qualified school security experts look.
School Security Expert Tip – Attacking the Active Shooter – Has School Lockdown Really Failed?
There are people who purport that the school lockdown is a failed concept that is outdated and in dire need of replacement. This argument has not been established as a fact and is hotly contested by most leading experts in the field of school safety. When pressed for examples of where lockdown has failed in schools, proponents of abandoning school lockdown usually cite four instances:
- The library at Columbine High School which was actually never locked during the attack.
- The Virginia Tech shooting where lockdown was not in place as a protocol, practiced by the faculty and most rooms did not even have locks.
- The Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting where we do not even know many the key facts of the case at this point and will not know them until the official report is released this summer.
- The Red Lake Reservation School Shooting which I worked as an expert witness finding only evidence no evidence of concept failure.
When evaluating school lockdown, we should be especially careful not to confuse application failure with concept failure. For example, if an aggressor is able to attack victims in a room because there is no viable lockdown protocol, staff do not have a key to the room they are teaching in, lockdown drills have not been conducted, etc. The cause can be and usually is from a failure to be able to apply the concept of school lockdown rather than a failure of the concept itself.
As an analogy, if I attempted to fly an F-22 Raptor jet, I would not be successful because I have not been trained or had the chance to practice flying one. This would not mean that the F-22 is a bad jet; it would simply mean that I am not properly prepared to fly one. After World War Two, military pilots were dying needlessly until the United States Air Force conducted an exhaustive study on ejection failures. By thoughtful study, the Air Force was able to determine why pilots were often unable to use the features of their aircraft to eject in time to save their lives. With a combined approach of modifications in plane design, training and practice, the Air Force was able to improve the application of emergency ejection and did not abandon the concept.
We respectfully submit that most of the problems we have seen with school lockdown do not indicate that this is a faulty concept, but instead that there is much evidence that many school staff are not properly prepared to apply the concepts under the stress of actual incidents.
School Safety Keynote Presentations – Connecticut School Safety Conference Extends the Deadline for Registration
The Hartford Regional Educational Council CREC has decided to accept out-of-state guests for its statewide school safety conference to be held on May 1 in Hartford Connecticut. Due to the overwhelming response, CREC has decided to extend the April 25th registration deadline. I feel truly honored to be allowed to keynote this very special school safety conference.
Lt. Paul Vance from the Connecticut State Police will be the opening presenter for the conference. I had the good fortune to present at another conference in Connecticut with Lt. Vance several years ago and he is an excellent presenter and as anyone who has watched him on the news this year can tell, a very competent PIO.
This school safety conference will emphasize evidence-based, research-backed and assessment-based approaches to improving school security, climate, culture and emergency preparedness. School access control and bullying will also be addressed.
I have recently presented for a couple of dozen major school safety conferences around the country and have keynotes at more school safety conferences in the coming months. Last week, I keynoted for a record crowd of 650 people at the Indiana School Safety Specialists Academy advanced level conference. I was honored to keynote a school safety conference held at St. Francis University in Pennsylvania, two conferences in Pennsylvania and New Jersey for Utica National Insurance and at a school safety conference for architects in Atlanta for Goodwyn, Mills and Cawood, a top 20 architectural firm specializing in designing safe schools. These were both awesome school safety conferences where I had the chance to meet some amazing people.
I was privileged to present with some of the nation’s top school safety experts like Gregory Thomas and Bill Modzelleski at the Tennessee Department of Education school safety conference and will be keynoting another school safety conference for the Department on May 6th. This comprehensive school safety conference was filled to capacity with school superintendents and law enforcement executives. I am very excited to present for the first time at the Kentucky Department of Education School Safety Conference later this spring. It was a very personal honor to keynote for the annual program for PhD candidates for the education leaders program at my alma mater – Mercer University. I am equally excited to be able to present next month for our The Georgia School Board Attorney’s state conference at the Mercer University School of Law in May.
To me, it is a very personal and exciting experience to be allowed to present on school safety in any setting. Whether I am presenting to six people or six hundred, it is truly a huge personal honor to be selected to present on the critical topic of school safety. I feel truly blessed to be allowed the privilege of doing so.
School Security Expert Tip – Thoughts on School Safety and Gun Control, Arming Teachers, Training People to Attack Gunmen in Schools and Other Hotly Debated Approaches To School Shootings
One trend we have noted that started with the deadly attack at Columbine High School, continued with the horrific Virginia Tech shooting and has returned with the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut is that people often rush out seeking simple solutions to age – old problems of school safety.
Though these horrific incidents shock us we should recall that mass casualty attacks at schools pre-date much of what is being discussed today. A dangerously mentally ill school board member murdered more than 40 people in Bath Michigan in 1927 with explosives and the most lethal attack at an American school to date claimed the lives of 95 victims. The first mass casualty attack at a school in America took place in 1764 in a one room school house in Pennsylvania and only one student survived the brutal attack.
As we debate a variety of measures including arming teachers, gun control and teaching students and staff to attack an active shooter, we should remember that we should take care to implement efforts that have been proven to work while we debate those that we think might help. Such debates are healthy in a free country and are certainly important. At the same time, we are ignoring many tried and true strategies in most school in our nation while we spend a great deal of time and energy talking about concepts that are not yet proven to work. While we our nation’s experts and system of government work on ideas that may help to address the highly complex issues of school safety, let us avoid the trap of seeking simple solutions while ignoring life-saving concepts that have worked for decades.
Having helped perform school security assessments for more than 5,000 public and non-public schools as well as having worked after the fact for hundreds of school crisis incidents, our analysts feel strongly that there is no one simple solution that will effect a dramatic reduction in the homicide rate in our nation’s schools. Many of the proven concepts that have been implemented over the past 30 years have helped to reduce the school homicide rate dramatically yet are still not being utilized by the majority of U.S. public and non-public schools.
We urge people to adopt what we know will help reduce death in our schools while we continue the important debates relating to school safety.
School Security Expert Tip – Controlled Testing During School Security Assessments Demonstrates Deadly Disconnects
I apologize for my lack of blogs over the past few weeks, we are still working seven days a week trying to keep up with demand. We have been working on more than two dozen school security assessment projects, keynoting conferences each week and working on many other short notice school security projects.
As mentioned in an earlier blog, our analysts having been noticing some disturbing trends during our school security assessments since the tragic school shooting in Newtown. We have run hundreds of one on one school crisis simulations using video and scripted scenarios since the Sandy Hook school shooting and are continuing to see some reactions of great concern. The effects of stress in crisis situations are well documented and are often observed in these simulations. We are continuing to see school staff react by stating that they would attack or otherwise try to physically disarm individuals who are brandishing a weapon but who are not depicted as an active shooter. Test subjects have chosen these options for a student holding a gun to his head and threatening to kill himself, scenarios where they have been posed with a scenario of a man with a gun approaching the school and seventy five yards from the building and in a number of other instances where it would clearly make the situation worse to confront the aggressor.
We encourage our clients to observe the crisis simulations during our school security assessments and they typically opt to do so. They are continually amazed at what they see during this critical portion of the assessment process. Concepts that may look fine in a training session or during drills where the administrator provides the instructions to take action, often fail under actual field conditions. Improving the ability of individual staff members to make appropriate life and death decisions quickly and without waiting for approval from a supervisor may be one of the best opportunities we have to reduce mass casualty loss of human life in our schools. Take the time to use valid testing methodologies to evaluate what your employees are likely to do under stress rather than what we might assume they would do.
School Security Expert Tip – Assess, not Guess When it Comes to School Security Assessments
The more school security assessments we perform, the more we see how different actual school security practices often are in contrast to what school security policies and the expectations of school leaders are. One purpose of a school security assessment is to see what the reality in schools is in contrast to what we think is taking place. This is important because effective school security involves creating a reasonable degree of consistency in the application of school security policies and practices so school security incidents will not occur.
Our team of school security experts has regularly helped school and public safety officials to identify and correct these deadly school security gaps during school security assessment projects. School security assessments are an excellent opportunity to find and fix gaps in school security that can result in tragedy. While school security experts and school security assessments can help to identify these types of gaps, there are other ways that school and public safety officials can try to identify and correct potentially dangerous gaps in school security before someone gets hurt. By developing a mindset that constantly asks if the way schools operate matches what written plans and procedures spell out, people who have responsibilities can often spot and then correct situations where the written guidelines do not match actual practices.
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.
School Security Expert Tip – Speed of Decision Making in Perspective
It can be difficult to unwind when working long days seven days a week as our analyst often have to do right now. Our dedicated school security experts are working on more than 20 school security assessment projects covering hundreds of schools while also keynoting more than a dozen statewide school security conferences in the next 90 days.
One thing that helps me to relax after a long day of assessment work is to read. I particularly like to read history books and most especially enjoy reading military history works. I like to read these to be reminded of the incredible efforts of military personnel from around the world and throughout history to protect their nations. I also learn a great deal about crisis preparedness and response from these books. This weekend, I began reading The Last Battle – The Mayaguez Incident and the End of the Vietnam War. Though I have read dozens of books on the Vietnam War, I did not know much about this incident.
So far, the author has been focusing a great deal on the speed and quality of decision-making at different levels ranging from the troops on the ground all the way to the White House. By this point, President Gerald Ford could talk directly to a combat pilot across the globe. But as the author points out, such amazing communications capabilities do not always ensure good communications and decision-making.
In one chapter, the author uses what I think is an excellent quote from Lee Iacocca to put these types of decisions as well as those in school crisis situations in perspective “Even the right decision is wrong if it is made too late”.
Practitioners who work to improve school security should consider this sage advice. Whether the decision must be made by a teacher faced with a child who stops breathing due to an allergic reaction, a principal who receives a report of an intruder or a school superintendent who must make the decision to implement off-site family reunification before concerned parents block all access roads to a school, the quality and speed of decision-making is an area of focus worthy of our attention.
School Security Expert Tip – Utilize Free School Safety Resources
First, I would like to apologize for the lack of new posts.
Our school security experts have all been working seven days each week with some pretty long days trying to answer requests for free technical assistance, media inquiries, preparing proposals for school security assessments and working on more than 20 school security assessment projects. Our blog activity will continue to be slow due to the dramatic increase in workload. We have added two analysts and things should improve but this may take a month or so.
More importantly, we felt that it might help to list some of our free school security resources. Our team of school security experts has worked diligently to develop hundreds of free school security resources.
We should also point out that you can find links to many free school security resources from a variety of government agencies and from other non-profits on our website. For example, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has a range of free online training resources as well as free live training.
As a non-profit school safety center, Safe Havens International focuses on providing a wide array of free school security resources as well as high quality learning resources and evaluation instruments. For example, school and public safety officials across the nation are now using our evaluation and staff development assessment sets to more accurately measure school security and emergency preparedness and then providing locally tailored corrective staff development. This blog will provide links to a few of our many free school security resources:
-The free topical paper titled “Flight, Fight or Lockdown” summarizes our 18-month research project on the potential benefits and dangers of teaching students and staff to try to fight an active shooter.
-A free one minute video explains why the speed of decision-making and communication is so critical in school crisis situations.
-We made a free video featuring Lt. Col. Dave Grossman explaining what mental simulation is and why it is so important for school security.
-We have a free e-book on school security “Let None Learn in Fear.”
These are just a few of the hundreds of free and low-cost resources relating to school security, school security assessments and school crisis planning available on our website.
Thank you for your time and interest in making school a safer place to learn and to teach.
School Security Expert Tip – Murder of Chinese Principal with Scissors Offers Life-Saving Lessons For U.S. Schools
In yet another edged weapons incident in the People’s Republic of China, 27-year-old Wang Zhichu has been accused of climbing over a security fence and attacking a 9-year-old third grader before stabbing the school’s principal to death when he attempted to stop the attack. According to police, Zhichu, used a pair of scissors in the attack. Police say the 9-year-old victim was stabbed deeply in the head and may not survive.
This tragic incident is one of a string of attacks demonstrating the danger of school officials attempting to attack an active shooter or other armed aggressor. A number of school officials have been shot, stabbed and taken hostage trying to disarm aggressors over the years. Our research paper on this topic Fight, Flight or Lockdown can be downloaded on our resources page at no cost.
As we have mentioned many times in previous blogs and articles, our school security experts recommend that all types of hazards be addressed when conducting school security assessments. Our school security experts have assisted in conducting security assessments for more than 2,000 public, private, parochial, charter, and independent schools in the past four years alone and are currently conducting school security assessments for hundreds of public and non-public schools across the nation. The unique perspective our team of school security experts has gained working in more than 20 countries has also impressed upon our analysts the need to be comprehensive when addressing school security.
Though school shootings due occur in the People’s Republic of China, they are rare. Possession of firearms or ammunition is punishable by death in China and the government has placed restrictions on the purchase of and requires registration of large knives. Three mass casualty edged weapons attacks at Chinese schools in recent years have resulted in more than 20 casualties each. Aggressors have also resorted to other means to carry out mass casualty attacks including one incident where an individual entered a school and murdered young children by throwing them out of a window.
Our school security experts have been researching these attacks for many years and have identified a series of tragic incidents as well as a number of incidents in the United States involving explosives, fire, knives and other weapons demonstrates the ability of some aggressors to employ other types of weapons to inflict mass casualty losses at schools if they are unable to acquire a firearm. Prevention measures, school crisis plans, training and drills should incorporate alternative weapons assaults including edged weapons, impact devices, fire, explosives, poisons, chemicals and other alternative weapons which have been used since for school attacks as far back as the 1700’s.
Prevention and preparedness measures should also take into account the possibility that aggressors may simply shift the point of attack to circumvent effective school security measures. For example, an aggressor may simply attack children at a school bus stop, school bus drop off site, the grounds of a school, football game, graduation ceremony or other activity where large numbers of students, staff and visitors assemble. As multiple victim shootings, edged weapons attacks and other weapons assaults have been carried out in this manner, it is prudent for school and public safety officials to consider this possibility. School security assessments can help to identify these potential attack methodologies and practical strategies to address them.
School Security Expert Chris Dorn Shares Tips on School Lockdowns in Campus Safety Magazine
Campus Safety Magazine has just published a feature article 9 Tips to Improve School Lockdowns written by my son, Chris Dorn. A well-known school security expert, Chris has published five books on school safety and has worked in Mexico, Bolivia, Canada, England, France, South Africa and Vietnam.
In his well-written article on school lockdowns, 9 Tips to Improve School Lockdowns, Chris outlines a variety of ways to improve lockdowns based on assessment, evaluation and research. Too many schools rely on lockdown concepts that have been found to be unreliable such as the popular but unrealistic lockout/lockdown concept.
We hope this article will help school and public safety officials improve their lockdown capabilities because school lockdowns are still one of the most powerful tools we have to prevent mass casualty loss of human life from school shootings and other acts of violence.
School Security Expert Tip – Using Red or Yellow Text in School Crisis Plans Can Cause Problems
Schools across the country are retaining school security experts to perform school security assessments. While this can be a positive step, there are many simple and easy to implement ideas to improve school security. We try to share the things our analysts have learned while assisting our clients with thousands of security audits for school facilities in each school security expert tip.
During school security assessments, our analysts evaluate school crisis plans and emergency diagrams. One thing we see often are documents where key words and phrases have been highlighted in red or yellow text to draw the reader’s eye to the important word or phrase. For example, a word in a crisis plan action step will be printed in red text. Another common example involves the marking of emergency evacuation routes on fire evacuation diagrams. We often see these marked with red lines to make them appear more prominently in the diagrams.
While this is a well-intentioned effort that will help most readers, there is a problem. Many people who are color-blind cannot see certain colors. This can result in the red or yellow words disappearing for those readers. This could have serious ramifications in some situations. We find this in more than half of the school security assessments we perform, and I have heard the same concern expressed by other school security experts who have noted the same finding during their school security assessments.
What do school security experts recommend to address this?
One way to try to achieve the same positive effect while not creating the same problem is to use a light and bright color highlight for the letters or route marking while still using black text. This can make the information stand out for the reader without causing the key information to disappear for readers who are color-blind. Effective communication is important during school crisis situations.
While this is a simple and easy to apply school security expert tip – it can be a critical one.
School Security Expert Tip – Be Sure to Upgrade Skills of School Staff along with Security Technology
Be Sure to Upgrade Human Technology When Implementing School Security Technology
Our analysts have assisted our clients with school security assessments for thousands of school facilities over the years. We also often conduct red team assessments to really put school access control and security systems to the test by posing as intruders and seeing what we are able to gain access to without being detected. We have routinely been able to beat metal detector checkpoints, visitor management systems and some of the most sophisticated access control systems.
This does not mean that school security technology is not effective or valuable. In fact, during these assessments, the technologies work as they are intended. Instead, what we find is that like actual violators, it can be easy to identify and exploit a simple gap to defeat these approaches as long as school employees have not been properly trained and empowered to support the technologies. While the quality and utility of school security and emergency preparedness technologies today is truly amazing, the capability of the human brain is truly astounding as well. And like that of our best security technologies, schools do not always make the best use of these powerful protective options. While more and more school employees are being trained in concepts like visual weapons screening, mental simulation, pattern matching and recognition, and controlled breathing, the majority of school employees in the United States have not been exposed to these life-saving concepts. School officials should take care when implementing new strategies as there are a number of popular but unproven concepts being taught while research-based and proven approaches are often overlooked.
The per capita homicide rate in our schools has declined markedly over the past three decades. Combining the effective use of appropriate school safety technologies with available information on how to improve the ability of school employees to prevent and respond to school crisis situations is one of our best opportunities to further reduce the number of serious injuries and deaths in our schools.
Respond to school shootings with proven research
A Research-based response to school shootings
Here are some books that contain good information that can help us be more likely to prevent, as well as more effectively prepare for and respond to school shootings and other school crisis events. While there are no solutions that offer 100% protection from school shootings or other types of violence, the research and experience these authors bring to the table can help us more effectively note and react to the behaviors of people and the fast breaking situations that can be so critical in these types of incidents. The techniques that we can use to respond to school shootings are the same techniques that help people survive tsunamis, plane crashes, fires and other types of disasters all over the world. They also provide a balanced approach and remind us that we are far more likely to be killed or injured from everyday accidents or disease.
The Gift of Fear – Survival Signals that Protect us From Violence by Gavin DeBecker
On Combat – the Psychology of Deadly Conflict in War and Peace by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman
Sources of Power – How People Make Decisions by Gary Klein
Sharpening the Warrior’s Edge by Bruce Siddle
Unthinkable – Who Survives Disasters and Why by Amanda Ripley
I have found all of these books to be very helpful in my school safety research work.
School Security Assessments: Carefully Consider Your Needs First
School Security Assessments and Safety Audits versus School Climate and Culture Assessments
We have been inundated with requests to conduct school security assessments since the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Many of the schools and school districts that have contacted us have never had any of the various types of school safety assessments conducted before.
We felt that it might be helpful to provide few thoughts on the pros and cons of different types of school safety assessments. Aside from the more popular “safety audits” or “school security assessments”, there are also a number of more detailed or nuanced approaches to performing a hazard and risk assessment for a school, school district, private school, hospital campus or other type of facility.
What types of school security assessments are a good fit for my organization?
One of the first considerations is the scope of the assessment needed. For a comprehensive assessment, we normally suggest that our clients have us conduct a school safety, security, climate, culture and emergency preparedness assessment. This approach goes far beyond the scope of most school security assessments and does not focus solely on the prevention of mass casualty loss of human life. This is of course one of the main reasons most people want to conduct school security assessments, so that is always going to be a key focus of the assessment. What sets this type of assessment apart is that it includes findings to improve security and general safety while also looking for ways to improve rather than to degrade school climate and culture through the safety process.
In contrast to safety audits or school security assessments, this type of evaluation is usually far more comprehensive and holistic in its scope and approach.
These are important distinctions because there are significant differences between security and each of the other areas described above.
Should a written report be prepared or not after school security assessments are performed?
Another important factor involves whether or not a written report of findings is a good fit for the school or district. While most for-profit school safety firms require or recommend a written report, there are distinct advantages and disadvantages to having a written report. One basic difference is that such reports are discoverable and are often used by plaintiff’s counsel as an avenue of attack in litigation. This is a particularly important issue for non-public schools due to their lack of qualified immunity. Another difference is that written reports do drive the cost of a project upward due to the time required for their preparation. In some instances, this could make it impossible for schools with a limited budget to conduct an assessment at all. Written reports do however, make it easier for school officials to maintain a record of suggested improvements, may be helpful in convincing a board to take action and are often required if the assessment is being paid for with a grant.
If a written report is desired, will the client have an opportunity to fact-check the report for accuracy after school security assessments are performed but before reports are delivered?
We have seen instances where school officials have been provided with a written report that is not accurate because the consultant or firm issuing the report does not allow the client to fact-check the report for accuracy. While a credible consultant or firm will not alter their basic findings relating to potential dangers, it is very typical that a comprehensive report from even the best firms will contain factual errors and omissions, especially when conducting school security assessments for districts with a large number of facilities and multiple personnel performing the site assessments. We suggest that clients require the opportunity to review a draft of the report and to provide feedback on any factual errors or omissions.
Getting stuck with an inaccurate report can cause significant problems during litigation and, more importantly, can result in a less effective report. For example, we had a report that suggested that a new position for security director be created. The client asked if we could use a term other than “director” because in their school district, director’s positions salaries were set at $120,000 per year while the city police chief was paid less than $60,000. Administrators were concerned that the school board and community would become fixated on the terminology and the requisite costs and reject funding for the much needed position. Changing the title to “coordinator” allowed the position to be easily approved, funded and filled by the board. Had we not learned of the important nuance of terminology in this district, our client feels the position might never have been created. For firms that deliver comprehensive reports containing linear data, photographs as well as numerous detailed findings and recommendations, it can be especially important to vet the report in this manner before it is finalized. School safety experts and firms that have a strong reputation in the field will be able to defend assertions that the firm was pressured into making changes by a client organization.
Require and check references with care before hiring a firm to conduct school security assessments
The school safety consulting field is largely unregulated and school officials should use due diligence when selecting service providers for school security assessments or any other service. A civil action is not the time to learn that your school safety consultant works in the field because they were terminated from a job for embezzlement, arrest for felony theft or other serious issues. We recommend that school organizations require and check at least six references from school clients and that the firm’s website be reviewed for “red flags” such as vague credentials, indications that schools are not a primary area of expertise, etc.
A bit of thoughtful evaluation and research can reduce the cost of school security assessments for large organizations by as much as 75% while improving the quality of the project.
We hope these tips are of help to school officials who are considering school safety assessments.
School Security Improvements: Focus on Quality Rather than Speed
School Security Requires a Measured Approach
Parents, students, school officials and community leaders across the country are reviewing school security and emergency preparedness measures in the wake of the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School last week.
Our center has been receiving hundreds of requests for assistance each day since Friday and we were getting an average of one call per minute on Tuesday. Many of the calls we have been fielding have centered around three areas:
School access control
Improving school crisis plans
We have also focused our energies on providing free resources that can help school employees improve school security, safety and emergency preparedness. We typically post new resources on our website on a weekly basis.
Choosing the right path for school security improvements
School security and public safety officials should consider taking a measured and assessment-based approach for all three of these areas. For example, implementing new school access control measures too quickly can result in a poor quality and easy to defeat system that costs substantially more than a more reliable approach.
Similarly, many schools have rushed to purchase ready-made crisis plans that are not tailored to local conditions, building designs or public safety capabilities. Effective plans have to be developed with local public safety officials because protocols that might work very well in a San Diego school could result in mass casualty losses in a rural Pennsylvania township. For example, a San Diego school could probably expect a much faster police response during a lockdown than a school in a rural area, where the first police car may not arrive for half an hour during a school security crisis.
School security assessments should be approached with particular caution. There are now literally thousands of school safety trainers and consultants in the United States, and many of them refer to themselves as “national school safety experts” in large scale PR campaigns. There many highly qualified and talented individuals and firms out there. At the same time, there are also practitioners who have limited relevant experience or serious skeletons in their closet that can come back to haunt a school or district during litigation. For example, there are several school safety consultants who have been terminated for serious situations such as an arrest for felony theft, substance abuse and embezzlement.
This matters because there are a number of untested and highly controversial approaches to school safety that are being taught across the country. These include the lockout/lockdown technique as well as the practice of teaching students to attack an active shooter. School officials and school security professionals should carefully consider whether they want to be the first test case in a civil action for new and untested concepts that are highly controversial among experts in the field of school security.
There are also widely varying approaches to school security audits and safety assessments. For example, some firms will not allow clients to review a draft version of their report to ensure accuracy. This can lead to a school or district being stuck with an inaccurate report that can come back to haunt them during litigation. A quality firm will allow review and comment without compromising the integrity of their report.
Another important consideration for some types of school security assessments is whether the client should opt for a written assessment or not in the first place. These reports are discoverable during school safety litigation and are often utilized as an avenue of attack by plaintiff’s counsel. This can be and extremely important consideration for independent, parochial and other non-public schools. School safety consultants usually recommend written reports because they are billing thousands of dollars for the report and because they structure the report in a manner that will reduce their exposure to liability should a major event occur at a client school or district.
Cost is another important issue. Fees for these services vary widely between vendors and cost is not always an indicator of the quality of the assessments. Obtaining several bids with an open bid process takes longer but can reduce project cost by as much as 75% while improving the actual quality of services. Keep in mind that schools should be able to prove in court that they used due diligence in selecting a vendor if a school security incident ever occurs.
Lessons from past school security incidents
I have served as a school security expert witness in large school safety malpractice civil actions where I was asked to evaluate the work performed by school safety consultants. In one case, the district settled 26 lawsuits after a school security incident. This was an especially hard financial blow because the district had previously spent considerable money to hire a school security consulting firm. The plaintiffs then filed suit against the consulting firm, which quickly settled the case for a reported $1.5 million. The most tragic thing about this case is that the school district dedicated a considerable amount of time and fiscal resources trying to prevent and better prepare for this type of tragedy only to experience mass casualty loss of human life.
A thoughtful and careful approach to improvements in school security, safety and emergency preparedness will typically yield much better results.
Slow Down – Thoughtful Approaches to Enhanced School Security Work Best
As with other tragic mass casualty shootings at schools, there has been an avalanche of media coverage in the wake of the deadly incident at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Our senior analysts have been fielding so many media requests that Dr. Shepherd strained her voice last week. I had to start declining national radio and television appearances after Tuesday to ensure that I could meet deadlines for existing client projects.
Thankfully, things have slowed as the Christmas holiday approaches and we are now better able to handle requests for information from the school and public safety officials as well as from parents and the media in a timelier manner.
There are several important points we have been trying to convey through our media interviews:
- A balanced perspective about the actual risk of death of school children from school shootings in relation to other deadly types of incidents.
- The importance of using evidence, research and assessment-based approaches to school safety, security and emergency preparedness.
- The importance of moving steadily with an emphasis on quality improvements in safety, security and emergency preparedness over moving quickly. Building sustainable, practical and effective improvements in safety rather than quickly implementing what may be less effective approaches is important.
As schools move forward to improve security, safety and crisis preparedness by re-evaluating access control, lockdown procedures, police staffing and other approaches, it is important to consider the use of a formal school security assessment to thoughtfully assess local risks, realities and resources.
MSNBC did a good job in addressing the understandable fears of parents and school officials. Our video crew filmed and produced a short video podcast in one day last week that also provides a good perspective.
Safe Havens School Security Experts Offer Free Web seminar on Training and Empowering School Staff to Make Life-Saving Decisions
We have now posted a link to a free web seminar developed by Safe Havens in collaboration with the Illinois Principal’s Association directly in our resources section. This 20-minute seminar on empowering and training school employees to make improved life-saving decisions discusses concepts grounded in research, evaluation and expert witness forensic evaluation of past school crisis events.
As a non-profit school safety center, Safe Havens adds new free school safety resources for schools on a regular basis. You may also wish to look at the more than thirty free staff development school safety video podcasts on our website.
Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting in Newtown, CT – Initial Thoughts
This post was co-authored by Chris Dorn.
Yesterday’s school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School is a tragic reminder that while school is still a safe place to be, there is always risk in any community. Before looking for lessons learned from Sandy Hook Elementary, we need to wait for all of the facts to come in, but I’d like to review some of what we know about active shooter events and safe schools.
In recent months we have seen these types of attacks take place in shopping malls, movie theaters, places of worship and a variety of other settings. And school shootings have happened at schools in cities large and small in every region of the country except Hawaii. While the homicide rate in schools has dropped significantly in recent years, active shooter situations and other campus attacks are clearly still a concern, with attacks even happening at Amish and reservation schools.
At the same time, I would like to note that school violence is not a uniquely American phenomenon. Multiple victim or active shooter attacks have occurred almost anywhere in the world. We have now seen similar massacres in Canada, Germany, Finland, Norway, Australia, Scotland, Russia, Israel, France, Brazil, Mexico and Vietnam among others. Sharing the headlines with Sandy Hook Elementary Newtown, Connecticut today was a knife attack in China that left over 20 students and one adult injured. Though a knife attack may not always be as deadly as a mass shooting, the results are still quite horrific and would shock any community. And while there are differences in per capita homicide rates between countries, multiple victim shootings have happened in countries all over the spectrum when it comes to gun control.
Schools should focus on good prevention and mitigation measures on a day to day basis, and often we see a little too much focus on the relatively rare risk of an active shooter situation, the utter horror of an incident like the attack at Sandy Hook Elementary School reminds us how important it is to be prepared for this type of incident. With the proliferation of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), chemical agents and other weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) combined with the advancing complexity and number of victims of attackers in the Aurora, Norway and Virginia Tech attacks, we should also be prepared for even more lethal attacks.
There are a number of ways that schools can create safer campuses while fostering a sense of dignity, honor and respect for students. By building this culture of safety and respect into a school, we can reduce the likelihood that incidents will happen and increase the chances of success when one does. School safety is a broad topic, but we often find that by focusing on the little things we can have an overall sum effect that provides a basis for a safer school and a more effective response and recovery process. With a thorough planning process, solid emergency procedures, training on how staff can respond to school violence and other crisis events along with well-thought out security technology and access control, a school is better poised to respond to any type of crisis situation, even those they never dreamed would happen. Our thoughts and prayers go out to those affected by the events at Sandy Hook and we wish them a safe and effective recovery.
Co-author info: Chris Dorn
Safe Havens International and the Illinois Principal’s Association Collaborate to Offer Free Web Seminar on Life and Death Decision Making Skills for School Employees.
The school safety and security experts at Safe Havens International developed a free web seminar for the Illinois Principal’s Association as a pro bono effort. The association has been kind enough to allow people to access this course at no cost even though they are not members of their Education Leaders Network.
The course – Permission to Live – Effective School Emergency Preparedness through Empowerment, Planning and Practice covers research-based concepts to help prepare school employees to make more effective decisions when faced with life and death situations.
Another free resource that may be of help is our recently published topical paper on the pros and cons of teaching staff and students to attack an active shooter as a last resort. The paper is the culmination of an 18-month research effort by myself and school security director Steve Satterly and points out that while some school shootings have been stopped by this approach, people have been wounded and killed while attempting to make physical contact with armed individuals in schools.
As we are getting numerous requests for information on this topic from the media, school officials and public safety personnel from across the nation and abroad in the wake of the tragic attack at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut yesterday, we felt this information may be helpful. This course covers many of the concepts I discussed last night on 20/20, Hannity, and other media programs and is less than 20 minutes long.
Allegations of Student Being Strip-Searched by Assistant Principal Demonstrate the Importance of Proper Communications of Student Search Guidelines for Student Searches
Parents of a 10-year-old boy who was allegedly strip-searched by a North Carolina elementary school assistant principal have filed a lawsuit against school officials. The parents of Justin Cox are alleging that Assistant Principal Teresa Holmes, an administrator at Union Elementary School in Sampson County, North Carolina conducted a strip search of their son while looking for a missing $20 dollar bill.
Having served as an expert witness consultant in a federal civil action where the plaintiff’s alleged that a strip search had occurred, I suggest caution in jumping to conclusions for these types of situations if the facts of the search are not known. In the above mentioned case, it was clear that the student had not actually been asked to remove any clothing but plaintiff’s counsel described the event as a “strip search”.
Civil actions against school officials relating to allegations of strip searches and other types of intrusive searches are relatively common. Cases that do not conduct searches that do not involve drugs or weapons as alleged in this instance can be particularly problematic if and when a strip search has actually been performed. Unfortunately, unlawful searches of students do occur. The likelihood that these types of situations will occur can be reduced through careful policy development and effective staff development. This particular area of staff development is challenging because the law changes often. Fortunately, there are a number of superb trainers in this area such as Dr. Bernie James and Dr. Gary Avery. I have often advised client districts that the cost of hiring nationally experienced experts like those mentioned to help evaluate policies and to provide training is inexpensive in relation to the impact of a successful civil action or worse, the occurrence of preventable deaths because a lawful search for weapons is not conducted due to a lack of familiarity with laws on search and seizure.
As I mention earlier, it is impossible to tell from a media account whether anything improper occurred. However, the civil action is a good reminder that school search and seizure is an important topic and that school officials should be provided timely and relevant information on the subject.
Free School Safety Videos – What are Functional Protocols?
Free School Safety Videos
Our team at Safe Havens International has been working hard this year to produce a number of new series of free school safety videos that can be used to learn more about school safety basics and help train school staff. The latest school safety videos in the “Ask Safe Havens” video series provides a definition for incident specific protocols and functional protocols, two of the most basic concepts in school crisis planning.
The school security experts at Safe Havens have worked closely with our award-winning video crew to develop these concise but informative school safety videos designed to help answer some of the most commonly asked questions. Submit your questions or topics that you would like to see addressed in future video podcasts by sending us a message on our contact form. There are currently over 30 episodes in the series and we have had a great response so far, with some videos quickly reaching over 10,000 views.
This series was produced by Safe Havens Video, the most experienced school safety video crew in the world. Our crew has produced custom school safety videos as part of training projects for more than a dozen school districts and educational consortiums around the country and several produced for state departments of education. We decided to create this web series in our spare time to answer the questions we hear from educators, parents and students around the country when it comes to school safety. As the world’s only video production unit dedicated to creating school safety videos, we have an extensive library of footage of real and simulated school crisis events from around the world. Our school safety videos have won Telly Awards, a W3 award for excellent web video and have been used by national news networks including ABC’s 20/20.
Texas Student Shoots Himself While Handcuffed and Being Transported from School in Police Car
At risk student shoots himself after being taken into protective custody
A seventeen-year-old student shot himself yesterday while being transported from his school in a police car in Harris County, Texas. A student reported that he received a text message from the student indicating that the student might harm himself and notified school officials who notified police that the student might be at risk of harming himself with a weapon. The student was enrolled at the Galena Park Independent School District near Houston.
While being transported by a Harris County Constable Deputy, the young man shot himself in the head even though he had been handcuffed, according to police. The student was taken to the Ben Taub General Hospital and was listed in critical condition. The student was reportedly depressed after having problems with his girlfriend. Apparently, the arresting officer who searched the student missed the handgun.
Many years ago, an Atlanta police officer was shot and paralyzed from the waist down by a student during a transport many years ago. The officer told me that the students were not in custody and were being transported to the school office when he was shot. He related that while he patted down the older of the two students prior to the transport, he did not pat down a 13-year-old who had the weapon concealed on his person.
Some years ago, a Richmond County, Georgia School District police officer was shot and killed by a high school student who fired from the back seat of his patrol car after the officer missed a handgun concealed in his crotch. The suspect had not been handcuffed at the time and was apparently not under arrest at the time of the shooting. A Bibb County, Georgia School District police officer was shot and killed near Central High School in Macon, Georgia while transporting a non-student who took the officer’s weapon. This individual had also not been handcuffed because he had not been arrested. Our concealed weapons demonstrations and training videos demonstrate just how easy it can be to miss a weapon, even a firearm during a search of a student.
At this point, we do not know exactly how the youth was able to shoot himself during a police transport. This will be determined during the ongoing investigation of the incident. However, this incident and the above instances of school–aged youth who have killed and wounded police officers during transports indicate the need for careful adherence to proper searches and handcuffing practices. While many school administrators and parents have objected to students being handcuffed or handcuffed with their hands behind their back, each of these instances shows just how dangerous it can be to transport adult or juvenile suspects.
First Things First – Focus on the Most Important School Security Risks When Considering Terrorist Attacks
There has been an interesting LinkedIn school safety group discussion relating to whether schools should be used as polling sites. Several participants have cited concerns about Election Day terrorist attacks at schools used for polling along with more routine school security concerns. A couple of participants feel that schools should never be used as polling sites while others feel that the use of schools as polling sites can have positive benefits without creating unreasonable risk.
Predictions relating to terrorist attacks at school polling sites have not come to pass since they were first voiced with considerable alarm more than a decade ago. While a terrorist attack on a school polling site could occur, a reality is that children die every year in schools due to easily corrected gaps in student supervision.
While terrorist attacks by their very nature can be difficult to predict, excessive speculation can contribute to an ineffective utilization of resources. Focusing on school security measures that will be useful is often more effective than emphasizing those with only a remote chance of paying off. With time and funding for school security facing inherent limitations, focusing on core strategies such as improved student supervision and basic security measures can prove to be more effective. Taking the time to utilize free school safety resources from both private and government organizations is another particularly productive approach.
As the examples of school metal detection and the potential for problems with school polling sites indicate, there are many areas of school security where local risks, resources and realities need to be considered rather than a “one size fits all” approach. If there are indications of danger with polling at schools in a community, it is appropriate to address them. But assuming that schools should never be used as polling sites anywhere in the country absent more of an indication of risk may not be the most balanced approach to school security.
Death of University of Virginia Student on Field Trip Demonstrates the Need for Field Trip and Study Abroad Preparedness
In a tragic accident 22-year-old University of Virginia student Casey Schulman was killed when the propeller of a motor boat hit her as the boat was being moved. The incident occurred in Dominica which is located in the Caribbean. Ms. Schulman was killed during a boating excursion that was not a scheduled part of the universities’ “Semester at Sea” program. Ms. Schulman and a group of students from the program apparently chartered the boat as for a snorkeling trip as an independent excursion.
Police have determined that the victim was killed when the boat was being reversed.
University Vice President and Chief Student Affairs Officer Patricia Lampkin released a statement that indicated that a memorial service was being held on the Semester at Sea vessel.
This tragic incident demonstrates why it can be so important for K-12 and higher education officials to be prepared to address crisis situations that occur on field trips and study abroad programs. Whether taking a group of elementary students to the local zoo, a group of high school students to visit universities or a group of students abroad, crisis situations can occur. Addressing critical incidents away from campus can be challenging, particularly when an incident occurs in another state and even more so if it takes place in another country.
Russian School Children Bring Lion Cub to School
Today’s blog is a bit different. I ran across this article about a group of elementary school children in the Rostov region of Russia who found a lion cub and brought it to school. The cub apparently escaped while being transported to a zoo in Dagestan and has been place in an area zoo.
Florida Atlantic University offers accredited online course on Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED)
Dr. Randy Atlas will now be teaching an accredited 3 credit hour online course on Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED). Students who complete the course will be issued a Practitioner’s Certificate of Completion. Dr. Atlas served with Tod Schneider and I as a general session speaker at the International Conference on Safe School Design at Johnson and Wales University in Denver and has lectured at the Harvard University School of Architecture. A licensed architect and a Ph.D. Criminologist, Dr. Atlas has also authored a textbook on CPTED.
For registration information, contact the University at:
School Safety Expert Tip – Take Advantage of the Many Free School Safety Resources That are Available
One of the goals of our non-profit school safety center is to provide as many free resources to school officials, students, parents and community partner agency personnel as we can. We have added many free video podcasts relating to school safety, free checklists, topical papers and of course, still provide free telephone and email technical assistance. We also work to try to highlight the many free resources available from other organizations such as the United States Department of Education, FEMA and the Centers for Disease Control.
We urge school and public safety officials to avail themselves of the many free and high quality resources that are offered by state and federal government agencies.
A Career Well-Lived – School Security Director Gerald Summers Retires
We sometimes hear the meaningful phrase “a life well-lived”. This phrase has special meaning to those who dedicate their lives to a higher purpose. Gerald Summers worked his last day as the Director of Safety and Security for the Evansville-Vanderburgh School Corporation (EVSC) in Evansville, Indiana last week. Having worked on two large school safety projects for the district, it is clear to me that Gerald has literally accomplished nothing short of miracles in Evansville.
A veteran law enforcement officer with a fascinating background of real world experience, Gerald has applied what he has learned surviving horrific encounters to preventing and preparing employees for school crisis situations. Gerald has completely revamped access control, security procedures and has developed some of the most comprehensive school crisis plans in his state, complete with custom instructional videos to help students, staff and parents understand how to perform lifesaving action steps in an emergency. He has developed a well–trained crisis team with members at every school and has provided team members with a wide range of high quality training.
Others have repeatedly noted his exceptional work and Gerald was selected as the Campus Safety Magazine School Safety Director of the Year by a screening committee of his colleagues. Gerald’s efforts were also highlighted in a feature article in School Planning and Management Magazine. A Certified School Safety Specialist through the Indiana Department of Education, Gerald also recently presented at the academy with his wife Sue Hartig on one of their areas of expertise – how school officials can more effectively address child custody issues. A successful attorney with solid experience in issues relating to child custody and family law, Sue was kind enough to help me produce a detailed white paper on screening expert witnesses for school safety court cases this year. Gerald also provided us with invaluable feedback in our recently released staff development video, Safe Topics – Planning for Disabilities and Other Special Needs during an Emergency. Gerald has considerable experience in addressing safety, security and emergency preparedness concerns for students and staff with special needs.
After his retirement from the EVSC, Gerald will be working with Sue to deliver quality training and consulting services for schools, nursing homes, and not-for-profits including places of worship. They created quite a buzz when they presented at the academy last month and one attendee told me that it was one of the most informative and thoughtfully presented sessions he has attended. I am glad to see these talented and compassionate experts enter the field of school safety consulting. In a largely unregulated field, there are many folks of widely varying qualifications and it is always great to see people who are highly qualified working as school safety consultants.
But with all these examples of the indications of the golden character of Gerald Summers, perhaps another perspective can be seen by what happened on his last day at the helm. I spoke with Gerald on the phone that day, and he was truly moved and deeply humbled by what happened when he opened his email. Gerald received a massive outpouring of emails from school corporation personnel and people from the many community partner agencies he had collaborated with so closely over the years. More than 400 people emailed to let Gerald know how highly they thought of him, congratulating him, and most of all, letting him know just how much they hated to see him leave. Though this comes as no surprise to me, Gerald was overwhelmed by this outpouring from the people he served so thoughtfully. The way the people you help think of you speaks volumes of who you really are.
Gerald Summers has clearly made an important and positive impact, and has earned an honorable reputation with a career well lived.
Fatal Shooting of 13-Year-Old on School Bus in Miami Shocks Parents and Students
A male student from Palm Glades Preparatory Academy has been charged in the fatal shooting of a 13-year-old female student witnessed by the victim’s seven-year-old sister and several other students yesterday. Miami-Metro Dade Police reported that they recovered a gun at the scene in Holmestead, Florida. Palm Glades is described in media reports as a public charter school.
Many parents from the school expressed shock after they learned of the shooting which occurred Tuesday morning. According to news accounts, the timing of the incident has added to the impact of the events on parents and students.
While at this stage, we have only media accounts and the cause of the incident is unknown, this type of incident underscores the importance of security and emergency preparedness training for school bus drivers. Having worked many school and school bus weapons assaults over the years, I have learned to take care in relying on early media reports relating to these types of incidents.
As many incidents around the nation have demonstrated, school bus drivers regularly have to apply what they learn in school bus safety training, drills and exercises. We have found school bus drivers, transportations supervisors and directors to be eager to learn ways to reduce the chances that school bus security incidents will occur and to be more prepared to perform under stress should they take place.
The girl, who was identified as Lourdes Guzman, was airlifted to Miami Children’s Hospital after the 6:45 a.m. shooting, and she later died, Miami-Dade Police said. It wasn’t immediately known where she was shot.
The incident happened while the two were en route to school, police said. The boy took out the firearm from his backpack and then began displaying it, according to the arrest form.
Wishing a Happy Thanksgiving
We at Safe Havens wish you a happy and meaningful Thanksgiving. We hope that you have a wonderful day with your family, and that you and they have safe travels.
New Free School Safety Expert Video – Why is Terminology Important for School Crisis Planning?
This latest edition to the Ask Safe Havens series of free school safety videos explores why it can be important for school organizations to use common terminology to prevent problems during a crisis event. The video also examines why it is not necessary for schools across the nation to use standardized language which can in fact, be problematic in some situations.
We hope school safety practitioners will find this video to be a helpful resource.
We also welcome reader feedback, especially suggestions for future topics in the Ask Safe Havens series.
“Fire on The Mountain – The True Story of the South Canyon Fire” an Instructive Read for School Crisis Preparedness
I just finished reading Fire on the Mountain – The True Story of the South Canyon Fire by John N. Maclean. The book was mentioned by Dr. Michael Roberto in a Teaching Company course on decision making that I listened to a while back. The book outlines a variety of decision making and other strategic mistakes that led to the deaths of a group of smoke jumpers who were fighting the South Canyon fire at Storm King Mountain in 1994.
I found the book to be helpful in understanding how people can make decisions in life and death situations, especially those that start out moving relatively slowly but then rapidly change as the crisis unfolds. This book may be helpful to those who work in the area of school emergency preparedness.
Indiana School Safety Specialists Academy Sets New Attendance Record for Basic Academy
I had the pleasure to present again at the Indiana School Safety Specialists Academy again this week. I have presented for the academy more than two dozen times over the past decade and have always been impressed with how the academy is managed, the variety of topics presented and the diversity of attendees. Educators, law enforcement officers, school nurses, building administrators, security directors, risk managers, facilities personnel and a surprising number of school superintendents participate in the program.
The academy offers a number of free training sessions and free resources to school organization and community partner agencies.
Program Coordinator Dave Woodward told me that this session set a new attendance record of more than 300 people. To continue to set new attendance records so long after the program was founded is just one example of how effective and well respected the program is. Out of state guests from a dozen states also indicates how solid this program is.
The citizens of Indiana should be proud and more importantly, thankful to have such an exemplary program to enhance school safety.
Free School Safety Web Seminar – Permission to Live – Effective School Emergency Preparedness through Empowerment, Planning and Practice
I feel very fortunate to have so many talented and dedicated school safety experts as both paid staff members and as unpaid volunteers. Whether the topic is simple ways to improve student supervision or the dangers of overemphasizing one form of threat such as active shooter situations, the Safe Havens International team is dedicated to providing a wide array of high quality free school safety resources.
This latest free staff development tool is a new free online version of one of the most popular topics I present on – what I call “permission to live”. Plan content, training, drills and exercises and other school crisis preparedness measures are more effective if they convey empowerment of staff to make key life and death decisions without first obtaining permission from a supervisor.
This online seminar using Brainshark was developed as a pro bono effort for the Illinois Principal’s Association. I had the distinct honor and pleasure to keynote their annual conference a few years ago and have delivered a series of webinars for their members.
The association offers a wide array of web delivered seminars by numerous subject matter experts on a subscriber basis and this course is part of that service. They have kindly agreed to make the courses I author for them available free online for our readers. We hope you find this session to be helpful to you in your work.
School Security Expert Tip – Plain View Vehicle Checks Can Help Prevent School Weapons Attacks
School Security Expert Tip by Michael Dorn
A simple strategy to help reduce the number of weapons on school property was developed in the Bibb County Public School System Police Department more than twenty years ago. The concept is now widely used due to a school safety training video funded by the Garrett Metal Detector Company in the late 1990s. Tens of thousands of copies of this video have been distributed in all fifty states and more than thirty countries since its release.
The concept demonstrated in the video is known as the plain view vehicle check. This simple strategy involves law enforcement officers, security officers or properly trained school employees walking through student parking areas and looking for weapons from outside the vehicle. When I first began teaching this technique at national conferences in the mid 1990’s it was well-received and many school districts began to utilize the approach.
As there have been a number of instances of students retrieving weapons from parked cars before using them to attack others, weapons in student vehicles can become a serious issue very quickly. It is sometimes surprising how many weapons can be found in this manner. The first time we checked a student parking lot at Central High School in my district, we recovered two rifles and more than a dozen knives and other weapons. One of the rifles recovered was a semi-automatic version of the AK-47 rifle.
The plain view vehicle check is an inexpensive approach requiring little staff time to implement and maintain.
Free Web Presentation on Improving school safety and climate by School Safety Expert Michael Dorn
We are pleased to announce yet another free school safety resource. Safe Havens has released dozens of new free school safety training video podcasts and two free research papers in recent months. Today, we are releasing a new free web delivered presentation we recorded for the Illinois Principal’s Association. The course is titled – Using the Positive Body Language of Schools to Create Dignity, Honor and Respect in Schools and has a run time of 22 minutes.
The course is part of the Education Leaders Network. Click here if you would like to join this network which offers courses on many topics of interest to educators by many experts in different disciplines.
This presentation covers the powerful concept of territoriality, one of the primary areas of crime prevention through environmental design for school. We are working on a number of additional free school safety resources and will post each release. We hope you find this course to be of benefit.
Training at the Speed of Life by Kenneth R. Murray – an Excellent Book for those who are Interested in Understanding how to Train People for Life and Death Decision-Making
Lt. Col. Dave Grossman was kind enough to send me a copy of Kenneth R. Murray’s excellent book on law enforcement and military training concepts. Though the book is obviously focused on this type of audience, I feel that school emergency preparedness practitioners and experts can benefit from the concepts that are so thoughtfully articulate by the author.
Training at the Speed of Life is a superb book for those who want to better understand how to prepare people for crisis decision making.
Free School Safety Video – Bullying of Special Needs Students
Safe Havens Video has just released a new free school safety training video – Meet Mackenzie. This mini-documentary is a discussion relating to the challenges faced by many special needs students and their parents. The video explores the added challenge of bullying that are commonly faced by students with special needs. As Ask Mackenzie illustrates, the bullying of special needs students is a major issue in schools today.
This powerful four minute video was produced by our award – winning video crew. The Safe Havens Video team has filmed in Mexico, Canada, Bolivia, South Africa, Vietnam, the Netherlands and France. Using content developed by the internationally experienced school safety experts at Safe Havens, they have released more than twenty free school safety video podcasts in recent months and have more videos in production.
Safe Havens has also released five new school safety videos that are available for purchase with more new videos currently in production. Please visit our online store if you are interested in additional learning resources.
Please forward the link to this video to colleagues that you feel may find it to be useful as a staff development tool.
New Free School Crisis Planning Video Podcast
Safe Havens International Video has just released another Ask Safe Havens free school safety training video. This video covers the need to empower school staff to take life-saving action in emergency situations. The video features Lt. Col. Dave Grossman who is a well-known expert on how the human mind and body function under life and death conditions.
The Ask Safe Havens series features a number of leading school safety experts.
This brief video can be a valuable free staff development tool for school and public safety officials.
School Bus Security Experts – The Power of a School Bus Driver’s Brain
Viewing the school bus security camera and listening to the audio one can only be deeply impressed by the performance of Angel Perry. A school bus driver in Henryville, Indiana, Angel Perry is a true American hero.
Like many people, I am continually inspired by heroes. While we often think of our military personnel, law enforcement officers, fire service professionals, brilliant researchers and outstanding government leaders when the word hero is mentioned, most people realize that there are many who are not recognized as household names who clearly fit the bill as heroes. Angel Perry is one such individual. Angel Perry’s fast thinking, clear directions to her students and counting of her students as they evacuated her school bus as a rapidly approaching tornado threatened the safety of all aboard is a testament to how well our nation’s school bus drivers have often been to respond to truly terrifying crisis situations.
This incredible person once again demonstrated the amazing power of a school bus driver’s brain to think of and to execute appropriate action steps when the chips are down. You see, like other people, school bus drivers are equipped with one of the world’s most amazing life saving tools – the human brain. Researchers like Dr. Gary Klein and Lt. Col. Dave Grossman have provided convincing evidence that the human brain in some situations can think faster and resolve life and death situations more effectively than the computer I am using to write this article. In fact, as Dr. Klein points out, there are examples of situations where using computers to try to make life and death decisions have been proven to degrade human performance.
However, as Klein and Grossman point out, our performance can be improved dramatically when our brains have been properly prepared through such things as training, life experience, drills and other activities which provide us with what Klein refers to as a base of experience. Col. Grossman uses the analogy of a mental library that our properly prepared brain can instantly access when we have been properly trained and practiced. School bus security experts often utilize these research based approaches to train school bus drivers.
Providing training and practice in such research based concepts as pattern matching and recognition and mental simulation are both relatively simple and inexpensive approaches with a low relative investment of time to introduce to drivers and other school employees. Both techniques have been used by law enforcement officers, medical personnel and elite military teams for many years.
Fortunately, thousands of school bus drivers are now also being provided with these valuable survival tools every year. As Angel Perry has demonstrated, investing the time and energy to train and drill our school bus drivers in emergency procedures can result in superb human performance under incredibly adverse conditions. Her life saving efforts that day reflect with great honor her dedication to school bus safety as well as the efforts by her organization to prepare her to succeed on that fateful and nearly fatal day. Because she was prepared to think and act under pressure, tragedy was averted.
Please Stop Laughing at Me – One Woman’s Inspirational Story by Jodee Blanco is a Powerful Book about School Bullying by Girls
After several of my clients recommended the book I read Jodee Blanco’s Please Stop Laughing at Me – One Woman’s Inspirational Story a few years ago. I found the book to be a powerful and insightful story that can help us understand some of the negative dynamics of school bullying, particularly bullying involving female students.
Like my book Weakfish – Bullying Through the Eyes of a Child, this book uses the experiences of the author to help the reader understand what it can be like to experience and to overcome severe bullying. I have often recommended this book for student reading assignments geared to helping students learn empathy for others who experience bullying.
School Security Expert Tips – Target Identifiers
I was honored to have the opportunity to keynote an annual state conference for early childcare facility directors in Madison, Wisconsin last February. During the presentation, I cautioned attendees about target identifiers that can be used by an aggressor to locate a particular staff member or student in a building. For example, listing teacher’s names on classroom doors or placing student artwork with names on it in the hallway right outside of a classroom door.
After my presentation, one of the officers of the association approached me and related that she had heard me present at a school safety conference in Wisconsin a few years prior and that I had covered the same concern. She told me that a man breached security at an area elementary school about two weeks after I presented and abducted a child after located the student in this manner.
This is one of the many types of hazards that can be found during a school security assessment. While attacks and abductions of this type are fortunately relatively rare, they do occur with enough frequency to merit the consideration of school officials.
Safe Havens International Releases new School Bus Security and Emergency Preparedness Video
Our new school bus safety training video Safe Topics: Safe Passages – School Transportation Security and Emergency Preparedness covers a variety of critical concepts to help school bus drivers learn how to spot danger, manage school bus crisis situations more effectively, document school bus security incidents properly and testify in court properly.
Scripted by two of the nation’s most respected school bus security experts Michael and Chris Dorn, the video was filmed, edited and produced by the award-winning Safe Havens Video crew, this information packed training video is part of the powerful Safe Topics school safety video series. This video will draw on the experiences of the Dorn’s working in Mexico, Central America, South America, Canada, Europe, Asia, South Africa and the Middle East.
School Safety Experts at Safe Havens Release New School Safety Training Video on Mental Health Recovery Planning for Schools
Our team of internationally experienced school safety experts is pleased to announce the release of our latest edition to the Safe Topics school safety training video series. The new video Safe Topics – Crisis Recovery – Mental Health Recovery features Dr. Sonayia Shepherd. Dr. Shepherd has authored and co-authored 16 books on school safety and emergency management and has worked in more than a dozen countries. In the video, Dr. Shepherd draws on her extensive experience working mass casualty events and as the State of Georgia’s lead expert for mental health recovery for fatal school safety events.
1,000 copies of a custom version of this video has already been issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Education and won a prestigious Telly Award.
The video includes information on mass casualty event planning and a tabletop exercise.
New York City Bullying Victim Jumps in Front of Train
In a tragic and graphic public act of suicide, 15-year-old Felicia Garcia jumped in front of a train while fellow students watched. The freshman from Tottenville High School in Staten Island, New York was humiliated when she learned that a group of football players had filmed her having sex with them. Other students had reportedly bullied Ms. Garcia and she had indicated that she could not take the embarrassment anymore shortly before she killed herself.
According to the New York Daily News, a counselor at her school set up a mediation session with one of the boys who had been harassing the girl. I hope this news account is not correct as peer mediation and mediation are not effective strategies to address any form of aggression where there are victims and aggressors such as bullying. Mediation and peer mediation can be effective for situations of mutual conflict but are not only ineffective but can even be harmful for bullying situations. According to the United States Government’s Stop Bullying Now Campaign, peer mediation has been proven to be counterproductive for bullying situations.
Many reported suicides where bullying is alleged to be a factor involve other factors such as ineffectively treated depression and mental illness. Inappropriate forms of intervention by well-meaning adults can make the situation worse for victims and aggressors alike. As with many similar cases, litigation against the school district may occur and school bullying experts will likely have to carefully evaluate the facts of the case to see if the situation was handled properly or not. As inaccurate information is common in media reporting of such tragic and highly emotional situations, I make no judgment of how school officials handled this particular situation.
As the media is reporting that mediation was utilized, it is an opportunity to remind school officials should not use approaches designed for conflict between individuals for situations in the event they still do not realize that the approach as reported in the media is inappropriate for bullying situations. There are many free resources for school officials to help them prevent and respond to bullying. Proper training on appropriate intervention strategies that are based on research is another way to inform school employees in this regard.
Bullying Prevention Presentation in South Dakota
I had a great experience keynoting the Fifth Annual South Dakota Parent Engagement Conference in Rapid City, South Dakota this past Saturday. I felt honored to be asked to be the keynote speaker for this awesome conference. The keynote was focused on bullying prevention and related topics such as ways to improve school climate, techniques to enhance student supervision and cyberbullying. The session also included information on evaluation of school security.
This is the third time I have keynoted a conference for the South Dakota Department of Education and they always put on a first-class conference with no logistical details left to chance. The turnout of more than 130 parents and educators from all corners of the state on a Saturday was impressive, especially when the state’s population and distances travelled by attendees are considered. This was the second time I have had good attendance on a Saturday in South Dakota in spite of the fact that one conference was held on the opening day of deer season and the other at the start of pheasant season – both are big events in the state.
I met many impressive advocates for the children during the event. The information on student supervision, bullying of students with special needs and improving school climate were of great interest to the participants along with the information on recognition of indicators of bullying.
I have had the good fortune to keynote many conferences in South Dakota and have thoroughly enjoyed every visit to this beautiful state. I once again found attendees to be eager to participate in the discussion and straightforward in their comments. A great day was capped off when I bumped into Colonel Oliver North as I was going through security at the Rapid City Airport. The Colonel who had just returned from a trip to Afghanistan and was probably still pretty tired, forgot to take off his dog tags and had to be patted down by TSA. He was gracious to the TSA personnel and to other passengers who wanted to shake his hand. I had an opportunity to chat with him for a minute and he was most cordial with me as well.
Personnel from two school districts and a tribal Christian school at the conference indicated they wanted me to present for them and I look forward to more visits to this beautiful region of the country where so many care deeply about student safety. It was truly an honor to be able to visit with so many wonderful people in this great state and I cannot wait to make my next visit.
Safe Havens International Releases new School Safety Training Video – Safe Topics – Planning for Disabilities and Other Special Needs During an Emergency
Safe Havens Video is proud to announce the release of a new learning resource. The video – Safe Topics – Planning for Disabilities and Other Special Needs During an Emergency provides detailed and timely information to help schools more effectively plan to evacuate, shelter and otherwise protect students, staff and visitors with special needs during crisis situations. The video also comes with an individual standardized preparedness plan which can be used to develop a comprehensive personal plan for each student and staff member requiring special assistance during emergency situations.
Developed by a team of school safety experts with international experience and a solid background in special needs safety and emergency preparedness, this video was filmed, edited and produced by our award-winning video crew. Using the expertise they have developed filming in Mexico, Bolivia, Canada, the Netherlands, Vietnam and South Africa, our film crew has extensive experience making school safety training videos.
A custom version of this video has been highlighted by the United Stated Department of Education at several of its school emergency preparedness conferences, this invaluable and robust learning resource addresses one of the most challenging and critical topics in school crisis planning.
Jane’s Chemical-Biological Defense Guidebook is still a Frightening but Informative Read
I first read the Jane’s Chemical-Biological Defense Guidebook in more than ten years ago while working on a book series for the renowned security, defense and intelligence publisher. They gave copies of the then $2,000 book to each of us on the co-authoring team to give us a better idea of what they needed us to write in the Jane’s Safe School Planning Guide for All Hazards.
The book details how a wide array of chemical and biological attacks have and can be carried out and the sometimes highly developed preparedness capabilities are needed to respond to such attacks properly. The Jane’s editing process and team is exceedingly picky which is why their books are so highly regarded in military, intelligence, homeland security and public safety circles. This book is definitely among the most detailed works ever published on these important topics.
School Security is a Part of Excellence in Education
I went to pick my son up from his elementary school yesterday afternoon to take him to a medical appointment. I was pleased to see that the staff member who is responsible for signing out students required me to hand her my driver’s license and checked my son’s name against his contact information and ran my information through a database of known sexual predators before having him brought to the office. These simple steps take only seconds but dramatically increase the level of safety at the school. Though security cameras can be very effective when utilized properly, properly trained and led staff can make a huge difference in school safety and security.
This school also happens to have been ranked within the top 100 elementary schools in the state for several years running.
As a parent as well as a school security expert, I am pleased to see these and other school security measures in place in my son’s rural community school. Though abductions of students from schools are rare, they do occur with enough regularity to cause legitimate concern in any public or non-public school.
Leading School Safety Experts Provide Free School Security Assessment Checklist
The diverse team of school safety experts at Safe Havens International have assisted our clients in conducting school security assessments for more than 2,000 public, private, parochial, independent and charter schools in the last few years and have helped many other schools over the past decade. Our school security experts, school crisis preparedness experts have developed a variety of school safety assessment tools to meet client needs for these projects including school crisis scenario videos, surveys and checklists.
Safe Havens offers a series of free school security assessment checklists on the free resources section of our website. Safe Havens will be adding hundreds of new free school safety resources this year in an effort to provide tools to help school officials and their community partners improve school safety, security, climate, culture and emergency preparedness.
Free school safety video podcast – Benefits of Security Cameras for Schools
We have just released another concise free video featuring school security expert Russell Bentley. Russell has more than two decades of full-time campus safety experience and is very well versed on school security technology implementation. Our video production unit has more free videos in the works and is preparing to release three new school safety training videos.
Bullying Beyond the Schoolyard – Preventing and Responding to Cyberbullying Tackles a Hot and Difficult Topic
The rapid and continual changes in how we use technology to communicate with others have created some amazing benefits. Unfortunately, as with the Thompson Submachine Gun, the ATM and credit cards, there are always people who will use technology for illicit purposes rather than for good. Cyberbullying is just one more example of how some students will use the amazing technology we have to harm other students.
In Bullying Beyond the Schoolyard – Preventing and Responding to Cyberbullying Sameer Hinduja and Justin W. Patchin have done a thorough job in helping school safety practitioners understand this impactful issue and what actions can be taken to address it.
School Security in Israel – Fact Versus Fiction
I read several posts on a homeland security group on LinkedIn relating to soldiers with automatic weapons being assigned to schools in Israel to protect staff and students from terrorists.
This is a very pervasive myth probably stems from conference presenters who have heard and repeated this inaccurate description from others. I have no idea who started this myth, but it is still alive and well. A few years ago, I was keynoting a state homeland security conference when a police lieutenant made the statement in his presentation that there was a full platoon of combat soldiers assigned to every school in Israel. I have since heard numerous variants of this incorrect assertion. About two years ago, a very good friend of mine who I respect immensely said something similar during a keynote. I correctly figured that he would want to be corrected if he was saying something that was not correct as he is a man of integrity. I wanted to make sure that nothing had changed since I went to Israel as part of an exchange program with the Israel Police in the late 1990’s.
I called Dr. Robert Friedmann who is the Executive Director of the Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange Program – GILEE at Georgia State University and he assured me that nothing had changed since my visit and that there were no schools in Israel that had any soldiers assigned to them.
As we had seen and been briefed during our visit, off-duty soldiers must be hired to provide security during field trips and they do typically carry a rifle when performing these duties. As with schools in the United States, many schools in Israel have security officers and some of them are armed as is the case here. In addition, some school administrators do carry a handgun or keep a gun in their office. Dr. Friedmann also informed me that parents sometimes contract with private bus companies that utilize buses with armor plating in the territories where the risk of terrorist attack is higher. Some of these buses also have armed security personnel.
As one purpose of the GILEE program is to provide accurate and helpful information between participating countries (which include China, Austria and Rumania as well as the U.S. and Israel) Dr. Friedmann asked that I try to correct the inaccurate information when I had the opportunity. My distinguished colleague was both grateful and gracious when I contacted him. Unfortunately, the rumor is still being passed around by other well-intentioned people. Please pass this information on if you encounter the same information. Those who question it can feel free to contact us or Dr. Friedmann for verification.
School Safety Expert Advice on Simple Techniques to Improve Supervision of Children – Positioning
As we often emphasize in our books, training videos, presentations, articles and web courses, improving supervision of students is one of the most powerful yet frequently neglected tools available to improve school safety, climate, culture and even emergency preparedness. Expert witnesses are often asked to review the supervision of children in cases of school and childcare facility safety litigation.
One technique that is particularly easy to apply and at the same time, quite effective is to emphasize proper positioning of staff in relation to children they are supervising. For example, if an adult is walking a group of students from one location to the other and they take a position at the front of a line of students, they are not in a good position to observe the children. While this position may at times be appropriate with very young children, it is often not the best position for observing students.
Similarly, if teachers in a school who are assigned to monitor hallways at key times, they can often take a position at an intersection of multiple hallways to enable them to observe multiple areas of the building at one time.
This simple technique can significantly improve the level of supervision without placing a significant burden on staff.
Free School Safety Expert Resource – Presentation on Disguised Weapons
We developed a free version of our live presentation on disguised weapons back in 2006.
This topic has been of great interest to many people recently following the murder of Mobile, Alabama Police Officer Steven Green by a suspect who used a crucifix with a small knife blade to slash his throat last February. The disguised knife was apparently missed during a search incident to the arrest of the suspect and he used the weapon to attack the officer when he was being transported to jail.
Disguised weapons have often been confiscated from students at school and we are providing this free resource to help educators and law enforcement officers spot these weapons in case they run across them in their work.
School Safety Terms – What do they mean?
Guest blog by Dr. Sonayia Shepherd
You have probably heard the term “school safety” numerous times. Educators, practitioners, parents, and media use the term often, but what does it really mean? How do you know if a school is really safe? First, it is important to understand that creating a safe learning environment is an ongoing process. There is no magical formula. The entire school community must incorporate safety practices into daily routines. Basically, “school safety” consists of a variety of programs and services that are designed to contribute to the maintenance and establishment of safe and positive learning environments. Here are a few specific school safety topics and definitions as examples:
- School Climate and Culture
The terms school culture and school climate describe the environment that affects the behavior of teachers and students. School culture is the shared beliefs and attitudes that characterize the district-wide organization and establish boundaries for its constituent units. School climate characterizes the organization at the school building and classroom level. It refers to the “feel” of a school and can vary from school to school within the same district. While an individual school can develop a climate independently of the larger organization, changes in school culture at the district level can positively or adversely affect school climate at the building level.
- Target Hardening
Target Hardening is an approach to making the school a less attractive target for anyone with “bad intent.” School officials should work with community partners to assess systems such as school building access, visitor policies and sign in procedures, deliveries, transportation security, vehicular access & parking, interior and exterior building evaluation, etc.
- Crisis and Emergency Management Planning
Crisis Management is the management and coordination of the school’s responses to an incident that threatens to harm, or has harmed, the organization’s people, structures, ability to operate, valuables and/or reputation. It takes into account planning and automatic incident response, but must also dynamically deal with situations as they unfold, often in unpredictable ways.
Defining school safety terminology can be helpful to help make sure people are on the same page when working to achieve enhanced school safety, security and emergency preparedness.
Dr. Sonayia Shepherd (Sony) is the Chief Operating Officer of Safe Havens International. The author of 16 books on school safety and emergency management, Sony’s work has taken her to many countries including Switzerland, Thailand, Indonesia, Haiti, Guatemala, Angola, South Africa and India.
A popular keynote speaker, Dr. Shepherd has presented at numerous state, national and international professional conferences and many individual school districts across the nation. Sony welcomes reader feedback and questions at email@example.com
When School Metal Detection Makes Sense
There are many common misperceptions about the use of metal detectors to keep weapons out of schools. On one hand, many people think that simply purchasing and installing metal detectors will keep weapons out. People who are not experienced with effective metal detection often underestimate how many people it takes to properly screen large numbers of people in a reasonable time frame. Effective metal detection also requires very tight access control to keep violators from simply bypassing the metal detection checkpoint.
On the other hand, there are many people and organizations that have been critical regarding the use of metal detectors as ineffective, often basing their opinions on schools where metal detection is ineffective because it is either not implemented properly or because it is implemented as a stand-alone measure without a range of appropriate supportive prevention strategies.
When utilized properly as part of a comprehensive approach to reduce the presence of weapons in schools, metal detection clearly reduces student weapons violations and assaults with weapons on school property. I make these comments based on extensive first-hand experience not only helping clients implement and improve school metal detection programs, but in helping to develop a program for my own school district in the early 1990’s. Our school district police officers confiscated over 400 weapons including 18 guns from our 25,000 students in one year before the nation’s first random surprise metal detection program was implemented. We also experienced a number of edged weapons attacks by students that school year. In the ten years after the program and a wide array of other prevention strategies were implemented, the district saw a 90% drop in student weapons violations and only experienced one edged weapons attack by a student.
Considering that past experience indicated there would have likely been between 20 and 30 edged weapons attacks during this time period if new strategies had not been implemented, this is a dramatic and tangible reduction in serious violent incidents. There was one instance where school district police officer Levi Rozier averted a planned double suicide of two high school students as a direct result of our random surprise metal detection providing one clear example that an effective school metal detection can prevent the deaths of students.
It should also be noted that when the metal detection program was suspended for most of the 2011-2012 school year, the number of weapons seized from students more than doubled and a 650% increase in the number of guns confiscated from students was documented. The program was recently re-established after a student was caught with a gun, another student was shot at while he was at a school bus stop and yet another student was slashed with a box cutter during the first week of the school year. While there are other prevention approaches that are being implemented to support the metal detection strategy, it is very clear that metal detection is an appropriate strategy for this high-risk community.
It is extremely important to understand that not every school needs metal detectors and that some schools may require entry point metal detection (a similar approach to that used at airports and courthouses) while the threat level in other schools may make random surprise metal detection more appropriate. In many schools, metal detection is not only not appropriate for the risk level but would also be unwise because the funding and energy expended would be better spent on other prevention measures.
As with security cameras and many other school safety technologies, the implementation of metal detection should be based on a formal evaluation and assessment process and requires a reasonable understanding of what the technology can and cannot be expected to accomplish in the school setting. Having evaluated school metal detection programs for multiple civil actions as an expert witness, as an evaluator for the metal detection program for the 2002 Winter Olympic Games, and having evaluated numerous school system metal detection programs during school security audits, it is apparent that metal detection for schools should be based on an assessment process, policy development and implementation and proper training to staff on the processes and equipment utilized is helpful. Most importantly, I have seen school system metal detection programs work miracles in reducing the dangers of weapons in schools.
School Security Technologies Sometimes Change the Field of School Safety
The quality and innovation in many school safety technologies today is often nothing short of remarkable. Though even the best technologies require proper utilization by school staff to be effective, there are an increasing number of highly practical and effective tools out there. From time to time, I encounter a school security technology that strikes me as really practical and effective. Though we never accept compensation when mentioning a product or service, I do let people know when I see a good consultant, trainer or other security product that impresses me to this extent.
I had the opportunity to meet Jeff Anderson last week. His company has developed some truly impressive school safety technologies that also provide a valuable daily benefit for students and teachers. Greg Thomas, who formerly served as the head of safety and security for the New York City Public School System introduced us. Jeff’s company has developed an amazing technology that involves a pendant worn by teachers which serves to amplify the sound of the teacher’s voice. This helps students hear what the teacher is saying and is designed to raise test scores. His company has also developed an optional feature for this system that allows a staff member to press a button to summon emergency assistance from the office. When the button is pressed, office personnel are alerted to the situation so they can send help. With this system, staff in the office can even hear what is happening in the room where the problem is occurring. The system can also be tied to security cameras, a feature that has proven to be popular with alternative programs around the nation. Monitoring capability can even be extended to remote locations such as a district office or school security and police dispatch centers.
The company also has duress buttons with audio and optional security camera connection that can be installed in the main office area of a school, a building administrator’s office, transportation director’s office, superintendent’s office or other potential hot spot. Whether in the classroom or an office setting, this type of technology can be incredibly helpful for situations involving irate, intoxicated, violent or emotionally troubled people, weapons situations, medical emergencies and a host of other situations.
The hew school safety technologies that this and other companies have developed are helping us to move into the future of school safety rather than accepting the status quo.
A Framework for Understanding Poverty by Dr. Ruby Payne is an Important Read for School Safety Practitioners
Over the years, a number of my clients have spoken highly of the work of Dr. Ruby Payne who is a leading expert on the mindsets of poverty, middle class and wealth. The reviews I have heard of Dr. Payne’s workshops and seminars have been excellent. Her book A Framework for Understanding Poverty provides the reader with a much better understanding not only of how students living in poverty face challenges but also helps them to understand some positive action steps that can be taken to help these students succeed.
I highly recommend this well-researched and logical book on an important topic that is highly relevant to school safety, climate and culture.
Tips for Selecting a School Safety Expert Witness
We have posted previously on tips for selecting a qualified school safety expert witness. We have had excellent feedback from attorneys as well as from key personnel from two of the nation’s largest insurers of public and non-public K12 schools.
I wrote an expanded article which was published in Campus Safety Magazine which has likewise had good feedback from readers of that magazine. This is likely because there can be problems with the qualifications and credibility of some expert witnesses in any field, school safety experts are largely unregulated. While there are numerous talented, honest and highly qualified school safety experts, this lack of regulation can make it extremely difficult to properly evaluate expert witnesses for school safety cases. Reader feedback from the Campus Safety article indicated the need for more detail on how to screen school safety subject matter experts.
We decided to develop an expanded paper on this topic to provide assistance to school officials, risk managers, insurance professionals, attorneys and judges who are tasked with evaluating qualified expert witnesses for cases involving school safety. Evaluating an Expert Witness for School Safety Cases is a comprehensive research paper on this important topic. This can be a critical aspect for litigation and criminal cases involving technical questions relating to school security, school violence, bullying, student supervision, school crisis planning, school bus security and other areas where school safety experts are often required for defense counsel and for prosecutors or plaintiff’s counsel. While finding a properly qualified school safety expert witness is important for litigation support, it is especially crucial when a testifying school safety expert witness is needed. We have tried to address this in this paper.
Fortunately, Attorney Sue Ann Hartig was kind enough to assist me by reviewing and editing this paper. Mrs. Hartig is an accomplished attorney who also is a subject matter expert who presents on school child custody issues. With her unique background, she provided valuable insight for this paper.
We hope this paper will prove useful to you in your work.
We will soon release a new paper focused on tornado preparedness for schools and are working on several more papers that will be released later in the year. We welcome reader feedback and suggestions for other topics that might be helpful to our readers.
If you would like to receive an automatic notification for upcoming papers, please sign up for our free e-newsletter.
Free List of School Safety Grant Sources
Dr. Sonayia Shepherd developed a fourteen page list of potential school safety grant sources a few years ago, though the list is now somewhat dated, it is still a great resource for those seeking grant funding to improve school safety.
Free School Safety Video – Lightning Meters for School Athletic Events
In this free school safety video podcast, Russell Bentley describes how lightning meters can save lives at school athletic events and other outdoor activities. This recent release from the Ask Safe Havens series, covers key points in about one minute.
Free School Safety E-Book
Safe Havens makes the school safety e-book Let None Learn in Fear available at no cost via our website. This 205 page book is a compilation of my columns for School Planning and Management Magazine for more than a decade. I decided to revise and update the columns and make them into a book at the urging of Les Nichols who is the Vice President for Boys and Girls Clubs of America.
Abductions of Students from Schools are a Rare but Very Real School Safety Risk
Twenty-five-year-old Bradley Mrazek was arrested after he abducted a nine-year-old student from Parkside Elementary School in San Mateo, California last week. Mrazek is being held on eight criminal counts after he allegedly entered the school and abducted the girl who was able to escape from the man. Police report that Mrazek had actually trespassed at three different schools that day. Police also believe that Mrazek was the same man who entered a stall in a girl’s restroom at George Washington Elementary School in Daly City last March. The suspect in that case fled after he tried to take photographs of children in the restroom.
These and other cases demonstrate that there are instances where individuals enter school facilities undetected in order to harm students and staff. As we have mentioned previously, Safe Havens International Analysts have typically been able to conduct successful passive, simulated abductions of students for more than 90% of attempts during assessment projects where our clients request we do so. Passive simulated abductions involve attempts by our analysts to breach the security of a school facility and to persuade students to take us on a tour of their school using a ruse. These simulations are carefully planned, conducted and coordinated so they do not cause alarm. Our analysts use similar approaches to those that have been utilized by actual aggressors but we never use any form of threats, coercion or touch a child.
These simulations have proven to be extremely effective at helping to determine how real offenders have been able to breach access control systems, sign in policies and other preventive measures so gaps can be closed to reduce risk
Often, seemingly effective school security measures fail to stop an aggressor because staff are not properly trained on why specific aspects of visitor screening and access control measures are important. For example, we have found in our school safety assessments that we can typically carry out a simulation successfully when even 10-20% of school staff members are not wearing photo identification cards. This is because staff are often reluctant to challenge a visitor without a visitor badge when they are used to seeing people in the building without an identification card.
Unfortunately, these types of school safety incidents can take place in the best of schools in the nicest communities because aggressors will seek victims where they feel security measures are lax. Improving school access control, student supervision, visitor screening and other prevention measures can reduce the risks of danger to students and staff from intruders at schools.
New Draft Definition for Cyberbullying
We are working on a new free school safety resource and we have developed a first draft definition for cyberbullying. We welcome any feedback on this definition before we finalize it.
Cyberbullying involves the use of information technologies to intentionally communicate information that will have a harmful effect on others when the communications are either repeated or are conducted in a manner that will cause the information to be disseminated or received repeatedly. Cyberbullying can involve posting of embarrassing photographs, audio recordings or video recordings, written communications or other forms of electronic communications. Cyberbullying can involve the dissemination of harmful, threatening or embarrassing information via social media, text messaging, websites, blogs and other forms of technology-based communications methods.
Amish Grace – How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy is a Powerful Read on the Deadly Nichol Mines School Shooting
While presenting for a college in Pennsylvania a couple of years back, I was given a copy of the book Amish Grace – How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy by Donald, b. Kraybill, Steven M. Nolt and David L. Weaver - Zercher. This excellent book explains why and how the Amish community moved quickly to forgive the killer after one of our nation’s most horrific school shootings.
The authors provide a powerful insight into Amish culture and how central the theme of forgiveness is to it. This well-written book helps the reader understand how people could be so quick to not only forgive the killer of innocent school children but to reach out and provide comfort to his widow as well. This is an excellent read for the school safety professional.
Frederick Flowers, 66-year-old School bus Driver Arrested for Driving While Intoxicated after Crashing Bus into Residence in Long Island
Police have charged a 66 year-old school bus driver in New York with aggravated driving while intoxicated after he crashed his school bus into a house while he was driving his route in Long Island. According to police, Frederick Flowers was injured and had to be transported by medical evacuation helicopter to the Nassau University Medical Center.
Police report that there were five students on the bus at the time of the crash but that none of the children were injured.
Flowers faces numerous additional charges.
Free School Safety Video Podcast – Why is it Important to Plan for Crisis Events During School Athletic Events?
In this latest video in the Ask Safe Havens series, Russell Bentley explores key reasons for taking the time to plan for crisis events at school athletic activities. Russell has extensive experience in coordinating security and emergency preparedness measures for athletic events. Why is it Important to plan for crisis events at School Athletic Events? is a concise and informational video on this important topic.
New Bullying Definition
We are working on a new free resource for school safety practitioners. One task we have is to develop new definitions for school safety terms. I would welcome any feedback on this rough draft definition for bullying.
Bullying involves intentional and either repeated behaviors or those behaviors that make the victim feel that they are likely to be repeated which have a harmful affect on the target of the actions. Bullying can involve physical abusive behavior, verbal behaviors or gestures or facial expressions designed to intimidate, harass or embarrass. Bullying can also involve a variety of forms of exclusion. Bullying can occur in live face to face form, spreading of rumors or malicious statements, writings as well as by use of technological means such as communications via social media, text messaging, websites, blogs and other electronic methods of communications commonly referred to as cyberbullying. See also the definition for cyberbullying.
Free School Safety Video Podcast Featuring Dr. Sonayia Shepherd- How Can School Staff Improve their Ability to Respond During a Crisis?
This one minute video podcast features Dr. Sonayia Shepherd. Dr. Shepherd draws on her experience responding to catastrophic events in many countries in her Ask Safe Havens video podcasts. This free school safety training video podcast is titled How Can School Staff Improve their Ability to Respond During a Crisis? is designed to serve as a free staff development tool for school crisis team personnel.
The secondary or “Fall” Severe Weather Season – Guest blog by Jacob Terrell
Normally during the latter part of autumn people spend their time thinking about the holidays and Christmas shopping. For schools it means final exams, Thanksgiving/Christmas vacation, elementary school holiday parties, and Christmas play’s from the drama department; but what about severe weather? Many people might answer that question with a response such as “Severe weather, this time of year? It’s the season for holidays, not tornadoes.” However the truth is late October through early to mid-December is considered the secondary tornado season for the United States.
Many areas that are particularly prone to severe weather usually do not have to worry about this secondary peak in tornado activity, including areas like the high plains, upper Midwest, and the northern parries; but statistics prove that the secondary season, especially in November can be rather active for severe weather in areas such as the mid-south, Tennessee valley, southern plains, mid-Atlantic states, and portions of the Ohio valley. As the transition from summer to winter takes place in late fall, winds along the jet stream can increase in strength. Combine that with rich moisture, instability and good upper air dynamics, it doesn’t take much to get a tornado outbreak going. This time of year can be hectic for schools but regardless it is also a time where just like spring, schools administrators need to heighten their level of alert.
Here is some alarming information about the fall tornado season: the second most active month for tornadoes in Mississippi is November. Also many weather experts would likely agree that at least sometimes the fall tornado season yields tornado outbreaks that are more deadly and destructive than the traditional spring season. For example, the Veterans Day 2002 November tornado outbreak killed 36 people in 5 different states and has gone down in the record books as one of the largest severe weather events in United States history.
Unlike spring, tornado activity is much more sporadic in the fall season. Occasionally, there is even little to no severe weather during the fall season. However, with all this in mind as November approaches, school administrators should review tornado procedures, and/or the severe weather section of the school’s emergency operations plan. A tornado drill might also be a good idea.
A recent high school graduate, Jacob Terrell is an intern with Safe Havens International. Jacob has completed multiple FEMA online courses relating to school safety is a Skywarn severe weather spotter. Jacob hopes to pursue a career in the field of school safety. During his internship, Jacob has been conducting research on active shooter situations, school tornado preparedness, school fire prevention and all-hazards school crisis planning. While a student, Jacob has experienced two school fires and now desires to make schools safer for students and staff. Jacob welcomes reader questions, comments or concerns at firstname.lastname@example.org
China Inc. by Ted Fishman Helps us Understand Many of the Dramatic Changes in Society
I read China Inc. How the Rise of the Next Superpower Challenges America and the World while flying to Asia for the first time. I am thankful that I read the book before I arrived in Vietnam because it helped me prepare for things I would see there that would have been even more of a shock had I not had any insight into the dramatic changes occurring in the world.
Eight years and many trips to Asia later, I think the book is still quite relevant for those who want to understand the massive changes that are still taking place in Asia and how they affect our country and our educational system. These changes have many implications for campus safety as well, particularly the pervasive desire among so many people from China, Vietnam and other parts of Asia to attend American universities due to their excellent reputations.
The world is still changing at a remarkable speed and the impact on our educational system is nothing short of profound.
Improving Student Supervision – A Key to Safer Schools
Whether we are evaluating school safety, climate and culture for client school districts and non-public schools, making custom school safety training videos or serving as a school safety expert witness, one of the most common and critical issues in school safety today is student supervision. Improving student supervision is usually very inexpensive, easy to accomplish and can significantly improve student safety. The specific techniques for improving student supervision are often simple and can be easily adapted to fit the unique environment of a school without much difficulty.
We have been providing structured training on techniques for improving student supervision for a number of years now and have found that most educators have never had any formal training on the topic in the past. We have also found them to be very receptive to the concepts since they usually involve relatively easy to implement adjustments to what teachers are already doing.
Student supervision can help to reduce the risk of a variety of hazards for students and staff including:
- Weapons assaults
- Sexual assault
- Abduction of students
- Substance abuse
- Medical emergencies
Focusing on student supervision can help reduce the chances of serious injury and death to students and staff while improving school climate and the connection between schools and the students they serve.
New Free School Safety Video Podcast – What are some of the Most Important Considerations for Athletic Event Emergency Preparedness?
Our video crew just uploaded a new school safety video podcast from the Ask Safe Havens Series. This video features Russell Bentley and addresses several key considerations for school athletic event crisis planning. Russell has extensive experience in providing security and developing emergency preparedness plans for a wide range of school athletic events.
Student Dies from Apparent Self-Inflicted Gunshot Wound at Stillwater, Oklahoma Middle School
A student has died from what appears to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound at Stillwater Junior High School in Stillwater, Oklahoma this morning. According to Sherry Fletcher, a representative of the city of Stillwater, no other injuries have been reported and the district is reuniting students with their families at an off campus site. There have been a number of accidental shootings as well as suicides on school campuses in Georgia, Texas, Utah, Tennessee and a number of other states over the past several decades.
This tragic incident underscores the need for effective prevention and mitigation strategies, crisis plans, detailed off-site family reunification plans and robust mental health recovery plans for schools and school systems.
Connecting Staff, Students, Parents and the Place of School
One of the things that is very striking when working with a wide variety of schools and school districts in different communities is the variation between the levels of connectivity between students, staff, parents and individual schools and districts. While school staff typically work diligently to achieve a high degree of connectivity and positive relationships between people, there are often wide variances between how effectively this is done. Though there are clearly differences in community factors that can create significant and widely varying challenges for school officials, we have seen some truly impressive examples of positive school climate and connectivity in schools that face incredible challenges.
Fortunately, there are many ways to foster a positive school climate with a high degree of connectivity. We are also fortunate that there are many excellent free resources to help school officials in this area. One commonality that can often be observed when this type of environment has been achieved is a sense of teamwork. When teachers, support staff as well as the members of the administrative team are all on the same page and working in the same direction, a healthy school climate and culture is more likely to result.
Though creating this type of climate in a school is easier said than done, it is possible and worthwhile to do so.
Ron Clark’s Book The Essential 55 is an Awesome Book for Educators
Though I am not an educator by profession, I do try to learn what I can about the teachers we are trying to make safer through our center’s work. I have had several clients tell me that Ron Clark was an excellent presenter and that his book The Essential 55 An Award-Winning Educator’s Rules for Discovering the Successful Student in Every Child was superb. When I read the book, I found that I had not been misled. As much of what Mr. Clark talks about in his book has a direct bearing on school climate which in turn correlates closely to school safety and violence prevention, I recommend this book to anyone who works in the field of K12 school safety.
School and Public Safety Officials Encounter Increased Numbers of Cyber Threats Relating to School Violence
As a recent case in Washington State illustrates, there are individuals who will communicate threats via electronic means. Unfortunately, this case is not unique as we have been seeing this type of situation play out for more than a decade. Compounding the impact of the vast majority of the threats which are not actual attack warnings are the few but horrific instances where someone has made statements of great concern prior to an actual attack.
A solid relationship with law enforcement officials can provide a good foundation for schools to more effectively address these challenging situations. Local law enforcement agencies that do not have the resources to investigate cybercrimes can obtain valuable assistance from state and federal agencies that have these types of resources. A number of arrests have been made when local, state and/or federal agencies work to assist public and non-public schools that are the target of these malicious and sometimes disturbing threats.
Tennessee School Bus Crash Demonstrates the Need for Comprehensive Emergency Preparedness Plans and training in the National Incident Management Syste
Twenty-five students from the Washington County, Tennessee School District have been transported to hospitals following a school bus crash. Students from David Crocket High school were injured yesterday afternoon when some of the bus wheels went off of the edge of the road causing a crash. The school bus driver was also transported to the hospital due to concerns about chest pains she was experiencing.
While American school bus drivers have a superb safety record in relation to other forms of transport for students, incidents where large numbers of students are injured in a crash do sometimes occur. In addition to good training and policies to help prevent crashes, school transportation officials should develop comprehensive crisis plans that can address these types of challenging incidents. This type of incident also demonstrates the importance of training in the National Incident Management System (the NIMS) for school and pupil transportation employees.
Free Video Podcast on Targeted Acts of Violence in Schools Clarifies “Active Shooter” Incidents
Safe Havens Video has posted a free school safety video podcast that explains what a targeted act of violence in schools is. Often referred to as active shooter situations, these deadly but rare acts of violence have dominated the media coverage of school safety and have dramatically shaped the way school and public safety officials think about school weapons violence.
Keeping these terrible incidents in context with far more common types of school weapons assaults is important to help maintain appropriate balance in prevention and emergency preparedness efforts.
Unreliable Data can Produce Poor Decisions
I recently finished an interesting revisionist military history book Deathride – Hitler VS Stalin: The Eastern Front, 1941-1945 by Loyola University professor John Mosier. Squarely confronting the traditional view of this conflict, Dr. Mosier conducted extensive research of both Soviet and German documents to help him evaluate the chain of events that led up to the defeat of the German army in World War II. In his book, Dr. Mosier asserts with some pretty good evidence that one major problem for the Soviet military during the war was the culture in the Soviet Union that drove officers and government officials to provide false reports because those who provided accurate reports which included bad news were usually punished.
This created a situation where Stalin did not have any real idea of what the situation was on the ground. For example, Dr. Mosier points out that the production numbers for Soviet tanks were dramatically over inflated because officials who were in charge of tank production dared not to admit that they had not met the unrealistic production quotas set forth for them.
According to Dr. Mosier, though this was only was but one of many serious blunders that led to the deaths of millions of Soviet troops and civilians, the disconnect between the reality in the field and the ”numbers” made the tactical and strategic approaches ineffectual to a deadly extent.
Though this is a far more grievous situation in a war, the same principal applies in other areas such as criminal justice, law enforcement, mental health and education. If decision makers do not have accurate data to reflect what is happening in their schools and communities, progress or lack thereof cannot be accurately measured. This in turn makes it less likely that effective strategies will be employed to address opportunities for improvement.
One of the most common examples involves failures to accurately report, track and analyze data relating to school safety, crime and discipline. If reporting approaches place pressure on school administrators, victims, school employees and public safety officials, then the number of reported incidents will drop while the actual incident rate can rise.
Taking care that policies and practices do not interfere with easy reporting and accurate tabulation of data is needed to make schools safer and more effective learning environments.
Bomb Threat Protocols for Schools Should Provide a Range of Options to Reduce Disruption as well as the Risk of Mass Casualty Loss of Life
A series of recent bomb threats at universities across the nation illustrates how disruptive bomb threats can be. While it is tempting to think that it is safer to automatically evacuate a facility when a bomb threat is received, there are times where a bomb threat is used to trigger an evacuation so building occupants are more exposed. In other words, an aggressor can call in a bomb threat so that evacuees will be brought to the location of an explosives device. This is not a strictly hypothetical situation as a Georgia middle school student was arrested for planning exactly this type of attack many years ago and there have been incidents where this tactic has been successfully utilized elsewhere.
A number of years ago, we released a white paper on this topic that was written for the Indiana Department of Education School Safety Specialist’s Academy. We are planning to update this paper later this year and it will be announced automatically to people who have signed up for our free electronic periodical the Safety Net.
Big Walnut Schools in Ohio Work to Prevent Bullying
I have not had much time to blog due to my travel schedule. I had the honor of working with folks from the Big Walnut School District in Sunbury Ohio for a couple of days. Their town is beautiful, the weather was picture perfect and the central office administrators, building administrators, teachers, school bus drivers and other support staff who attended the presentations were awesome folks. The focus of the site visits and presentations was to help the district enhance their efforts to prevent bullying while improving school climate and culture. The interaction by participants in the sessions, as well as the one-on-one discussions at breaks, indicated a high degree of connectivity between staff and students in the district. Hopefully, the positive discussions we had will help build on this solid foundation even more. I have had the good fortune to keynote a number of statewide school safety conferences and to work with some outstanding districts in Ohio and thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to do so again this week.
A Helpful Book for School Crisis Planning – Sharpening the Warrior’s Edge – The Psychology and Science of Training
Bruce Siddle has performed considerable research in the field of human factors and is an expert on how the human mind and body function under life and death stress. In Sharpening the Warrior’s Edge – The Psychology of Science and Training, Siddle does a great job of explaining how the heart rate affects our ability to think and act under crisis conditions. This book is a very helpful read for those who are interested in advanced concepts of school emergency preparedness.
Texas Schools Move Forward to Improve student Safety with Student Identification Tracking Devices in Spite of Protests of a Few
School officials frequently seek ways to improve school safety, security and crisis preparedness through improved technologies. Two Texas school districts have implemented student identification cards that include radio frequency identification microchips which can be tracked by electronic readers located in various parts of the school building. The Northside Independent School District and Springs School District have both adopted these types of systems which are designed to help them track students for improved security, safety,and accountability for students during a crisis. The systems are also designed to help school officials reduce truancy which can in turn help to reduce the dropout rate and improve test scores.
As with many efforts to enhance school safety through modern technology, there are people and organizations that are critical of these efforts. The complaints in these instances have apparently centered around student privacy and concerns with hacking. School officials have countered that the reading devices only work on campus and that personal information cannot be accessed by hacking the cards. Similar criticisms have been an issue for other technologies such as the use of school security cameras, metal detectors and security X-ray devices in the past.
In the Northside IDS, school officials say the project will cost a little more than a quarter of a million dollars a year but is expected to increase revenues to the district by about $2 million due to improved daily attendance. If these estimates are correct, this appears to be an excellent way to improve student safety while increasing funding for the students. With the added benefits of reducing the risk of victimization to truant students and enhancing graduation rates, this may be a very logical approach.
Media reports we reviewed seem to indicate that most parents approve of the technology and Pascual Gonzalez who is a spokesman for the Northside Independent School District told reporters that only one parent has complained about the new approach. Concerns have been expressed by civil liberties groups including the ACLU and privacy advocates predict that districts utilizing the new technologies will be hit with protests and litigation though this has apparently not taken place in the Spring ISD which implemented similar technology five years ago. I presented for the Spring ISD many years ago and they are one of the most innovative districts I have worked with in their intelligent utilization of school security technology.
Free School Safety Video Podcast – Lockdown Options
Safe Havens Video has posted another free school safety video podcast focused on school lockdowns. This podcast discusses why school officials may wish to have two lockdown options, one for dire emergencies and another for more common situations that can escalate into dire emergencies if they are not contained. The Ask Safe Havens Video series is designed to answer school safety questions that our analysts commonly recieve.
Free Fact Sheet on Bullying From the Centers for Disease Control
The CDC has a free fact sheet that provides information on bullying. This free resource may be helpful to educators, parents, students and others who are concerned about bullying prevention.
Our Thoughts and Prayers go out to those who lost Loved Ones on September 11, 2001
Our thoughts and our prayers go out to those who lost loved ones on September 11, 2001.
Free Ask Safe Havens Video Podcast – What is a Targeted Act of Violence?
This free video podcast can be utilized for school safety training sessions with school and public safety employees. People commonly make statements about targeted acts of school violence as general statements about school shootings and other weapons assaults. As targeted acts of violence, also commonly referred to by many people as active shooter situations, are an extremely rare but deadly type of event, it is critical to recognize that they only represent a tiny percentage of all school weapons attacks.
This series of free school safety training videos covers various school safety experts addressing a range of topics.
The Gift of Fear by Gavin Debecker Contains Concepts that can Help us Better Train School Employees to Spot Dangerous People
The classic bestseller by Gavin DeBecker The Gift of Fear and Other Survival Signals That Protect us From Violence focuses on the inherent ability that people have to notice the subtle cues that people and situations can be dangerous. While we often focus on purchasing high-tech equipment to help make our schools safer, few school officials receive much training in current concepts relating to how we can be better enabled to use our natural ability to spot danger by context of behaviors.
We have had excellent responses in our training of school personnel on using concepts like pattern matching and recognition which are powerful tools to help people spot danger in time to react effectively. DeBecker’s landmark book came out many years ago but is still a very timely text for those campus safety officials who want to better understand how the human mind can be more effectively primed to draw on its inherent strengths and capabilities to detect potential violent people on campus.
Another Free Resource on School Safety Design from the American Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities
The American Clearinghouse on Educational Facilities is funded by the United States Department of Education to provide resources for K12 and higher education facilities design. Last year, I recorded some audio and video podcasts for the clearinghouse. The podcast Designing Safer and More Effective Schools incorporates concepts that I use when presenting on safe school design for architects, schools, and public safety officials. Design concepts such as crime prevention through environmental design – CPTED can improve school safety while also reducing construction costs.
This free podcast is just one of the many free resources offered by the ACEF.
This Free Ask Safe Havens Video Podcast Focuses on Ways Schools can Utilize Social Media
The free one minute video features Chris Dorn and is focused on ways that schools can harness current and emerging social media to improve communications, connectivity and safety. While cyber bullying and other situations where people misuse social media are significant concerns, we should not overlook the many positive applications of social media for schools.
New Jersey Educator With Impressive Reputation Accused of Molesting Student
Erica DePalo, 33 was recognized as one of the state’s best teachers in 2011. But earlier this week, DePalo was arrested for a series of charges relating to the sexual victimization of a 15-year-old student. Depalo, who taught at West Orange High School, has been removed from the classroom. The accused teacher has not been convicted of any offense and we do not assume the guilt of school staff members who have not yet been convicted. We have seen many regrettable instances where prominent school officials and teachers who have been recognized for excellence in teaching have been arrested and convicted of sexually inappropriate conduct involving students. This sad reality hurts the many educators who do not engage in this type of conduct.
Proper pre-employment screening clearly established and enforced rules regulating interaction between staff. Other measures should be in place to help identify candidates that are not suitable for work with children and to more quickly identify school staff who are attempting to sexually exploit students who have been hired in spite of screening measures.
Students and Staff in Tuscaloosa, Alabama Taught to Attack an Active Shooter as a Last Resort
According to a report by the Tuscaloosa News, school officials and students in Tuscaloosa, Alabama have adopted the highly controversial approach of attacking active shooters as a last resort option. A slowly increasing number of school organizations are adopting this approach over the more traditional approach of teaching staff and students to adapt based on the situation at hand if a person with a weapon enters a room and begins attacking others. Our paper Fight, Flight or Lockdown – Teaching Students and Staff to Attack Active Shooters Could Result in Reduced Casualties or Needless Deaths outlines some of the more significant risks and benefits of this approach.
The paper also outlines how there have already been incidents where active shooters were stopped by staff and students and how there have also been injuries in deaths when this approach was attempted. The paper was the result of more than a year and a half of research and encourages additional discussion on this highly controversial and potentially high liability concept. Steve Satterly did a great job in helping to research and write on this important topic.
Ask Safe Havens Are There Ways to Prevent School Shootings?
We have posted a short video podcast in the Ask Safe Havens series. The topic for this podcast is the prevention of school weapons assaults. This free series of school safety video podcasts can serve as a helpful free staff development resource.
Jane’s Crisis Communications Handbook is a Helpful Reference for School Safety Personnel who Interact with the Media After Emergency Situations
Jane’s is without question the most detail oriented publisher I have ever worked with. When they selected me to head up their school safety consulting projects, my manager told me bluntly that if I was ever publically wrong – once – I would be fired. He explained that the company aggressively protects its stellar reputation for absolute accuracy. This helps to explain how a major publisher can still sell books that cost as much as $2,500 each. It also puts immense pressure on authors for Jane’s to be very accurate. The extensive peer review and editing process used by Jane’s also creates increased accuracy and reliability.
Jane’s is also known for a series of compact books such as the Jane’s Crisis Communications Handbook. This book is a pocket-sized guide to help public information officers, public safety officials and others who must interact with the media under crisis conditions. Like other Jane’s books I have read, I found this book to be carefully written and helpful in my work in the school safety field.
100-Year-Old Man Hits 11 with car at Los Angeles Elementary School
100-Year-Old Preston Carter apparently put his car in reverse and struck 11 victims, nine of them children Thursday. Four students were listed as in critical condition when they arrived at the hospital but will likely survive according to local fire officials. The victims were apparently standing on a sidewalk outside a Los Angeles elementary school when the accident occurred.
Students have been struck by vehicles in similar situations at schools around the country. I recently conducted a forensic evaluation as an expert witness on a case where a student at a private school was struck by a car that was accidently put in reverse by the grandmother of a student at the school. The victim’s leg was cut off at the hip when she was pinned to a cement column by the car.
The potential for these types of tragic accidents should be considered by school officials. Qualified consulting firms that specialize in traffic engineering can conduct paid assessments for schools and school districts. Traffic officers from local and state law enforcement agencies can sometimes be a valuable free resource in helping school officials who want to re-visit the risk of these types of accidents.
Waukegan Illinois Public Schools Make Great use of their REMS Project Grant
We were pleased to be selected to work on the Readiness and Emergency Schools grant for Waukegan Public Schools in Illinois. The district accomplished a great deal for the size of their grant including:
-Training for several thousand staff members
-Schools safety, security and emergency preparedness assessments for all schools
-Developing an internal team that was trained to conduct annual school safety, security and emergency preparedness assessments
-Completing a number of custom school safety training videos and web courses
-Completely new emergency plan components for building administrators, teachers, custodians, school bus drivers, front office staff and a new after-hours emergency chart
-A series of tabletop, functional and full-scale exercises
This district accomplished a great deal with its REMS grant and we were proud to be able to work with their dedicated planning team.
Free Video Podcast on the Importance of School Safety Assessments
In this edition of Ask Safe Havens, we outline some of the benefits of conducting school safety, security, climate, culture and emergency preparedness assessments. School safety assessments can be a valuable school improvement tool in addition to a great way to make schools safer.
Normal Accidents – Living with High-Risk Technologies Provides Some Interesting Insights about Preventing Disasters in Complex Organizations
Normal Accidents – Living with High-Risk Technologies by Charles Perrow provides some helpful insights on how high-tech disasters occur that can be of value to school safety professionals. The book details how failures occur in complex environments such as nuclear power plants, chemical production facilities and other sites where life safety is among the top concerns. The author details how in spite of numerous layers of safety strategies, accidents and near misses still occur with some regularity.
The points made by Charles Perrow offer a number of insights to large school systems and universities which can be prone to somewhat similar safety failures. Though a highly technical book focused on extremely complex systems, it will prove a worthwhile read to those who are heavily involved with school safety such as school safety and security directors, campus police chiefs, school safety expert witnesses, state and federal school safety officials and others who are deeply into the topic of school safety.
Free School Safety Video Podcast Focuses on the Importance of Student Supervision
Safe Havens has done considerable work in the area of helping school officials evaluate and improve student supervision. Improving student supervision is one of the most impactful things that educators can do to enhance school safety and it is also one of the least expensive approaches. Improvements in student supervision help to reduce the risk of many different types of school safety incidents including bullying, medical emergencies, fights, weapons assaults, sexual assaults and abductions of students.
Safe Havens was the first organization to offer advanced training in ways to improve student supervision to enhance school safety, security and emergency preparedness.
Like the other videos in the Ask Safe Havens series, this concise video can be a helpful staff development tool.
Chris Dorn Presents to School Transportation Personnel in California
Chris Dorn presented at the CASTO Chapter 18 school transportation workshop in Eureka, California today. Chris performed his live concealed weapons demonstration and covered topics including visual weapons screening, pattern matching and recognition, crisiscommunications and other topics relating to school bus security and emergency preparedness.
Chris has keynoted many state school transportation conferences and has presented multiple times at the National Association of Pupil Transportation and School Transportation News annual conferences.
Student Supervision is Often a Key Issue in School Safety Litigation
A lawsuit which included allegations that football players were not being properly supervised when high school student Blake Hunt was injured was recently settled for $8 million. The student is now paralyzed from the waist down from an injury that occurred while participating in a football scrimmage in Flushing, New York.
Effective student supervision can be a valuable tool to improve school safety. As improved school safety efforts can reduce the number of safety incidents that take place, it can be a powerful prevention tool for school officials. Improving student supervision is usually inexpensive and in many cases, is very easy to accomplish. Improving student supervision can also help to reduce exposure to civil liability.
Allegations of inadequate student supervision are frequently key issues in school safety lawsuits. Expert witnesses often try to determine whether supervision of students was appropriate or not when they conduct forensic evaluations of cases regardless of whether they have been retained by the defense or the plaintiff’s counsel. This means that proper documentation of efforts to maintain effective student supervision can also be important. As with many other aspects of school safety, efforts to properly document training and daily practices can also help to improve the efficiency of the efforts because it can improve communications.
Taking the time to improve student supervision, as well as to communicate and document the actions taken to do so, can have a positive impact on school safety, climate, and culture while reducing risk exposure.
Free School Safety Video Podcast on the Importance of Mental Simulation in Effective School Crisis Planning
The Safe Havens International Video crew has produced a free concise video podcast on the proven concept of mental simulation to help school employees practice and prepare for a wide range of school crisis situations. Mental simulation has been utilized by law enforcement, military, emergency medical personnel as well as in the commercial aviation industry as a tool to improve human performance under life and death conditions for decades. Safe Havens began offering training in mental simulation techniques to school personnel 8-10 years ago and released a training and evaluation toolkit – The First 30 Seconds for school based personnel earlier this year. Two months later, we released a companion set designed for school bus drivers and support personnel.
Mental simulation for school safety enhancements is a powerful concept that is based on extensive research that can improve safety and emergency preparedness.
School Violence Threat Management by Dr. Kris Mohandie is a Valuable Resource for Those who are Interested in Student Threat Assessment
The Indiana School Safety Specialists Academy issues School Violence Threat Management a Practical Guide for Educators, Law Enforcement, and Mental Health Professionals in the academies’ courses. I found this book to be very helpful even though I have been teaching student threat assessment since the mid 1990s. Dr. Mohandie brings a highly technical viewpoint to this proven process which will be especially helpful to mental health professionals who are tasked with helping to evaluate students who have made threats relating to school violence.
I feel that this is a solid book for the school safety professional.
Free School Safety Video Podcast – Ask Safe Havens – Why are School Safety Assessments so Important?
This segment of the Ask Safe Havens series addresses the value of regular school safety, security, climate, culture and emergency preparedness assessments. Assessments can help with concerns as diverse as bullying to worker’s compensation claims to acts of terrorism targeting schools.
Free Video Podcast – How School Safety, Security and Emergency Preparedness Affect School Climate, Culture and Academic Achievement
This video is part of the Ask Safe Havens series that was filmed, edited and produced by the Safe Havens International Video Unit. This series of school safety videos is designed as a free resource to school officials, community partners, parents and students. Safe Havens has more videos in this series in production and they will be released as they are completed.
Lawsuit against New Jersey School System for “Bizarre” Behavior of School Administrator Suggests that Attempts to cover-up school incidents can be Very Problematic
Fox News is reporting that a New Jersey school district settled a civil suit relating to alleged “bizarre” behavior of one of the system’s school administrators. In the suit, Vice Principal Theresa Brown was alleged to have forced a group of Hispanic students to eat on the floor of the cafeteria for ten school days at Charles Sumner Elementary School in Camden, New Jersey after a student accidentally spilled water on the floor. According to the Camden Courier Post Newspaper, the administrator first claimed that the students were told they must eat on the floor because the school did not have enough chairs in the cafeteria.
According to Fox News, a Hispanic teacher at the school was fired after he learned of the incident and encouraged the students to report the matter to the school district. The teacher was paid more than $70,000 when he settled a civil action against the district.
As in other fields where public trust is important, indications of a cover-up when complaints are levied against school officials can complicate situations that are already difficult. Proper investigation and documentation of incidents can help to clarify what has and has not taken place when allegations of this type are made. This can be even more critical when litigation relating to school safety incidents takes place.
Free Cyber Bullying Resources for Schools, Parents and Students
Stop Bullying Now is a free resource to help school officials, parents and students understand and address bullying issues including cyberbullying. Take a few minutes to visit the section of their website focused on cyberbullying if you have not already had a chance to do so.
A Good Read for Those Interested in Cultural Diversity and Societal Bullying – The Unwanted – A Memoir of Childhood by Kien Nguyen
I found “The Unwanted: A Memoir of Childhood” to a be an excellent book to help people learn about cultural diversity. I ran across the book by accident while at a bookstore looking for another title. Author Kien Nguyen chronicles his experiences growing up in Vietnam prior to, during and after the fall of the government of South Vietnam to the communists. The book describes how he was treated as a child of a Vietnamese mother and an American father. I have recommended this book to teachers who are looking for books that can help students walk in the shoes of someone else as they experience difficulties because they are different in some way.
Nguyen relates in graphic detail how terribly he was treated as a child once the government fell. Kien relates how his school teachers and other students were hostile to him because he was a multi-racial child and because his mother had been associated with an American service member. He details the cruelty of some people including members of his extended family, his attempt to flee the country and subsequent experience in a re-education camp before finally being allowed to come to the United States.
Having been to Vietnam many times and having visited Kien’s hometown of Nha Trang as well as being the father of an Amerasian son, this was a very personal book to me. Each time I take my son Vietnam I think of how well he is received there in contrast to the manner in which Kien was treated in the same country. Now that Vietnam is the number 15 trading partner for the United States and our military has increasingly been collaborating with the People’s Army of the Republic of Vietnam, the tone of the government about interaction with Americans has changed considerably. This book helps us to understand just how much the world has changed while helping us remember how vivid the memories of those who have experienced a very different situation can be.
This is an excellent book to help people understand how difficult the circumstances of many children are in other parts of the world.
New Topical Paper – Fight, Flight or Lockdown – Teaching Students and Staff to Attack Active Shooters could Result in Decreased Casualties or Needless Deaths
There has been considerable interest in teaching students and staff to attack active shooters as a last resort in recent years. In December of 2011, Steve Satterly and I began research on a paper designed to explore the benefits and the potential dangers of training school employees and students to attack an active shooter as a last resort option. The paper Fight, Flight or Lockdown - Teaching Students and Staff to Attack Active Shooters could Result in Decreased Casualties or Needless Deaths is now available at no cost on our website. This approach has been highly controversial with many veteran law enforcement officers and educators voicing opposing views on the practicality of this approach.
There are now a number of training videos depicting various tactics to attack a gunman with several of them being available for public viewing on the internet. Large numbers of people are now viewing these videos and these concepts have now been taught to children as young as kindergarten (in rare instances).
Proponents of the concept assert correctly that there have been some instances where victims have been killed and wounded when they remained relatively passive when they were confronted by an active shooter. They propose that by teaching people these concepts, a group of individuals can overpower a gunman. As the paper points out, there have already been cases where active shooters have been interrupted by civilians as far back as the late 1990’s. They feel that by training groups of staff and students on this approach, another option will be available to people who find themselves confronted by an active shooter in a classroom, cafeteria, auditorium or other setting.
Those who have expressed concern about this approach point out that some of the concepts being taught might be appropriate for one situation but could result in needless mass casualty losses in another type of situation. For example, one recent training video instructs viewers that they should always flee the building if they hear gunfire and have the opportunity to do so. As victims have been killed when attempting to do this in past events, this concern may have some validity. In addition, there is a concern that blanket recommendations of this type could prove deadly if numerous people attempt to flee the building at the same time. For example, if there are several hundred people on each floor of a building and a shooting occurs on the sixth floor, several hundred people could jam stairwells fleeing floors five, six and seven creating a mass of densely packed victims. Another concern is that people who leave relatively secure lockdown areas may be shot as they attempt to flee instead of simply locking down which may be a better option for their particular situation. It is important to remember that lockdowns have been successfully preventing serious injury and death in schools for more than forty years.
Steve and I worked for more than a year to review numerous campus shooting situations as well as the findings of more than 1,700 school crisis simulations with 500 different school employees from 15 different school districts. The paper also draws conclusions from seven different multiple victim school shootings in the U.S and Canada as well as many a number of other campus weapons assaults that did not involve active shooters.
The paper is designed to stimulate further dialogue on the topic rather than to condemn the idea that there are situations where victims should fight back when they are trapped by an active shooter. In addition to providing examples of cases where people have successfully stopped an active shooter incident, the paper raises a number of considerations that the authors feel have been overlooked as attempts to offer new options to help counter the dangers of active shooters.
Video on Designing Schools for Improved Emergency Preparedness for Special Needs Populations is Available at no cost Through the Federal Government
Safe Havens was selected to produce a free downloadable video relating to emergency preparedness considerations for special needs persons for the American Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities which is funded by the United Sates Department of Education. The video uses footage filmed and edited by Safe Havens International Video. This four minute video covers a number of significant issues for school safety considerations for students, staff and visitors with special needs.
The video is focused on school design features and is geared towards educators, school safety officials, architects and others who help design and build schools. This video is a valuable resource for people who are involved with new school construction and renovation projects.
Start of the New School Year a Good Opportunity to Revisit How Drills are Conducted
The new school year may afford opportunities for school and public safety officials to review the types of drills that are conducted and how they are run. For example, many schools still lack reverse evacuation drills which involve practicing getting students and staff back into the building if a danger exists in the area. The reverse evacuation protocol is needed for schools to be able to protect students from threats ranging from tornado, aggressive animals, hazardous materials incidents or dangerous people.
Another important aspect can involve providing opportunities for staff to practice making decisions about how they will communicate in the event of an emergency. For example, it is important for staff to have a good idea of whether they should call the front office or 911 in the event of an emergency. It is surprisingly common to see situations where the lead administrator in a school assumes that employees would call the office for an emergency but simulations with staff reveal that many employees would call 911 directly. This could easily result in the office not being aware of an incident until emergency responders begin arriving.
The start of a new school year is an excellent time to revisit school level drills. This is one of the most important school crisis preparedness strategies and an excellent way to enhance school safety.
Son of slain Sikh Temple president says his father was killed while trying to stop gunman with a butter knife
The son of Satwant Singh Kaleka who was killed during Sunday’s deadly shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin told reporters that FBI agents have advised him that his father was a hero who was shot and killed while attempting to stop Wade Michael Page with a butter knife. Kaleka told reporters that his father’s actions may have created a distraction which allowed several people to escape the area unharmed.
This aspect of the incident may have relevance to campus shootings as the concept of teaching school employees and in some cases, students to resist an active shooter with force as a last resort is currently a hotly debated topic. As is common in mass casualty acts of violence, we may not have confirmed details of this aspect of the incident for some time. Evaluating these types of reactions for different cases may help provide a more solid understanding of what techniques may and may not be practical for training people to survive major acts of violence such as Sunday’s tragedy.
In a soon to be published 5,000 word white paper, Steve Satterly and I discuss some of the pros and cons of this approach. The paper is the result of 18 months of research and will be available at no cost on the Safe Havens website later this week.
Shooting at Sikh Temple in Wisconsin Shows How Changes in the Training and Equipment of American Police Officers Can Make a Difference in Multiple Victim Shooting Incidents
At a press conference today, Oak Creek, Wisconsin Police Chief John Edwards stated that officers who had been trained and equipped with patrol rifles ended the deadly shooting spree at a Sikh temple. Chief Edwards stated in a press conference that officers challenged the suspect and demanded that he drop his firearm. When the suspect opened fire hitting two patrol cars with a handgun, an officer shot and killed Wade Michael Page with his tactical rifle.
American law enforcement agencies were largely slow to equip patrol officer with tactical rifles in contrast with police agencies in the U.K., Europe, the Middle East and many other regions of the world. For example, Police Officers in the U.K., Italy, Israel, Germany and many other countries have carried not only carbines but commonly carried fully automatic rifles, carbines and submachine guns for several decades. This type of training and equipment has helped to end active shooter situations in a number of other instances such as the deadly Red Lake Reservation school shooting in Minnesota where tribal police quickly engaged and wounded a former student who was armed with a police officer’s tactical shotgun and service pistol. The gunman then killed himself ending the deadly rampage.
Police are also reviewing how civilians are trained to respond to active shooter situations. There is considerable debate among school and law enforcement officials as to whether this approach will reduce danger, or could actually increase the number of casualties in some situations. Fox News is reporting that Satwant Kaleka, the president of the Sikh temple, may have attempted to attack the gunman during the shooting. Kaleka was killed in the attack. Police say that Wade Michael Page allegedly entered the temple and opened fire killing six victims before moving outside where he was shot and killed by responding police officers.
The FBI is investigating the possibility that the incident is an act of domestic terrorism which occurred in Oak Creek which is a suburb of Milwaukee. Page is reported to have killed five victims from the temple and wounded three more victims before he shot and seriously wounded the first police officer to arrive at the scene before another officer shot and killed him.
The media has also reported that at least one victim in the deadly movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado may have been shot and killed while attempting to stop the shooting by attacking the gunmen. As with many such cases, we may lack detailed and accurate information for some time in both of these cases while a thorough investigation is conducted.
Columbine by Dave Cullen is the Definitive Work on the Columbine High School Attack
Dave Cullen has done a superb job in researching and writing what is currently the definitive work on the tragic school shooting and bombing attack that stunned people from around the world. Columbine is a thoughtfully written and detailed account of events leading up to the attack, the attack itself and the aftermath of the tragedy. As Cullen points out, much of the information reported in the media then and still today is inaccurate. This excellent book is helpful for any school safety professional who wants to sort out rumor from fact regarding one of our nation’s deadliest school attacks.
Deadly Colorado Movie Theater Shooting Shows How Quickly Campus Organizations can Become Involved in Community Incidents
News agencies have been reporting that psychiatrist Dr. Lynne Fenton notified the University of Colorado threat assessment team that James Holmes might be dangerous and. Dr. Fenton has stated that she notified the universities’ Behavioral Evaluation and Threat Assessment Team prior to his dropping out of school’s neuroscience program. Some media coverage has mentioned this in a manner that frames the information presented in a context of whether university officials acted appropriately or not.
In mass casualty incidents such as major act of violence, it is not unusual for civil actions be filed against a wide array of entities who appear to have some connection to the incident. It would not be unusual for the University of Colorado to be named in litigation along with other entities such as the theater where the shooting took place.
While fear of being litigated should not be the primary reason why safety actions are or are not taken, it should be routinely considered when safety issues of any kind are addressed. A key point in this example is that threat assessment processes usually are and should be implemented in a manner to help identify potentially dangerous people and to help officials determine appropriate actions to prevent anyone from being harmed when possible. While no prevention measures are absolutely reliable, threat assessment processes have often proven to be effective at preventing major acts of violence.
I am not in any way suggesting that the university has mishandled this situation as the information available to the general public at this time is not adequate to make such judgments. However, it is clear that the actions of university officials will be carefully reviewed whether or not the university is litigated. Like any organization, the University of Colorado would clearly not wish to be found to be at fault in any way in such a horrific incident.
Naturally, no campus organization would wish to be viewed in such a light in such a horrific incident. More importantly, no campus official would want to learn that the organization they lead has played any role whatsoever in the death or serious injury of victims in a mass casualty incident. This should be a guiding thought when any campus safety measures are being considered. It is always easier to look at an event after the fact and see what actions might have prevented tragedy, it is much harder to do so before tragedy strikes and many risks of different types must be addressed.
This aspect of the deadly shooting in Aurora demonstrates just how quickly the past actions of campus officials can be placed in the national spotlight and under intense scrutiny. In the event of major investigations, fact-finding commissions and litigation, the scrutiny can be intensive. Investigators, government officials, representatives of the media, expert witnesses and attorneys typically carefully review the occurrences leading up to such tragedies in detail in an effort to understand what factors are relevant.
This case should remind campus officials that reasonable steps must not only be taken to prevent crisis situations, but that such efforts should be undertaken with a thoroughness level of care and with appropriate documentation to not only see that the right things are done, but that the organization can prove under intense scrutiny that they were done appropriately.
Signs of a Global Phenomenon – Chinese Teen’s Deadly Rampage Leaves Eight Dead and Five More Wounded
In spite of the death penalty for possession of firearms and ammunition and massive efforts by government officials to teach people to attack armed aggressors to stop such attacks, a 17-year-old name Li managed to kill eight people and wound another five victims with a knife in the town of Yongling.
This latest in a series of knife attacks brings the total number of people killed in targeted acts of violence in the People’s Republic of China to 28 people with nearly 60 wounded in the past twenty four months. Many other victims have been killed and wounded in a series of firearms and knife attacks as well as in attacks without weapons in Chinese schools over the past decade. Though these figures are alarming, it is important to keep in mind how large the nation’s population is when attempting to contrast these terrible incidents with other countries like the United States which has a much smaller population.
These incidents along with multiple victim stabbings and shootings in countries like Japan, Vietnam, Germany, Australia, Canada, England, France, Norway, Scotland and many other diverse countries do help to debunk the popular misperception that mass casualty weapons assaults are a uniquely American phenomenon.
Severe Weather Spotter Training – A Free and Simple Way to Save Lives
Guest Blog by Jacob Terrell, Safe Havens International Intern
So many times these days, school safety measures and equipment can be a financial burden on schools and school districts. There are however, a number of FREE resources available to help make our schools safer. One such opportunity available to school personnel is called “Skywarn Storm Spotter Training.” I became a Skywarn spotter about four years ago and feel that this has been a valuable experience.
Each year every National Weather Service or “NWS” office conducts a number of storm spotter training sessions for the counties/parishes in their forecast territory right around the time of the peak of severe weather activity for their region. A handful of NWS offices in the southern/southeast states also conduct some training sessions in the early-mid fall timeframe for the fall severe weather season.
School administrators and personnel who attend training sessions will learn about the fundamentals of severe thunderstorms, different types of severe weather, and cloud features that could signal a developing tornado. This could be an excellent opportunity to increase safety in our schools. Having school staff members trained on what to look for during severe weather can play a vital role in keeping students, staff, and other members of the community safe. For example, if there is no tornado warning in effect for the area of the school district, but a staff member returning from lunch who is a trained storm spotter happens to spot a thunderstorm with a rotating wall cloud that could spawn a tornado at any time, that staff member could provide a warning to school administrators and then report the observation to the National Weather Service.
By doing this, a staff member could not only possibly save the lives of hundreds of students, but would also provide severe weather conformation to general public, as well as aide the NWS office in the overall warning decision-making process. After all, Doppler radar can detect severe weather but unlike humans it cannot visually see severe weather situations in progress the way a trained spotter can.
Another way that having trained storm spotters on hand could prove beneficial is when a tornado watch is issued. By having certified storm spotters at a school who take up a position to look for indications of a developing tornado, precious minutes could be saved should a tornado develop in the area. This step can be taken not only for tornado watches but is a practical approach for severe weather watches related to thunderstorms as well since conditions for the formation of tornadoes can be increased at these times and other dangers such as large hail can be an issue. Care should be taken not to expose spotters to danger from lightning or high winds when this approach is utilized.
Storm spotter training is a free and excellent opportunity for school personnel; check with your local NWS office for more information on spotter training. There is no quiz required; however, you might want to consider bringing along a laptop to take notes with as the training covers a considerable amount of information to take in all at once.
There are other great resources out there for school officials concerned with severe weather. There is even an online training module for storm spotting. However, you must attend and complete a live training session in order to become officially certified as a storm spotter. Taking the time to have school employees certified as storm spotters could save lives.
About the author:
A recent high school graduate, Jacob Terrell is an intern with Safe Havens International. Jacob has completed multiple FEMA online courses relating to school safety and is a Skywarn severe weather spotter. Jacob hopes to pursue a career in the field of school safety. During his internship, Jacob has been conducting research on active shooter situations, school tornado preparedness, school fire prevention and all-hazards school crisis planning. While a student, Jacob experienced two school fires and desires to make schools safer for students and staff. Jacob welcomes reader questions, comments or concerns at email@example.com
Thankfully, Stupidity is not a Defense in Court – Former Teacher is Shocked after Being Arrested when he Notified Police that he Raped Two Girls Decades ago
According to St. Louis prosecutor Bob McCulloch , 67-year-old Donald Ingerson mistakenly thought that he could call the police and tell them in detail how he raped two girls many years ago without being prosecuted due to the statute of limitations. He was shocked to learn that the statute of limitations would not protect him in this case when he was arrested for his crimes. Ingerson, who is a retired school teacher from Missouri, now lives in Minnesota and is in jail with a $300,000 bond.
Many people make incorrect presumptions about laws relating to statutory limitations for prosecutions of criminal acts. For example, in some states, the statutory time limits do not begin to apply until and unless criminal justice officials know who committed a crime and have the ability to locate the suspect. In this instance, the statutory limitation only becomes active 30 years after the victim becomes an adult.
Fortunately, stupidity is not a defense in a court of law.
School Officials, Law Enforcement Officers and Mental Health Professionals have Averted Many Planned Acts of Aggression at our Nation’s Schools
The arrest of a California college professor who apparently had been formulating detailed plans to carry out a deadly attack at University High School in Irvine, California is possibly one example of this type of intervention. Police arrested Rainer Reinscheid after he was observed by police setting a fire on school property. The police had stepped up patrols after a series of fires on school property and at an administrator’s residence.
Reinscheid was apparently distraught after his 14-year-old son who was a student at the school committed suicide in March. When police checked messages on Reinscheid’s cell phone, they found detailed emails outlining how the man intended to use firearms to murder specific administrators at the school, kill and sexually assault students and burn down the school.
There have been many instances where students and non-students who had planned attacks on American schools have been caught before they could carry out their attacks. The Bibb County Public School System in Macon, Georgia has averted six planned school shootings, one planned school bombing and a planned double suicide using three techniques that have since become widespread in the United States, Canada and other countries – visual weapons screening, home searches and multidisciplinary threat assessment.
While the media tends to focus on incidents that take place, they often do not learn of heavily report instances where tragedy is averted through proactive measures. This should not surprise us as the American media delivers what the public prompts it to do. As business enterprises, media outlets respond to the measurement of ratings and deliver news in ways that are calculated to draw readers and viewers. As a consequence, important information about how we can better protect schools is often not given as much exposure as upsetting and tragic information.
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.
Liability Language – Campus Officials Should Choose thier Words with Care
Campus officials naturally want to reassure students and parents when safety incidents take place. While this may be a normal impulse, it can pose problems for the reputation of the organization and in some instances during litigation.
For example, it is very common to see school superintendents, headmasters of independent schools, university presidents and others make statements indicating that safety is the number one priority when it can be relatively easy for an attorney to shed doubt on the accuracy of these types of statements.
In one recent example, after a Kent State student who communicated a threat via Twitter was arrested, University President Lester A. Lefton publically stated “Our students, employees, and all those who come to campus should know that their safety is our top priority. Any threat to our campus community is taken seriously and immediately investigated.” If the university were litigated in the wake of some other safety incident, an attorney could ask the president under oath what percentage of the universities’ budget is dedicated to student safety. This type of public statement could open up entire lines of questioning and in some cases can be taken as a contract which could provide an organization to meet a higher standard of safety than is otherwise required by law. This situation could be much worse if, for example, there was an incident after a mistake was made and an allegation was made that a threat was not promptly or properly investigated.
Perhaps a more prudent approach is for campus officials to look at the basic meaning they want to convey and then thoughtfully develop language that sends the same basic message in a more accurate and demonstrable manner. School safety messages should ideally have a high degree of provability when scrutinized.
For example, in this example the following language would be much easier to prove “Our students, employees and all those who come to campus should know that their safety matters to Kent State, threats to our campus community are taken seriously”. In my seminars and when consulting with campus officials, I suggest they imagine being on the stand under oath and being asked to provide evidence to back up these types of statements. Sticking to assertions that could be reasonably supported will provide solid ground should members of the press or an expert witness and attorneys later have cause to carefully scrutinize these types of statements.
The solution to these concerns is usually relatively easy once campus officials understand how these types of statements may be evaluated. By looking at our words through this lens, more accurate, credible and defensible statements can still convey positive messages that provide proper context for discussions relating to campus safety.
Bullying at School by Dan Olweus is still a Helpful Book on Bullying Prevention
First published back in 1993, Bullying at School by Dan Olweus though somewhat dated, is still an informative read for anyone who wants to better understand bullying and how it can be prevented. While a few school officials and at least one school safety consultant claim that bullying is not really a significant problem, researchers like Olweus have provided us with numerous peer review studies that document the problem and the need for evidence-based approaches to reduce its impact.
After many years in the field, I still recommend this classic and ground-breaking book.
Compare but Contrast Safety Between Different Countries
What Messages are we Sending – Trash on the Floor
I can remember the first time I met Gregory Thomas. Greg and I were both speaking at a school safety summit in Atlanta in the late 1990’s and I was fortunate to be able to hear his presentation. At that time, he was in charge of safety and security for the New York City School District. Greg emphasized how important it was for school officials to maintain a clean building to help create a safer school environment. Greg observed that when he was working with a school in his massive district that was having safety and security problems, he often noted that the school was not as clean as schools in his district with lower incident rates.
Greg’s findings and assertions are not just his personal opinion, they are backed up by his extensive experience in the field and by the research of others. While school officials must do more than simply maintain a clean and eye appealing school to have a safer environment, any school that has noticeable trash on the grounds and floors has an opportunity to improve school safety, security, discipline, climate and culture.
Keep School Safety Risks in Perspective
I have been doing a number of media interviews relating to the deadly shooting at the movie theater in Colorado last week. Most of these have focused on whether or not the types of security measures that have proven to be at time successful and at other times not so successful in schools might be effective in the unique setting of a movie theater.
For example, as with high profile shootings in other settings, many people immediately want to know if metal detectors can protect us from such horrific attacks. As I partially outlined in an earlier blog, there are some supportive measures that are required for entry point metal detection that will make reliable screening an expensive and cumbersome protective measure that bear careful consideration.
At the same time, I am concerned that we will see the same deadly overemphasis on active shooter situations in the movie theater setting that we have seen in the K12 and higher education setting. Many people tend to become overly focused on this one unique, deadly but extremely rare type of incident to the exclusion of many other more common and also deadly acts of violence. For example, none of the more than 1,200 people who were shot this year in Chicago were victims of an active shooter.
There have been several shooting incidents in Macon, Georgia which is a city with a high crime rate near the small town where I now live. Each of these incidents were gang related situations which occurred in the parking areas rather than in the theater. Entry point metal detection would have done nothing to prevent these situations. While metal detectors can be and have been successfully deployed in a number of settings, there have also been a number of shootings at venues where they were improperly utilized. As with movie theaters, courthouses and other settings with unique concerns, schools require security and emergency preparedness approaches that fit with their unique requirements.
Keeping Mass Casualty Attacks in Perspective – The Tragedy in Aurora Colorado in Relation to Other Mass Casualty Schootings Around the World
Horrific, brutal, cold, heartless, calculated acts of a dangerously mentally ill man. When trying to come up with words to describe the lethal and ruthless attack allegedly carried out at the midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises” at a movie theater by James Holmes in Aurora, Colorado on Friday, these are the types of words that come to our minds.
Law enforcement officials in Aurora report that the killer carefully planned the brutal killing spree with “calculation and deliberation”. While there are many differences in his attack methodology, there are also some stunning similarities to an attack on a Bath, Michigan school by a school board member which left more than three times as many dead in 1927. Both attacks were planned over a long time span with the Bath attack having a planning timeline of about two years, both involved individuals that were apparently dangerously mentally ill, calculating and ruthless in their efforts to kill large numbers of innocent victims to fit with a twisted goal and to make a very public statement. Though the majority of the deaths and injuries in the 1927 attack were the result of a massive explosion in the school followed by a secondary device transported to the incident scene and detonated in the killer’s truck, both involved mass casualties through the use of weapons.
Though we often think of the mass shooting rampage as a modern phenomenon that started with a series of school shootings in the late 1990s, we can track such killings as far back as the 1700’s when a group of native Americans who were upset about a broken treaty carried out an attack on a one room school house in Pennsylvania with flintlock rifles and hatchets. Though they have always been and still are statistically rare events, cases from across the Unites States, Canada, Europe, Asia, Australia demonstrate these types of events occur globally.
On December 6, 1989, another highly intelligent and educated but emotionally troubled man carried out a brutal attack at a university in Montreal, Canada. Student Marc Lepine and murdered 13 women and wounded 13 other victims before killing himself.
While proponents of gun control have been quick to jump to blame lax gun laws in the United States, an examination of the many shootings in countries with varying levels of gun control and dramatically different sized crime rates and sizes of populations indicates that this may be an oversimplification of a global issue with multiple victim shootings occurring even in totalitarian countries with the most draconian gun laws.
We have seen case after case of these types of attacks across Europe and Latin America, such as a tragic school shooting that left 13 dead and 12 more wounded in a school in 2011 in Rio de Janeiro Brazil and a shooting at a school in Germany that left 18 dead several years ago. In an event even more lethal than last week’s shooting in Colorado, a violent extremist murdered 67 Norwegians on Utoya Island rocking the normally peaceful country.
Even countries where a person caught with a gun or a single round of ammunition has virtually no civil rights and faces swiftly applied death penalties have had mass casualty attacks with firearms and other weapons. For example, there have been numerous mass casualty attacks in schools in the People’s Republic of China such as the deadly and brutal attack on twenty-eight helpless young children and three adults by a knife wielding man at a nursery school in Northern China, the third such attack in one month. These types of countries with total prohibition on civilian firearms ownership combined with torture as a common practice by investigating police and the death penalty have not been able to stop mass shootings raise serious questions about the value of gun control legislation in stopping such attacks in a free society.
One thing many communities and organizations have gotten better at over the course of hundreds of violent mass casualty events around the world is helping to heal survivors and their loved ones. There are a number of organizations that offer excellent training and support for mass casualty events including but not limited to the American Red Cross, The International Critical Incident Stress Foundation (ICISF), the National Organization for Victim’s Assistance (NOVA) and the National Association for School Psychologists (NASP).
The increased levels of training and support from these organizations has often resulted in improved efforts to promote support, healing and understanding in the wake of tragic incidents such as this latest mass casualty shooting. With 12 dead and 58 more people wounded the need for this type of support is enormous. The citizens of Aurora, Colorado appear to be making every effort to try to heal the survivors, the loved ones of those who lost their lives in this horrific attack, and their community. The support from around the nation and abroad is also part of a pattern that shows how good can come from so many when the acts of a violent person seek to destroy what is precious to us all.
This horrific incident will motivate even more people to act and try to find improved ways to prevent, prepare for, respond to and recover from mass casualty shootings. As pointed out in previous blogs, there are seemingly simple solutions that may not be as easy to implement as they appear at first glance as well as relatively easy techniques that have saved lives in past attempts by perpetrators who carry out multiple victim shootings. Focusing on concepts that have demonstrated success might be more effective than emphasizing what we hope may have success.
Terrible Shooting at Century 16 Movie Theater in Aurora Colorado Will Offer Valuable Lessons for Increasing Survivability in Catastrophic Campus Crisis Situations Such as Active Shooter incidents, Terrorist Attacks, Tornadoes and Fires
While a community tries to cope with an almost incomprehensible act of aggression where the lives of many innocent people have been shattered by an unstable individual, others are already at work attempting to learn ways to reduce the loss of human life in future tragedies.
The sheer pain and suffering from yesterday’s horrific attack in Aurora, Colorado was conveyed eloquently by Colorado’s Governor and by Aurora Police Chief Dan Oats at a press conference. It is truly a reminder of how wonderful people can be to see the tremendous outpouring of sympathy, empathy and support for the victims and their families of this tragedy by people from all across America and distant parts of the world. The current tally of 12 victims killed and another 58 wounded is painful to even hear.
Even after meeting hundreds of people who have lost a loved one during an act of violence, I cannot begin to comprehend the terrible loss these fine people and their wonderful community are feeling. While keynoting a session at Johnson and Wales University in nearby Denver, I met with a group of parents and school officials who lost children in two different Colorado school attacks. It is hard to put into words how difficult it can be simply to know that so many people in one room have suffered such pain.
Though the media in many cases has been acting in a fairly restrained and more compassionate manner than was the case with the tragic Virginia Tech shooting and many other incidents, invariably, some initial accounts of the incident will prove to be inaccurate. This was pointed out by Dave Cullen, the author of Columbine in an interview last night. Having worked a number of cases involving active shooter situations, I have seen these types of inaccuracies in every instance as the press works tirelessly to get us the latest on breaking stories, some mistakes are going to be made. When I was asked to conduct a forensic evaluation of the Red Lake Reservation school shooting, I found that the most significant aspects of the reasons students and staff died in that incident were not addressed in any media accounts I had read or have read to date.
Time will provide us a better understanding to the extent that we will be able to understand the causal factors that lead someone who is being portrayed as a highly intelligent and gifted scholar to work so diligently to cause such terrible carnage during the screening for a Batman movie. These types of analysis may bring little comfort to the victims and their families but as we have seen in past attacks, will probably help us learn more about how to identify potentially dangerous people among us. This type of evaluation has led to improved approaches that have been used to avert many planned multiple victim shootings in schools and in other settings. As outlined in a blog yesterday, there are also powerful and simple techniques that can help us spot potentially dangerous people even when we have no background information on them. Pattern matching and recognition and visual weapons screening can be excellent protective measures for instances where an attacker conducts surveillance of a target site or when they are about to carry out an attack at a site.
It is also important to closely examine each tragedy to see what we can learn from it to increase survivability for people in future situations.
For example, author Amanda Ripley interviewed numerous survivors of mass casualty events in an effort to learn more about human behavior during crisis events. Her excellent work has taught us valuable lessons that can help save lives. For example, she found repeated instances where victims stopped to gather their belongings during life and death situations which can reduce the speed of evacuation. Dr. Gary Klein’s excellent research provides invaluable insight which can help us spot potentially dangerous approaches to emergency preparedness which can lead to crisis plan failure. His work in helping identify the incredible value of mental simulation is a gift to those involved in emergency preparedness. Bruce Siddle’s work in the field has helped us identify research based approaches that are now being used in many school districts to help prepare staff to stay calmer and think more clearly under life and death situations. Col. Dave Grossman has likewise identified improved concepts for preparing people to think under conditions of sheer chaos. In his comprehensive work Training at the Speed of Light, Author Kenneth R. Murray explains ways public safety and military personnel can improve their performance under tough conditions through appropriate and realistic training concept application.
If the reports coming from officials in Aurora are borne out to be accurate when the investigation is complete, the men and women of the public safety community and hospital systems demonstrate how proper training and approaches to emergency preparedness can dramatically boost human performance so these types of heroes can perform in amazing ways. The lightning fast apprehension of the suspect in a situation of this scale will likely turn out to be a tribute to what our law enforcement officers across the nation can and often do under pressure.
As a non-profit school safety center, our role is to take the concepts, views and research of these and other experts and distill them into a format that can be applied effectively by school employees and students. As our analysts continue to conduct realistic simulations of school crisis events in one-on-one structured interviews to more accurately test how planning approaches, training and drills can boost or impede the actual performance under life and death conditions, the evaluations of these situations by some of the brightest minds in America will also no doubt teach us more with each tragedy that takes place. Though this type of evaluation may seem cold to some, it would not be respectful of the loss of life in these horrible situations to allow others to die in future events because we failed to study each terrible tragedy to prevent additional loss of precious human life.
Superb Book on Emergency Preparedness – The Unthinkable – Who Survives When Disaster Strikes and Why
I had two different clients in the same week recommend this book to me. As both clients are really top-notch school safety practitioners, I ordered the book right away and devoured it as soon as I got it. Though the author is not an emergency manager by trade, she is an excellent researcher and writer and did a most admirable job. I gained several new and important insights from her book and recommend it highly for those who have school crisis planning responsibilities. Unthinkable – Who Survives When Disaster Strikes and Why provides an invaluable perspective that can help school safety professionals save young lives.
Note: I have written Saturday book review blogs and scheduled them for posting through the end of 2012 and wrote this one back in early June. I noticed that it was scheduled for posting on the 21st and realized how relevant this book is to the horrific attack at the theater in Aurora this week.
As we listen to the accounts of survivors of the attack and how they recalled their actions and decision-making during the terrifying attack, the author’s work helped me to better understand some of the reactions seen in these types of mass casualty events be they man-made or involving accidents, fires or natural disasters.
Effective Metal Detection to Prevent Shootings in Movie Theaters Could Prove to be Challenging
There have been a number of mentions in the media about the use of metal detectors at movie theaters in the wake of the deadly shooting in Aurora, Colorado at a screening for the new “Batman” movie. The question being asked often relates to whether or not metal detectors would have prevented alleged aggressor James Holmes from carrying out the attack. The facts of the case are still based on media accounts and are thus may not prove to be accurate once the investigation is completed. At the same time, this is a logical and common question. This question frequently arises in the wake of shootings in other settings such as schools, universities, casinos, shopping malls and other venues where large groups of people gather.
Having been extensively involved with evaluation and testing of entry point metal detection checkpoints, development of metal detection programs, training of staff and actually using walk through and hand held metal detectors, there are a number of challenges and potential weaknesses of metal detection approaches for movie theaters. For example, one of the things I see often are metal detection checkpoints that are easily beaten because they are more of a façade of security than a properly run checkpoint. One of the things we do for clients is to attempt to sneak either real or simulated firearms through metal detection checkpoints. I have also conducted different types of evaluations to gauge the reliability of metal detection programs such as the metal detection program at the Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games and I have evaluated metal detection programs as an expert witness conducting forensic evaluations after school shootings have occurred in schools using metal detectors.
This perspective often makes it easy to go through a metal detection checkpoint and determine whether an aggressor could likely beat the checkpoint and get a weapon into an area protected by metal detection. For example, I have visited the Georgia Aquarium on several occasions and feel confident that I could get a gun into the venue in spite of their use of metal detectors. This is because like many facilities reliant upon metal detectors, the method they use to screen visitors has gaps which can be identified and exploited easily. While the efforts they have in place will likely deter some people who might otherwise carry a weapon into the venue, a determined violator who plans on carrying out a shooting in the aquarium could easily do so. For example, unarmed personnel operate the metal detectors. I also have seen instances where people are badly backed up posing a danger of a shift in the point of attack to focus on people who are waiting to be screened because inadequate numbers of personnel are used for screening.
A good example of this would be the Warner Robins Air Force Base air show this year. At the time I went through the checkpoint, the wait was more than one hour and again, I could have easily smuggled a handgun through the checkpoint with little chance of detection had I been a determined violator. Though the screening process would likely have discovered a rifle or shotgun, the cursory visual inspection of hand carry items I observed was even weaker than one inspection where I was able to smuggle four handguns into a school district office building two years ago.
This means that an aggressor could easily simply shoot his or her way through the checkpoint as occurred in the Red Lake Minnesota school shooting. In addition, the security officers who have screened me have never thoroughly examined hand carry items like purses and camera cases when I have gone through the checkpoint. I have twice been able to get four guns through school district walk through metal detection checkpoints in this manner. I was also able to carry my Glock 17 service pistol and two extra magazines (total of 52 rounds) through a checkpoint at a university while attending a graduation ceremony for one of my police officers while I was a police chief. Though it was lawful for me to do so, I had intended to tell the police officer working the metal detector that I had a weapon and show him my credentials when he simply waved me through the detector assuming that my umbrella set the unit off.
There are many instances where entry point metal detection is performed properly and with a fairly high degree of reliability. I have seen metal detection programs work well in schools, courthouses, places of worship, airports and other settings. There are other approaches that have worked well in schools and other settings that have relevance for movie theaters. Pattern matching and recognition and visuatl weapons screening can easily be implemented in any setting where crowds gather and are relatively inexpensive concepts to implement. As the dialogue about metal detectors arises when these tragic types of events occur, I hope that the discussions are well-informed and thoughtful. Poorly implemented metal detection approaches can be and have been beaten by determined violators and implementing well-intentioned but ineffective versions of the strategy could prove to be a fatal approach.
Shooting incident at Colorado “Batman” Movie Screening Highlights the Importance of Training in Visual Weapons Screening and Pattern Matching and Recognition for Schools
The deadly shooting at a screening for the movie “Batman” at the Century 16 movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, reminds us that a multiple victim shooting can occur in any setting where there are large numbers of people gathered. The victim’s accounts indicate a terrible act of violence. We have sadly seen too many of these situations in many countries with mass casualty shootings in the U.S., Canada, Vietnam, Israel, Germany, Russia, Finland, Scotland, the People’s Republic of China, Australia, Iraq, Afghanistan, France, and many other countries.
As we have seen with shootings and bombings in many settings, it is a sad fact of life that there are people who will carry out terrible acts of violence if they have the opportunity to do so and are not stopped by prevention measures. Like every other mass casualty attack, this tragedy will offer lessons for campus officials. There are commonalities between attacks in different settings and the foreseeability of attacks in the campus setting. These types of incidents underscore the need for more utilization of some proven concepts that have been around for decades and cost almost nothing to implent. While these and other measures cannot offer complete reliability, they have been utilized to detect dangerous people before they were able to shoot victims in a number of instances.
Having been brought in seven times for active shooter situations at schools in the United States and Canada as well as having conducted forensic evaluations in court cases in the wake of school shootings, I have noted missed opportunities to spot the aggressor(s) in a number of these cases. Each case is different and until investigations provide adequate information for any case, it is not realistic to make assumptions about the liklihood that any specific preventive measures would have made a difference or not.
Fortunately, there some strategies that have been used to successfully avert at least some planned multiple victim shootings. These “near misses” rarely receive national let alone international press coverage. The tragedy of this is that people who are in a good position to apply these techniques to spot an aggressor before the gunfire erupts are often not even aware of the techniques. Some of the best examples of this come from the K12 school setting.
From 1989 to 1999, the Bibb County Public School Police were able to directly avert six planned school shootings. Three of these thwarted attempts were stopped using the simple yet powerful concepts of visual weapons screening. These near misses typically involved gang members who had come to a school or a school event to shoot and kill victims. Under a grant from the International Association of Chiefs of Police, officers in the department received training from Sergeant G.G. Neel of the Washington D.C. Metropolitan Police Department Gun Squad. This training involved what was then referred to as the characteristics of the gunman. This training involves training officers to look for the unique specific physical behaviors that are often performed by people who are carrying a concealed weapon. This information is also partially covered in a training video that is now in use by school and police officials in several dozen countries- Secrets of the Weapons Violator Exposed.
Officers in the department recovered seven handguns from violators on campus and on city streets adjacent to the district’s campuses in the next thirty days using the techniques they had learned. Officers in the department began identifying other indicators that officers could look for.
Meanwhile, around the world, medical professionals had begun working in an area now known as pattern matching and recognition. Pattern matching and recognition has been used to help reduce mortality in cardiac care units by as much as 50%. To oversimplify the concept, anyone who has extensive experience in a particular field or work setting, can learn to hone in on the patterns of human behavior that do not match those of most people under the same circumstances. By then paying closer attention to the specific behaviors of the people who stand out in a crowd in this manner we can then more likely spot the real danger of a situation.
When these two areas of knowledge are combined, the chances are much higher that a dangerous person will be identified out of a crowd of many individuals. This is because even though they may try to blend in and not draw attention to themselves, an aggressor will act differently than people who are not present to carry out an act of violence. Though the behavioral changes of people may seem small, they can often be spotted quickly by trained and alert personnel.
For example, in one case in Bibb County, Officer Kenneth Bronson noticed from a distance that a group of students were not boarding a school bus as they were supposed to. He rode his police bicycle to the scene and asked the students why they were not boarding the bus. Students told him that they were afraid that a group of gang members standing across the street might be there to shoot at rival gang members who were students riding the bus. When officer Bronson approached the group of three young men he was able to spot the outline of a .25 caliber handgun in the front pocket of one of the subjects due to the training he received in visual weapons screening. This led to an arrest and the prevention of what turned out to be a planned shooting involving a school bus. The officer paying attention to the actions of a group of students at a distance started what turned into a series of events which helped him identify a dangerous aggressor in time to take action to stop the attack.
These tragic incidents cannot always be prevented, but the techniques described above have been successfully applied to stop multiple planned shootings in the school setting. Though it is tougher to spot an individual who is trying to conceal a rifle, carbine or a shotgun is relatively easy with proper training of staff. If preliminary reports are correct, the attacker in this case was wearing body armor and was armed with a rifle. This means he either concealed these items as he approached the scene on foot or in a vehicle or that he walked for at least some distance with the weapon and body armor in a manner that would have made it easy for a trained observer to spot even if there were many other people in the area. Time will tell whether anyone was in a position to spot the aggressor before he was in proximity to his victims or not.
Pattern matching and recognition and visual weapons screening are two powerful and proven tools to prevent planned shooting incidents in any setting and are well suited for use in protecting our campuses. While they should never be relied upon as our only strategy, they should be a part of every campus organization’s prevention strategy. As with many other preventive strategies, we will likely not learn if these techniques could have averted this tragedy for certain. At the same time, it will be worth evaluating whether these approaches when combined with other preventive measures could have increased the chances that the alleged shooter 24-year-old James Holmes posed a threat before the shooting started or not.
Our prayers go out to the victims, their families and the community who are trying to come to terms with this painful tragedy.
Schools Should Set and Enforce Clear Expectations on School Crime and Discipline Reporting
The intentional and unintentional under reporting of school crime and disciplinary incidents is a recurring problem in American schools as well as in other countries. There are so many pressures on school administrators relating to school safety statistics that some school leaders choose to intentionally reduce the number of reportable incidents through policies designed to drive numbers of incidents down as well as less formal approaches. At the same time, school officials sometimes simply do not know how to establish and implement appropriate reporting guidelines.
In either instance, the results can be the same. School leaders cannot have reliable data if a viable reporting system is not in place and enforced. This frequently leads to serious safety incidents like school shootings, accidental deaths and serious injuries, sexual assaults on campus and a host of other situations that typically become publicized in the local media and by word of mouth in the community. Of course, the next problem school officials usually face is that a plaintiff’s legal counsel may be able to demonstrate that the under reporting of crimes sets the stage for the safety incident which can have great relevance during ensuing litigation. One of the things an expert witness often attempts to evaluate in a school safety civil action is whether the school organization had a reasonable and appropriately managed incident reporting system in place to help school leaders more accurately evaluate risks so proper prevention measures could be implemented.
Having an attorney prove that school officials violated state law by not reporting criminal incidents or disciplinary infractions can be damaging to the defense in these types of situations. Though it can be painful for school officials to adopt and maintain an above board reporting approach, it can be far more painful to have a tragedy reveal that this type of approach is lacking.
Never Say “I’m just a custodian”
I had the good fortune to get to work with groups of custodians from two school systems in Minnesota this week. I have been blessed with the opportunity to provide tailored staff development for school custodians a number of times over the years and have been inspired every time. Like school bus drivers, front office staff and school nutrition employees, the importance and impact that school custodians can have on school safety, climate and emergency preparedness are often overlooked by school officials.
Like any and every other employee in a school, custodial personnel may be in a position to spot danger and avert tragedy or may be called upon at any time to make life and death decisions. School custodians also have a unique perspective that can allow them to spot problems that may be harder for other school employees to see. For example, school custodians like other facilities employees often know many things about a school that the principal does not know. I also have learned from experience by conducting red team assessments (attempting to commit simulated crimes on campus at the request of school officials to test security measures), that school custodians interrupt these attempts more often than all categories of employees combined including school security and law enforcement officers assigned to schools we have assessed.
When we look at the research on pattern matching and recognition, we can see why the unique job roles and perspectives of custodians are often able to detect danger missed by other school employees. For example, the manner in which custodial personnel move through and around school facilities each day offers them a chance to observe the behaviors of students, staff and visitors in a different way than employees who are tied to specific areas and activities each day.
All this helps to demonstrate that school custodial personnel can and should be a valuable part of any school’s safety strategy. As I told both groups of custodial personnel yesterday, I really hate to hear anyone say that they are “only a custodian”. In my campus safety work over more than thirty years, I have seen ample evidence of the incredible contribution school custodial personnel can bring to the table if we simply train and empower them to look, act and communicate to help us improve safety, security and emergency preparedness in our schools.
Useful FEMA Report Concerning School Safety
Jacob Terrell who is currently doing an internship with Safe Havens has been conducting considerable research to prepare himself for a career in school safety. In his research, Jacob has found a number of helpful documents and other resources including some that, though they were published a while back, are still helpful today. Jacob recently sent me a link to an excellent resource from The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) regarding school fires. The document is titled School Fires – Topical Fire Research Series, Volume 4 – Issue 6. We felt that this document would be helpful to practitioners in the field of school safety.
Grisly Murder of Three Children in Wisconsin Should be a Stark Reminder that Acts of Violence in Society Have Implications for School Access Control, Visitor Management and Student Sign-out Protocols
We have ample evidence that students and staff in schools with poor access control, visitor sign in procedures and student sign out protocols are at increased risk. Here are just a few examples of the types of cases we see relating to these areas:
- A daughter of the owner of a prominent pasta maker was abducted from a Florida independent school by a man posing as his bodyguard who signed the student out for a dental appointment. He and an accomplice were arrested by FBI agents after they demanded a one million dollar ransom.
- A Kansas elementary student was sexually molested by a man who refused to stop and identify himself to school employees.
- Two Tennessee elementary students were murdered by their father after he signed them out of school in violation of a court order. The man wrote in the sign out log that the reason for signing out the students was “payback”.
- A man entered an unlocked side door of a Georgia elementary school and embedded a metal hammer in a student’s skull causing permanent brain damage.
- Bibb County, Georgia school police officers arrested a man who tried to sign out the son of his ex-girlfriend at an elementary school after he had vowed to kill the boy. Officers recovered a loaded .40 caliber semi-automatic pistol and several knives from the man who had driven fourteen hours from Pennsylvania to kill the child.
Though we are and should be shocked by such terrible acts, we should not be at all surprised by them. These types of incidents have been taking place for many years at public and non-public schools in urban, suburban and rural communities. When we look at the grisly acts of violence that sometimes take place in our communities, we should not be taken by surprise when the types of people who will commit such terrible acts decide to do so at schools.
In any week, we can see horrific acts of violence committed against children, youth, ex-wives, ex-husbands and other victims that have clear implications for the need to provide proper security in our schools. Last week, 34-year-old Aaron Schaffhausen allegedly drove from Minot, North Dakota to a small town in Wisconsin and brutally murdered all three of his daughters, tucked their bodies in their beds and sent his wife a text message telling her that he had killed the girls.
School employees in all positions should understand that a person who will carry out such a brutal act of violence against his own children will not hesitate to come to the finest independent, charter, public or parochial school, in the nicest part of town and forever change the lives of innocent students and staff.
We know how offenders can beat even high-tech security systems if school employees are not trained and empowered to provide good security with solid and enforced procedures, quality staff development and true leadership. Though the public and the processes of civil litigation will judge the actions of school officials who do not realize the danger and act appropriately in time, the gravest punishment can be internal. When we fail to properly address these dangers, we must live with the knowledge that we did not do what is reasonable and appropriate when tragedy strikes. To paraphrase what one educator from a school where one of the above incidents occurred told an audience I was presenting to – we paid millions of dollars but we can never bring these children back, we killed them by trusting people too much. The chances are high that this fall, there will be an elementary school within a short drive of this horrible crime scene where anyone can walk right in through an unlocked door and gain access to innocent students due to unrealistically lax school security.
We are all on notice to the danger, but are we all really listening to the warnings?
The World is Flat Provides a Valuable Perspective about the Rapid Changes in the World Around us
A few years ago, I was asked to speak at a school district convocation in Avon, Massachusetts. The school superintendent highly recommended the book The World is Flat – a Brief History of the Twenty-First Century by Thomas L. Friedman. I had heard quite a bit about this book before and decided to read it. The book was very helpful to me and has assisted me in comprehending what I see as I travel Asia.
Seeing windmills popping up in remote regions of Vietnam while property prices in District 7 of Saigon soar above those in many of the most exclusive regions of Atlanta, Chicago or New York City was something I never saw coming. Friedman helps us understand the dramatic changes that are taking place in our country and around the world. Since the first edition of the book came out in 2005 we can see that not every prediction the author made has proven to be correct. At the same time, much of what he says is on point.
The author takes great pains to point out the intensive demands on our educational system to keep America and other countries growing and thriving. His optimistic message emphasizes room for many parts of the world to thrive. The author points out that for the United States to grow, our educational system must keep pace with this almost frantically evolving world.
Another Great Read – On Combat – The Psychology and Physiology of Deadly Conflict in War and Peace
This excellent book is a must read for public safety, military and other personnel who want to better understand how the human mind and body work under life and death stress. I have found all of Dave Grossman’s books to be immensely helpful in my work but this book has been the most useful as it provides invaluable insight into how we can better prepare people to survive life and death crisis situations at school. On Combat is and outstanding book for the school safety practitioner.
Why Blocked Access Fire Drills are so Helpful in Improving School Emergency Preparedness
I will never forget the first time I observed a blocked access drill. We were working with a school corporation in Indiana and the principal of an elementary school we were assessing asked if we would observe a fire drill to see if we could provide any suggestions for improvement. When the fire alarm sounded, students began to file out of a classroom close to where we were positioned. The principal had taped off the area where our group was standing and blocked the main entry way to the school. The first student to emerge from the classroom immediately stated in a loud clear voice “our access is blocked, we need to seek an alternate route” whereupon he turned and led his class to another exit door.
I was and remain to this day most impressed with how the students moved quickly, in an orderly fashion without being spread out or too closely clumped together. I was even more impressed to learn that the school conducted blocked access drills routinely to teach students and staff to think on their feet. The research on how the human brain functions under stress indicates that the thoughtful approach to fire drills adopted by the school’s principal many years ago has better prepared her students and employees to face almost any type of crisis not only at her school but in any setting. By teaching students and staff to quickly adapt and change direction for a blocked access during a fire, she has provided a valuable lesson for any emergency they may encounter – there are times when we must deviate from our normal emergency procedures to save human life.
Documenting Student Supervision Measures
One issue that arises in many school safety incidents is student supervision. Whether or not school officials were providing effective student supervision is often a key question in school safety litigation, media coverage and more importantly, in our efforts to find better ways to protect students and staff from harm for the future.
Hour per hour and dollar for dollar, few school safety strategies are as effective as simple yet proven concepts to improve student supervision like presence, positioning, pairing, pacing and spacing. These and other techniques can dramatically improve the ability of staff to supervise students more effectively and preventing as well as responding school crisis situations.
Another important aspect involves appropriate and reasonable efforts to document student supervision efforts. For example, documenting training provided to staff on student supervision, documenting staff assignments and taking the time to document that staff members have been provided policies relating to student supervision are all ways to improve student supervision while affording your legal counsel and any expert witnesses they retain a clearer picture of what has been done to improve student safety.
Taking the time not only to implement effective student supervision strategies but to document them can improve efficiency, reduce risk, build public trust, reduce risk exposure and most importantly, can save lives.
School Safety Incidents can Have a Dramatic Impact on School System Budgets
While we often think of the fiscal cost of school safety incidents in terms of workers compensation claims, litigation and higher insurance premium increases, there are many other ways that they impact the cost of operating schools. For example, while performing a school safety, security, climate, culture and emergency preparedness assessment for a large urban school system, I had occasion to interview a variety of central office personnel. I asked each person I interviewed if the security incidents in the district were having a budget impact on their operation. Staff repeatedly gave examples of a wide range of direct costs to their operation that quickly added up to millions of dollars each year. Even for a district of this size, the numbers provided were substantial. Since the district was facing massive budget shortfalls, several million dollars each year was really making a difference in the ability of the district to deliver quality educational services.
Taking the time to properly tabulate the true costs of school safety and security incidents can be most revealing and can be a worthwhile activity.
Additional Lawsuits Related to Sexual Molestation Filed Against Los Angeles Unified School Teacher and Administrator
Attorneys have filed a lawsuit against the Los Angeles Unified Public School system relating to the alleged molestation of 14 students at Miramonte Elementary School by former teacher Mark Berndt. Attorneys allege that principals and the school district ignored complaints from students for many years allowing the molestation of students by Berndt to continue.
The suit is the latest in a series of suits relating to the alleged sexual molestation of as many as 23 children by Berndt. This type of litigation is not unusual in cases of this type. This case illustrates the need for careful screening of applicants, proper supervision of school employees and appropriate policies which can help school employees identify sexual predators when they attempt to “groom” potential victims.
Save Money and Save Lives by Properly Documenting Your School Safety Training Efforts
Law enforcement agencies often go to great pains to document their training efforts. As law enforcement is a relatively high liability field, officers typically receive fairly detailed training in ways to reduce exposure to civil liability.
One thing many public safety agencies do very well is to carefully document which personnel attend various forms of training sessions. Individual agencies document training sessions by tracking attendance by session and individual participants and usually, the state regulatory agency tracks training sessions that are approved for credit by the regulatory agency as well. This is one effort to help manage civil liability that has worked quite well. Like schools and institutions of higher learning, law enforcement agencies are often sued for a wide range of issues. Being able to verify that a particular officer or support employee was adequately trained in a specific topic can be important when expert witnesses conduct a forensic evaluation in a case, when attorneys for both sides are trying to negotiate a settlement as well as in the event of a trial.
More importantly, one of the reasons that proper training documentation helps to reduce risk exposure is that it also helps to reduce the chances that employees will be provided with the training they need in the first place. Without a system to track and document training in any organization, it can be relatively easy for an employee not to get required or appropriate training. In the public safety field, this can literally be a life and death matter. This can also be true in the field of education.
We recommend that school officials adopt documentation efforts similar to those utilized in other fields where liability exposure can be a significant concern. One of the things we see often when we are conducting school safety assessments and audits is that many of the school employees we interview have not completed training that they were supposed to attend. As with other fields like law enforcement, this has sometimes become a key point in litigation when people are injured or killed as the result of a school safety incident.
Representatives of area law enforcement and fire service agencies will usually be willing to walk you through the methods they use to document and manage their training efforts. This could be a no-cost and valuable way to review your organization’s current approach to training documentation.
Taking the time to properly document and track safety related training for school employees can not only reduce exposure to civil liability, it can more importantly reduce the chances that someone gets hurt in the first place.
ACLU often Targets Schools When they Try Innovative Approaches to Safety, Security, Discipline, Climate and Culture
In a story on MSNBC, Robin Gilbert said she tried to improve school climate and culture by splitting up male and female students at her elementary school in rural southwestern Idaho. However, her Idaho School is one of dozens that are being targeted by the ACLU around the nation for this practice. According to MSNBC, single sex educational programs have been dropped in schools across the nation due to pressure from the ACLU.
The ACLU has a long history of attacking school officials for their efforts to maintain effective and safe learning environments while failing to offer schools viable alternatives that meet their beliefs. For example, the ACLU has been deeply critical of almost any utilization of arrest for criminal conduct by students even though this approach is believed by many school safety practitioners to be one of the reasons for the significant dramatic drop in school homicides since more schools began assigning police officers to their campuses over the past fifteen years. The ACLU recommends that students rarely be arrested and offers instead an approach that is by its very nature likely to increase rather than decrease the collection of accurate data on school crime. As the proper reporting, tracking and analysis of school crime and disciplinary incidents is required to match prevention and mitigation strategies to need and to assess their effectiveness, this approach has left many school safety experts and practitioners concerned with its validity. While prosecution may not always be the best answer, a return to the common practice of covering up school crime during the time period of our nation’s highest school homicide rates could prove to be a dangerous approach for schools.
Gilbert told MSNBC that the attack frustrates her, “but it makes the work harder.”
The approach Gilbert and many other educators have adopted is in response to research that shows that boys, particularly minority students, have lower graduation rates and are performing at lower levels than female students. MSNBC reports that representatives of The National Association for Single Sex Public Education, estimates that about 500 public schools across the nation utilize this approach to some extent.
The ACLU counters that this approach which is designed to reduce gender distraction such as flirting, is a violation of Title IX and is unconstitutional. The organization questions the practice as it has a right to do. The ACLU must follow the course it deems best to pursue its goals and this type of case is no exception. At the same time, we should consider the effect of this type of litigation and threats of litigation on our school organizations. There are times where fear of litigation is a positive factor to help drive much needed change. At the same time, there can be situations where school officials who are afraid of being litigated can fail to move to correct serious problems. This is one of the challenges of a free society like ours and creates a situation where achieving perfect balance is not always possible.
The ACLU has certainly had a positive effect on our schools. One prominent example is the landmark Brown V. Board of Education case which has unquestionably made our country a better place. At the same time, the group has challenged school officials for a wide array of issues ranging from efforts to address gang activity and other types of violence. Many efforts of the ACLU involve threats to sue rather than the actual litigation of school districts. My district experienced this when the ACLU sent our superintendent a threatening letter relating to our random metal detection program. Our superintendent decided to ignore the threat and continued the program without hearing further from the group. Though the ACLU has lost many of its battles with school officials, it has won some landmark cases and is often able to pressure schools into changing policies because districts and their insurance providers are unwilling to pay for costly court battles with such a well-funded legal group.
This type of pressure is one of the many reasons so many school organizations have difficulty in making decisions relating to school safety, security, climate and culture. The ever looming concern that litigation may arise from almost any attempt to break from traditional approaches makes some education leaders more likely to accept problems they face rather than to attempt to find innovative solutions.
Careful With The Cameras! Texas Principal Indicted by a Grand Jury in Relation to Hidden Camera Video in School Locker Room
School officials get into trouble from time to time with surveillance cameras. While this most often involves situations where camera footage documents ineffective student supervision leading to safety incidents or the use of dummy cameras which can create a false sense of security, there are situations where recordings are made in student restrooms, locker rooms and other areas where a higher degree of privacy is expected.
In this situation, Middle School Principal Wendee Long was indicted by a grand jury in Denton, Texas for allegedly having her daughter film a coach who was supposed to be mistreating students. The indictments pertain to two felony counts:
- Improper photography or visual recording
- Unlawful interception, use or disclosure of wire, oral or electronic communications
After the tape was made, someone sent copies to school board members. Long has been placed on administrative leave.
While as in any case, additional facts are likely not available to us, the situation demonstrates that the use of cameras to record images and sound in schools can be a very sensitive issue and that there are a number of legal issues that must be considered before cameras of any type are used.
Pennsylvania Troopers Search for Body of seven-year-old Girl from Florida who Disappeared while Walking to School Nearly Three Decades ago
Pennsylvania State police are conducting a search to try to recover the remains of a girl that was last seen walking to school almost three decades ago. The victim was seven years old when she disappeared while walking to school in Tampa, Florida. State Police have obtained search warrants for six properties owned by a man who they think may have some connection to the girl’s disappearance. The man is now diseased and lived in Tampa at the time of the incident.
These types of cases are tragic with family members of a missing child often unsure whether their loved one is dead or alive. Our hearts go out to the family members of this child.
Campus Safety Magazine Publishes an Article titled Hiring an Expert Witness – 10 Questions You Should Ask
I submitted an article last week to Campus Safety that was published on the topic of campus safety forensic expert selection. The article, Hiring an Expert Witness – 10 Questions You Should ask is designed to be helpful to readers whose organizations are being litigated for school safety issues.
I have been working with an attorney on a much more detailed white paper on this same topic as expert witness selection can be critical to how effectively a case is resolved. We hope to have this published on the SHI site in the next few weeks.
We Should not take Freedom for Granted in our Schools
Today is an excellent time to reflect on the amazing and truly unprecedented level of freedom that our citizens enjoy. In his excellent course A History of Freedom published by the Teaching Company, Dr. Rufus Fears makes a strong case that at no point in world history has any society offered the level of personal freedom of that in the United States. Working with schools in other countries where a student can be physically beaten or permanently expelled for disrespecting a teacher really drives home the level of personal freedoms that we often take for granted.
One school administrator we interviewed in a high school in South Africa was astounded that his practice of bringing in attack trained police dogs to personally sniff each student in his school for drugs accompanied by a manual pat down search of each student by police officers would be considered unlawful in the United States. At the time, I was serving as an expert witness for the defense in a federal civil action brought against a local police department because a female police officer had asked a student to pull her bra forward slightly during a metal detection screening at an alternative school. The South African administrator could not understand how a school official in our country could be litigated for searching a student under any conditions.
It is easy to forget how much freedom we enjoy in this country and July 4th should always serve as a reminder to us just how free we really are.
School Crisis Plans Should Address Utility Failure
The recent power outages in the wake of heavy storms in the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic regions have left more than 1.8 million people still without power. These types of situations arise from time to time and when they occur during the school year can have a significant impact on the operation of school facilities. This situation helps to show why it is important that school emergency preparedness plans should address utility failures.
Gun and Bomb Detection Dogs can Help Make Schools Safer
Josh was a valuable asset to the Bibb County Public School System Police Department. The friendly Labrador Retriever found his first murder weapon while assisting the Macon Police Department when he was less than a year old. Officers had searched a vacant lot for many hours and were not able to locate the .38 Special caliber revolver but Josh located the gun in only seven minutes.
Detection canines have proven to be an invaluable asset to law enforcement and military personnel for more than a hundred years. Military detection dogs are currently saving lives by detecting improvised explosive devices and have had an impressive background in this area dating back at least to the Vietnam War.
Josh was put into service as one of the first gun detection dogs working full time for a school district in the mid 1990’s and helped to check student vehicles, student lockers, public areas, book bags and purses for firearms and ammunition. In the next few years, Josh had about forty hits on ammunition and firearms accessories, mostly from detecting the odor from outside student vehicles in parking lots. Though he never found a single gun on district property, he did find other murder weapons while assisting local agencies including two guns that had been used to kill a teenager and his baby brother as they slept in their home.
The deterrent value of gun detection dogs can be impressive and the value they can provide in relation to their cost can be equally impressive. Josh helped to reduce student gun violations in the district from a high of 18 weapons in one year to a low of only one firearm in one year. While Josh was just one component of a comprehensive approach to reducing weapons in the district, he was definitely a valuable one.
Brutal Church Attack in Kenya Leaves 15 Dead and another 40 Wounded
Two gunmen murdered 15 people and wounded another 40 churchgoers after they walked up and shot two police officers who were guarding the church. The gunmen used at least one hand grenade and the rifles they had taken from the dead police officers after they murdered them. When people in the church tried to evacuate the building, they were apparently shot by two additional gunmen. This deadly attack in Nairobi, Kenya illustrates just how quickly a deadly attack can occur even when heavy security measures are in place. In spite of two police officers armed with rifles, two aggressors were able to carry out a successful attack by using the very weapons intended to protect churchgoers from terrorist attack.
Life and Death Matters – Why it is Important to Properly Maintain School Fire Alarm Systems
Guest Blog by Jacob Terrell
During my senior year in high school I completed an internship with my school district’s maintenance department. This was a revealing and informative process and I am fortunate that my school district afforded me this opportunity. I had the chance to study different fire alarm brands and equipment. I also got to see first-hand how important it is to have fire alarm systems in schools. I was also able to conduct some research on the topic and learned some interesting facts about school fire risk.
For example, here are some interesting facts from the National Fire Protection Association concerning school fires:
- Nearly 72% of fires in buildings that provide education occur in preschool and K-12 school buildings.
- It is estimated that 4,510 fires per year form 2005-2009 occurred in buildings that provide preschool and K-12 education.
- Half of the fires that occur in preschool and K-12 school buildings are the result of arson.
I think we can all agree that fires are one of the most common types of school safety hazards, and although it has been well over 60 years since we have seen a fire related death in a school in the United States, we should not presume that we could not have another mass casualty school fire. Since two of the most lethal school crisis events in our nation’s history involved fires and we have had numerous near misses, we must remember that like any other hazard, fires can kill and should be treated seriously.
Oftentimes in a school building the system of warning that there is a fire is a fire alarm system. In many cases it is an automated detection system that is the first to detect the presence of flames, even before the occupants do. Obviously, rapid notification is a must during a fire situation. But like other building systems, fire alarm systems can and sometimes do malfunction.
This is why it is so important that regular system tests and that regular fire drills should be conducted using different pull stations.
For example, at one school I attended, administrators attempted to conduct a fire drill, however the drill did not go off smoothly. Apparently, not a single fire alarm notification device was activated because of a problem with the system, and because of that the drill was postponed. I learned that there were already other problems being indicated by the fire alarm control panel even before they tried to conduct this drill. These were problems that had been there for quite some time and might not have been identified if the drill had not been attempted. An important point here is that you can’t postpone a fire.
One aspect of my internship was that the school district’s maintenance department is staffed with good people who I appreciate and respect greatly. At the same time, like many school district maintenance departments, their resources are limited and their workload appeared to be almost overwhelming at times. It is important to consider that these hard working men were extremely busy with other maintenance issues that also require their attention. This requires that school maintenance staff members and school administrators should work together to monitor the overall efficiency and maintenance of fire alarm systems as well as other fire safety equipment in the buildings. By working together to identify and resolve fire alarm problems, the reliability of these life-saving systems can be improved. With the many responsibilities they have, it can be easy for school administrators and maintenance people to procrastinate on these types of issues.
This constant vigilance requires time and energy and when problems are found they should be corrected as soon as possible, even if that involves installing new equipment or even a new system in extreme cases. Constantly checking and properly maintaining fire detection and warning systems can take, time, effort and money. Considering how these efforts can not only reduce lost instructional time through false alarms but can indeed save the lives of staff and students the effort is certainly worthwhile.
A recent high school graduate, Jacob Terrell is an intern with Safe Havens International. Jacob has completed multiple FEMA online courses relating to school safety and is a Skywarn severe weather spotter. Jacob hopes to pursue a career in the field of school safety. During his internship, Jacob has been conducting research on active shooter situations, school tornado preparedness, school fire prevention and all-hazards school crisis planning. While a student, Jacob has experienced two school fires and desires to make schools safer for students and staff. Jacob welcomes reader questions, comments or concerns at Jacob.Terrell@ymail.com
Another Great Read Relating to School Violence – On Killing – The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society
Another book that I recommend to those who wish to better understand school violence and violence in general is On Killing by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman. Dave is one of the smartest people I have ever had the privilege to meet and is an excellent writer. This book is a must read for those who want to learn more about why people kill each other and the cost of killing on our culture.
Quantifying School Safety
Though it seems obvious that school officials should collect, track and analyze data relating to school safety and security, it is still relatively common to see non-public schools and school districts that do not make it a practice to do so adequately.
For example, while conducting a forensic evaluation as an expert witness in a school homicide case last year, one of the ten largest school systems in the nation was unable to produce data such as the number of weapons confiscated from students, fights and other similar types of data. This of course put the district in a bad position from the standpoint of liability exposure. More importantly, the incident may have occurred because the district was not properly evaluating security incidents to help align available resources more efficiently.
Taking the time to quantify school safety is important and worthwhile.
No Room for “Yes Men” in Critical Decision Making
While reading Masters and Commanders – How Four Titans Won the War in the West, 1941-1945 by Andrew Roberts, I was struck by the author’s observations of how General Marshall was selected by President Franklin Roosevelt to lead our nation’s military in World War II. The fact that Marshall often and forcefully, even bluntly disagreed with Roosevelt led to his selection. The president was apparently astute enough to know that he did not need a “yes man” in such a key position at such a critical point in our nation’s history.
Those in key leadership positions with school safety responsibility should consider this. Setting forth a tone that different viewpoints are not only welcome but expected can help an organization spot and avert approaching disaster. History offers valuable lessons for those who are open to them.
Study by the Commonwealth Foundation finds that Students at Low Performing Schools are more Likely to be Victims of Violent Crime at School
According to CBS news in Philadelphia, a recent study by the Commonwealth Foundation asserts that students who attend low performing schools in Pennsylvania are five times more likely to be a victim of violent crime while at school. This finding should not be a surprise to us as lower performing schools are also often schools that have serious problems with student discipline, bullying and criminal acts committed by students against students.
Sources of Power – An Excellent Book to Help us Understand How the Human Mind Works Under Life and Death Stress
Dr. Gary Klein is a highly regarded researcher who has performed ground-breaking work that helps us better understand how to help prepare people to make better life and death decisions. Klein’s work helps us analyze why some common concepts of school emergency preparedness simply do not work well with how the human brain actually functions under this type of stress. Sources of Power – How People Make Decisions is a must read for the school safety professional.
Concerned People Donate Half a Million to Show Support for School Bus Monitor Karen Klein After she was Brutally Bullied by New York Middle School Students
Many people across the globe have been shocked and outraged by the behavior of a group of middle school students in New York State and have donated over $500,000 to the woman to show their support for her. Veteran school system employee Karen Klein has been overwhelmed by the support for her from so many kind people.
This reaction of the public demonstrates how upset people are about the mistreatment of people by students who lack proper self-control and self-discipline. As these donations are being made during such dire economic times also demonstrates how upset many people are about these types of incidents.
Blocked Emergency Exit?
Treatment of School Bus Monitor by Middle School Students is a Disturbing Example of What Happens When School Discipline Breaks Down
A viral ten minute video from New York is helping Americans understand just how terribly some students can treat school staff. Students from Athena Middle School were caught on camera saying truly horrible things to 68 year-old Karen Huff Klein who is a school bus monitor who has served her school district for 20 years. The students used vulgar language, called her fat and made fun of her because one of her children had committed suicide. One student made a reference to what would happen if he cut her with a knife.
In a live interview on Fox News this morning, Ms. Klein learned that a blogger has raised more than $120,000 from donors trying to raise enough money so she can retire or take a nice vacation. Ms. Klein stated that she has received countless e-mails from people all over the world expressing shock at the actions of the students and support for her. She said that she has been touched by the number of students who have e-mailed her from other regions. She also stated that none of the parents of the students involved has apologized for the actions of their children thus far.
Though I am generally slow to form a final opinion from any video segment because video clips do not always present a complete picture, the insults by the students in this instance are truly horrible and painful to listen to. I hope more people will begin to understand why it can be so difficult to attract and retain quality school employees such as school bus drivers and monitors when discipline approaches of schools are ineffective.
Documenting School Safety Efforts can be Critical
While reviewing depositions for a school safety lawsuit today, I was reminded of just how important it is not only to properly document school safety and security incidents, but the measures that are in place to try to prevent, respond and recover from school crisis events.
Coming from what is primarily a law enforcement background, documentation seems like such a basic part of work. However, to people who have not had occasion to deal regularly with court processes often do not realize how important documentation can be when it comes to life-safety issues such as school safety training, issuing school crisis plan components to employees and other important aspects of school safety and security.
Forensic case evaluation typically involves the careful review of thousands of pages of a case file. Attorneys, jurors, judges and expert witnesses are often forced to rely on a wide variety of documents to help them make determinations of facts and probabilities in a particular case. Whether the court process involves a juvenile court petition, a criminal proceeding, or litigation against school officials; the quality, accuracy and depth of documentation can be extremely important.
North Carolina “Strip Search” Case Demonstrates the Need to Train School Officials on Search and Seizure
The mother of a third-grade student in Clinton, North Carolina who was reportedly asked by a school administrator to disrobe except for his T-shirt and boxer shorts is alleging that the school should not have “strip-searched” her son. According to media accounts, assistant principal Teresa Holmes asked student Justin Cox who is ten years old to partially disrobe in a search for a missing $20 bill. After the search, the money was found under a lunch room table.
Sampson County Schools Spokeswoman Susan Warren Said that the mother, Clarinda Cox should have been informed of the search but defended the actions of the administrator stating that she was within her legal right to conduct the search.
However, if the reports in the media are correct, it is likely that the search would be found unconstitutional if challenged. Courts in the United States have been reluctant to support strip searches of students in contrast to other types of student searches which typically only require only reasonable suspicion. Though this search reportedly did not involve a “strip search” to the point of nudity, the fact that the administrator was only looking for missing money would likely pose problems for the district in court. Courts have typically required that school officials meet a much higher standard of probably cause for these types of searches and are more likely to support them if the search is conducted for a firearm, knife or illicit drugs rather than for missing property.
I served as an expert witness consultant on a federal law suit involving a female police officer who asked a student to pull her bra forward under her clothing during routine entry point weapons screening. Though described as a “strip search” by plaintiff’s counsel, this search did not involve the removal of any clothing and was conducted at an alternative school for older students who were high-risk for violence and substance abuse. In the end, this case was settled though the search likely might have been supported by the courts because the searches were conducted each day to keep weapons out of the school.
Civil actions against school officials who make individual students or groups of students partially disrobe while looking for missing money have often been lost or settled by school officials. We recommend that all school employees receive training on school search and seizure and that clear policies be developed for searches on campus.
Media Coverage Relating to Allegations of Serious School Employee Conduct are Sometimes Incomplete Due to Limitations on how School Officials can Respond
We regularly see media accounts regarding allegations of inappropriate conduct by school employees ranging from over-reaction to student disciplinary situations to serious physical assaults on students by school employees.
Having been directly involved with many investigations relating to misconduct by school employees, experience has shown that as with other fields such as law enforcement, there are people in the field who will do some very inappropriate and even criminal things and there are many false or exaggerated allegations. We also see this in our expert witness work. I have had cases where school officials have done things that were very poorly and students have died. I have also seen instances where allegations of terrible acts of misconduct turned out to be without basis in fact once the forensic evaluation had been conducted.
Allegations reported in the media today regarding school employees who reportedly made a child strip naked and take a shower in front of them are a case in point. It is not possible to determine from the media accounts if these allegations have merit or not. The attorney representing the child alleges that the staff members not only made the child strip naked but that they verbally abused and ridiculed the child for being “smelly”. School officials have declined to comment on the case most likely on the advice of legal counsel. As with other types of organizations that are often advised by attorneys to decline comment, this puts school officials at a disadvantage while also making it harder for the public to accurately determine if anything was or was not done wrong.
We recommend that people be slow to pass judgement on these cases as with criminal cases. Many of us were sure that Richard Jewell had placed the explosive device in Centennial Park during the Atlanta Olympic Games only to learn that he was not only innocent, but that he was the hero who saved many lives that day by his alertness. This and many other cases indicate that it is prudent to remember that not everyone who is accused of wrongful actions is guilty. Our legal system affords ample opportunity for people to address allegations of a serious nature. While it is far from perfect, it is among the best legal systems in the history of the world and we should generally give it a chance to work before we pass final judgement on others without all the facts before us.
Schools Lose Increasing Number of African-American Students to Home-schooling, Safety and School Discipline Often Cited as Reasons for Parental Choice
African-American students now comprise the fastest-growing segment of home-school attendees. There are now approximately 220,000 African-American students out of the more than 2 million students who were home-schooled last year according to the National Home Education Research Institute.
In an interview with Fox News, George Noblit, who serves an education sociologist at U.N.C, Chapel Hill, indicated that many African-American parents have opted for home-schooling to protect their children from drugs and bullying in addition to a perception that they would receive a better education suited to the needs of their children
With the overall per capita rate of home-schooling nearly doubling in the United States from 1999 to 2007, this aspect of why some parents choose this approach to educate their children bears careful consideration by educators. Keeping in mind this data does not reflect situations where students drop out of school or change from one school to another, school discipline, safety, security, climate and culture are core competency issues for educators.
Is this really ADA Accessible?
British School Criticized for Alleged Under-reaction to Stabbing of 26 Students with a Needle
Some parents and students from the Toots School in Bingham, Notts are upset that a student who allegedly stabbed 26 other students with the same needle was only suspended for five days. Administrators at the school apparently did not learn of the lunch-time attacks immediately and have defended their actions in not implementing a lockdown. Head teacher John Tomasevic defended this decision stating ‘A lock down would have been an over-reaction and anyway by the time we’d even done our preliminary investigations the school day had finished so that wasn’t a possibility.’ Mr. Tomasevic told reporters that the student was involved in a game and that the attacks were not malicious. Police have charged the 14-year-old student with suspicion of assault. Some parents also complained that they were not notified by school officials about the incident. Mr. Tomasevic told reporters that the school notified the parents of students who had been injured.
Students at the school are being tested for H.I.V. and parents are concerned that their children could become infected because so many students were stabbed with the same object which police identified as a lancet. British public health officials indicate that the chances of a serious infection are not high. Multiple victim stabbings at schools are not unheard of with multiple incidents occurring in Japan and China with 28 victims in one attack in the People’s Republic of China.
Edged weapons attacks have become far more common in British schools in recent years with a number of fatalities of students and staff reported. In an interview with British Metropolitan Police Officers in 2003, we learned that six students had been murdered at U.K. schools that year making the per capita homicide rate higher than for U.S. schools that year.
The response in the U.K. has been heavily geared to installing security cameras and issuing hand – held metal detectors for school officials to use to search students when they receive a tip that they might be carrying a weapon. Searches of students for weapons by school officials have lead to a number of deaths and serious injuries in the United States and we advise our clients that this is an inherently dangerous practice.
This case illustrates the importance of proper student supervision. The fact that school officials indicate that 26 children were attacked without school officials becoming aware immediately raises a red flag that student supervision may not have been effective.
Do Your Practices Match Your School Safety Plans?
One important aspect of school safety is how closely the written policies, procedures and plans reflect what is actually taking place in schools. For example, a school safety incident is more likely to occur if good procedures are not followed. This means that students, staff or visitors are more likely to be hurt. In addition, these types of gaps can then expose school officials to increased exposure to school safety litigation and criticism from the media as well as a loss of public confidence.
Having viable, well communicated and properly applied and enforced safety, security and emergency preparedness policies, plans and procedures can make school safer for all.
Wearing Staff Identification Cards Taken to a New Level
Providing School Safety and Security Notifications in Multiple Languages
Heroes Among us – Dr. Tina Brookes
She doesn’t have the cleanest car in town. Her unrelenting schedule doesn’t really afford her the time to tidy it up like she should and probably desires. Though she is not poor, she also doesn’t own the fanciest home in town. Deciding to serve children doesn’t usually result in considerable wealth. She may not have the most elegant office with a great view. But she wouldn’t want that if they offered it to her. This is because Dr. Tina Brookes is a true American hero.
I keep using the title of Dr. even though she has told me not to. This is because I know how hard she worked to earn her Ph.D last year. I imagine maintaining a 4.0 at one of North Carolina’s most respected universities was pretty tough too. I do this also because I hold her in high regard as you may be able to tell by now.
I have known Dr. Brookes for some time now and worked with her on some pretty big projects. I know that she has selflessly served others across our great land and in other countries when acts of violence, natural disasters and other tragedies have ripped the lives of beautiful children from their parents and tragically taken fathers and mothers from their young children. I have seen how hard she works to try to address bullying, the threats of violence and the dangers posed by tornadoes in her communities’ schools. I have seen her struggle with tragic loss in her personal life and have admired her strength as she uses her training, education and compassion to help others try to cope with similar losses.
But until I strained to read her dissertation through flowing tears, I did not fully comprehend what a hero Dr. Brookes really is. I am still a bit miffed at her for not warning me about the power of her dissertation. Getting real choked up from time to time on a flight from Atlanta to Seattle, I would have read her wonderful dissertation in the privacy of my own home had I had forewarning. But as a writer, I understand why she did not warn me and must admit it was better that she surprised me that way. Dr. Brookes is not the kind of person you can stay mad at anyway.
Her dissertation explored what happens when those who are trained in critical incident debriefing techniques help close friends and relatives cope with tragedy. Reading her work reminded me of how easy and common it is for us to be in the company of amazing people and not realize it. That is one of the things about life that has never ceased to amaze me. Her dissertation reminded me of this once again.
I can forgive this truly amazing and outstanding woman for surprising me like this as long as she can forgive me for calling such a good friend Doctor.
Schools Should Have Crisis Plans in Place for Field Trips and Study Abroad Programs
Two recent incidents in New Zealand illustrate how quickly emergency situations can arise during student field trips. While both of these recent incidents involve college students, many situations involving K-12 students have occurred as well.
In the most recent incident, two American students became lost in a remote wilderness region during a snow storm. Both survived the nine-day encounter. Erica Klintworth and Alec Brown were participating in a foreign studies program through the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point. Three university students from Boston were not so fortunate last month when they were killed during a vehicle accident in New Zealand.
In one Georgia case, two elementary students decided to run away from home during a field trip to Zoo Atlanta which is more than 90 miles from where they lived. The students were finally located safely. In another case in Alabama, a number of children along with a school bus driver and chaperone were killed in a school bus crash on a Saturday field trip.
As each of these incidents demonstrates, crisis planning concepts for schools and institutions of higher learning should be flexible enough to provide guidance for situations that occur far from school.
Know What You Don’t Know – An Excellent Book for People Who Want to Learn More About Crisis Prevention
I found Know What You Don’t Know – How Great Leaders Prevent Problems Before They Happen to be an excellent book. Written by Dr. Michael A. Roberto, I bought the book after I finished a superb course of Dr. Roberto’s through the Learning Company.
I highly recommend Dr. Roberto’s book to anyone who wants to learn more about this topic.
The Teaching Company Offers Great Courses – A Great Way to Learn if You are Too Busy for College
I would love to work on a Ph.D. Some truly outstanding teachers and college professors have succeeded in shaping me into what they referred to as a lifetime learner. I loved college and would really love to study again. Unfortunately, it would be beyond what I can handle right now to travel more than half of the year, write books, blogs, video scripts and white papers while working on a doctorate, even with a distance learning program.
Fortunately, I ran across and ad in an airline magazine for the Teaching Company. This innovative and extremely well-run company records the lectures of highly regarded university professors and sells them in audio and DVD format with companion guidebooks. I have bought a couple of dozen courses from them and typically finish one or two each month. Though I read an average of two books per week, there are benefits from listening to an outstanding faculty member deliver a semester’s worth of lectures that exceed what even a well-written book can usually deliver. Being a diagnosed Dyslexic, the courses are also extremely easy for me to listen to and I feel that I retain a good bit of what I learn from them.
Listening to courses on history, political science, economics, psychology and other topics has helped me immensely as a keynote presenter, as an author and as someone who loves to learn new things. Each professor offers a unique perspective and tons of great information.
I highly recommend these high content and professionally developed courses for those who love to learn.
Take Time out to Enjoy the Wonders of Nature that Surround us
Like most of our clients, Safe Havens Analysts tend to lead very busy lives. It is fairly typical for an SHI analyst to spend between 100 and 250 days a year on the road with long work hours and work weeks. There have been times that some of our personnel have had to work 11-16 hour days for weeks at a time without a single day off. Two of our analysts have pursued graduate degrees while working long hours as well. At the same time, our personnel try to get into the habit of taking vacations when we find ourselves in areas we have not had the chance to spend leisure time. This helps us to unwind and refresh. Regardless of what you do to serve children and youth, taking some quality time for family and friends is important.
Life is too short and the world is too beautiful to spend it all working. Try to make the time to relax so you can serve others well while taking care of yourself and those you love.
Video Podcasts Can Boost Attendance at School Safety and Other Professional Conferences
For about five years now, Safe Havens Video has been producing 2-5 minute video podcasts to help boost attendance at conferences keynoted by our analysts in the United States and Canada.
We have had excellent feedback from our clients who have repeatedly indicated that by posting the videos on their website and then e-mailing links to people who may want to attend, they have increased conference attendance. This has been particularly true for conferences in Tabor, Canada, Quebec City, Canada and for conferences held for law enforcement and educational associations in the U.S.
Video podcasts help people get a better idea of the caliber of the keynote presenter as well as a better feel for what they will get from breakout sessions and other conference activities.
We have provided a link to few samples to help readers see how this can be done for their conferences. This approach can work well for almost any type of professional conference regardless of topic as long as there is a way to draw people to the website to view the videos.
Minnesota School Officials Criticized for Banning Students from Wearing Rosary Beads
One parent is very upset after her son was told by school officials that he could not wear rosary beads to school because local police had advised school officials that many youth gang members were wearing the beads as a symbol of gang affiliation. Reportedly, 15-year-old Jake Balthazor was told that he could not wear the beads by a school administrator at Coon Rapids High School. The school district passed a policy to address the issue after receiving a memorandum on the practice from the Coon Rapids Police Department.
There have been numerous instances of violence at schools that were sparked when a student who is in a gang has become upset because a rival gang member displayed visible gang symbols at school. These situations can quickly escalate into weapons violence.
These types of situations are very challenging. School officials are often advised by legal counsel to take a similar approach because allowing any group of students to wear religious symbols can make it impossible for them to prohibit jewelry connected with youth gangs, satanic cults, hate groups or other organizations that might be upsetting to students, staff and parents. While these situations are often depicted in the media and by civil rights groups as centered on a Jewish child who has been banned from wearing the star of David (which is also commonly worn by gang members) or as in this case, a child who was wearing rosary beads and a crucifix, the reality seen in today’s schools can include a student with a swastika, a Klu Klux Clan symbol or other symbol that is disturbing to the average person.
These situations demonstrate the level of difficulty often faced by today’s school officials.
Disruptive Behavior at Graduation Ceremonies has Been a Significant Problem for Schools and Universities for Many Years
School and university officials have struggled for decades to find viable solutions to parents and family members who disrupt graduation ceremonies by yelling, screaming, blowing air horns and otherwise making noise that causes the names of many graduates to be drowned out. These unruly actions diminish the hard-earned recognition for other graduates and often add to the length of graduation ceremonies further inconveniencing others.
Many have been quick to criticize school and public safety officials who have tried to bring respect and dignity back to our graduation ceremonies through assertive measures. I can understand the frustration of our community leaders who have been bold enough to take a stand on behalf of the majority of those who know how to attend a graduation ceremony without ruining it for others. While I have seen some reports of tactics that I do find to be troubling, I am not so sure that some arrests for boisterous spectators is automatically incorrect. As with any such situations, we need access to accurate information to properly evaluate these situations.
Having worked more than a dozen K-12 and university graduation ceremonies over the years, I can attest that there are many people who will show up drunk, use drugs, curse and otherwise violate the law. There are even more people who will scream and yell like fools drowning out the names of one or more other graduates no matter how politely and repeatedly they are asked to conduct themselves with civility. The specific behaviors vary widely and some of these folks may simply be overly rude and insensitive without breaking the law while others may clearly be in violation of state and local code sections. I think we need to consider just how difficult these people are to work with while we scrutinize the actions of school and public safety officials.
Unfortunately, some students can be disruptive and disrespectful as well. I can recall my fellow students and I being embarrassed when a group of graduates from the law school got drunk during our undergraduate commencement ceremony and dropped wine bottles on the floor while we were receiving our degrees. Their drunken cursing and yelling during our graduation was particularly rude since this was a Baptist university. The university quickly modified procedures to try to head off this ridiculous behavior.
When I became a school district police chief, I was relieved to see that this type of conduct was not tolerated at our graduation ceremonies. In fact, any student who showed up intoxicated was arrested for possession of alcohol underage and not allowed to walk. Our public school graduations were generally very respectful and orderly with the exception of attendees who yelled and screamed when the names of their family members were announced. We discussed the idea of issuing citations for violators but felt that we would draw the kind of wrath that is being directed at school officials who have tried that approach this year. We did speak with individuals when they disrupted the event but this is of limited impact once people realize that there would be no real consequences for those self-centered individuals who fail to respect the needs of others. I must say, we sadly never did find a satisfactory solution to the problem of guests who lacked what we call “home training” in the South.
While many are focusing on how extreme the efforts of some school and public safety officials appear to be, one must witness this type of disrespectful and unruly behavior to appreciate just how terribly rude and disruptive these violators can be. We should not be too fast to pass judgment based on what are sometimes incomplete media accounts of these types of situations. It is important to remember that our court system offers ample opportunity for citizens to fight wanton abuse of legal authority within our legal system.
Basing Lockdown Protocols on Inside Versus Outside Threats Could be Dangerous
Over the past few years, our analysts have conducted more than 1,700 one-on-one crisis simulations with more than 500 school employees from 14 school districts across the nation. Using school crisis scenario videos as well as scripted scenarios and scoring sheets in structured interviews, the results have been most revealing and help to explain what we have been seeing in forensic analysis for school crisis incidents we see when serving in the capacity of an expert witness, particularly for school shooting cases.
One of the things that we are seeing regularly is a high rate of plan failure when it comes to fast recognition of the need to implement a lockdown and effective communication of that decision. We have noted a number of gaps between the concepts used for lockdowns and the actual effectiveness of those concepts.
One concept that fails badly when tested in this manner is the approach where the type of lockdown utilized is based on whether the threat is inside or outside of the school. In one assessment of a large urban district that had revamped its plans under a Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools grant (REMS), a fail rate of more than 70% was noted when this approach was utilized.
We will be expounding on these findings in a white paper on school lockdowns that will be released later this Summer, but to explain it briefly, we have found that school employees have an extremely difficult time fitting the appropriate response to situations when they have been taught to do so based on the location of the incident rather than by the nature of the threat. For example when posed with scenarios depicting violators with different types of weapons in various locations in and outside of schools, staff are usually unable to determine the need for a lockdown in the first thirty seconds even though the scenario clearly calls for one.
As with other gaps in concept that we have identified, we have also noted that the more school officials focus on active shooter response, the worse the score for their employees for any type of scenario they are hit with that does not involve someone firing a gun. Though the inside/outside approach to school lockdowns is popular with some school and public safety officials we feel that it is not a reliable approach and could result in needless injury and death of students and staff.
False Promises of School Security Can Result in Liability Exposure
Quality Over Speed When Developing or Revising School Crisis Plans
I had the opportunity to do a training session for the planning team for a large school system crisis planning team today. They were an excellent group to work with and they were very open to new ideas and strategies for plan structure.
They are eager to work diligently to dramatically upgrade the plans that had been developed in the district previously but were concerned that the planning approach we outlined for them would take a lot of time to complete as it is much more robust than what they currently have in place.
One of the things we discussed was the need to take the time to develop really good plans rather than to rush to complete plans rapidly at the expense of quality. This is a common challenge for school crisis planning. We would prefer a plan development timeline of 6 to 18 months (depending on what work needs to be done) to a shorter timeline that often does not allow for proper school crisis plan development.
It is always a pleasure to work with people who are dedicated and want to develop really high quality school safety plans.
Reports of Student Suicides Related to Bullying Should Make us Consider How we Address Bullying and the Threat of Suicide
MSNBC is reporting that 12-year-old Joel Morales of New York City killed himself after being badly bullied in two different New York City Schools. The boy’s mother and other relatives allege that the boy was repeatedly bullied because he was intelligent, because of his stature and because his father was dead. Morales had been seeing a therapist but had been reluctant to discuss some of the problems he was encountering.
It is important to consider the broader situation when media accounts report that students have committed suicide due to bullying. There are often other factors at play. I have assisted a school district client after a student in the district committed suicide at home and the case was intensely and inaccurately covered in the national media. The inaccurate coverage caused immense emotional harm to the student’s mother as well as to school officials. In addition, a number of mental health professionals have expressed concern that sensationalist media coverage of student suicides combined with the manner in which student suicide is treated in the movie “Bully” could contribute to the decisions of students who are bullied to commit suicide.
At the same time, there does appear to be a link between severe bullying and the decisions of some students to commit suicide. This is another reason schools and school districts should:
- Evaluate the level of bullying in schools using assessment based approaches
- Carefully consider how victims of school violence are protected by school disciplinary strategies (for example, the New York City School System has been under intensive pressure not to arrest students who attack other students and a number of school districts have dramatically reduced the use of court intervention for misdemeanor attacks on students by other students leaving them virtually defenseless).
- Implementing an evidence-based approach to bullying prevention such as the free Stop Bullying Now Campaign provided to any school in the nation at no cost by the federal government. Top bullying prevention experts tend to agree that evidence based approaches can dramatically reduce bullying and the impact it has on students.
- Focus on improving student supervision. This is one of the least expensive and most effective ways to reduce problematic behaviors among students as long as effective disciplinary strategies are in place.
- Focus on efforts to improve the connection and communications between students and staff.
- Suicide prevention screenings for students and training for school staff on how to detect students who may be at risk for suicide should be considered due to the significant levels suicide among school-aged students.
Bullying and student suicide are both significant issues for schools. Research-proven bullying and suicide prevention approaches can not only help make students safer, they can help improve school climate and culture.
Parent Pleads Guilty After Arrest for Abandoning Daughter at a Mall Because of Bad Grades
This photograph taken by the author in Quinhon, Vietnam depicts several thousand Vietnamese parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents and other family members waiting in the heat for most of a day while their students sit for college entrance exams. As the test results will not be available for about two weeks, their presence is to demonstrate to the students that education is important and that their family supports their efforts.
47-year-old Tuan Huynh plead guilty to a charge of child endangerment yesterday. Huynh left his 16-year-old daughter at the Cheltenham Square Mall in Pennsylvania because she made a grade he considered to be unsatisfactory on a calculus test. Fox News affiliate WTXF-TV reported that he told his daughter that she no longer met her parent’s expectations due to the grade.
Prosecutor Cara McMenamin told reporters that the young lady wandered around the mall for approximately four hours before a minister approached her and learned what had happened and notified authorities. The court sentenced Huynh to attend parenting classes, to serve 100 hours of community service and two years on probation. The prosecutor stated that Mr. Huynh showed no remorse for his actions.
There are aspects to this case and to the behavior of Ms. Diane Tran in the highly publicized Texas truancy case that are not surprising to me being married to a Vietnamese and having spent considerable time in Vietnam over the past seven years. Working with school officials in Vietnam and having visited many schools there, I have noted a number of stark contrasts with our schools and culture. Though by far not all Vietnamese could be described this way, I feel pretty comfortable stating that many Vietnamese parents and students exhibit an extraordinary focus on education. My wife is now working on her third graduate degree after graduating with a 3.93 GPA for her second masters at Texas Tech University. About halfway through her current degree she is maintaining a 4.0 GPA by dedicating about 40 hours per week on her studies while working on average about 60 hours per week and raising a child. As she has told me numerous times, she does not attend school to make B’s. She also feels that it is important for her to truly learn any subject she studies so she works far beyond what is required to make a top grade in her effort to master her subjects. My suggestions that she reduce her study time to achieve balance in her life are dismissed offhand.
I can understand how Ms. Tran can hold down a full-time job, a part-time job and maintain her status as an honor student. I can also understand how she maintains that she does this in part to support her family members because I have seen many examples of this in my wife’s family. Her niece completed a BA in New Zealand and an MBA in Australia and now sends home much of her paycheck each month to help repay her parents for all of the money they invested in her education. This in turn can help them fund a college education for her younger sister. While not all Vietnamese have this dedication to family and education, there is a very noticeable trend for these types of priorities in Vietnam and in Vietnamese Americans.
If you look at the photo and caption with this story, I submit that the reader consider if there would even be the need for a term such as AYP if this significant a percentage of American parents found the education of their children to be so critical.
While like people from any culture, Vietnamese Americans must conform to our legal system, it may help some readers to understand the cultural factors that are likely at work in these two cases. Many Vietnamese in Vietnam and in other countries still view a superb education as the way to a decent standard of living. Though Vietnamese society is rapidly changing, there is a pervasive hunger for education that is far different than what is the norm in the United States.
Will Unintended Consequences Follow now that the Judge has Dropped the Charges and Offered to Clear Record in Diane Tran Case
Under intense public pressure, Texas probate court judge Lanny Moriarty has dismissed contempt of court charges against 17-year-old honor student Diane Tran who missed 18 days of school this school year and failed to comply with the judge’s order to attend school. While these actions are very likely appropriate and necessary, they could have some negative and unintended consequences around the country.
Tran has stated that she was working a full-time job as well as a part time job to help family members after her parents abandoned her following a divorce. The case has drawn an international outcry from people who are critical that the judge did not make an exception for Ms. Tran due to her grades and work situation. People from 13 countries have reportedly donated more than $90,000 to help Ms. Tran.
Many communities in Texas and in other states have utilized assistance from courts in an effort to try to reduce the often significant and sometimes massive levels of truancy and drop-out rates with a number of large school districts graduating only about half of all students due to high drop-out rates. School and court officials are often frustrated by sheer numbers of student violators and unsupportive parents. Situations like the Tran case can help to show school and court officials that they should be flexible in unusual cases. These types of cases can also make school, public safety and court officials afraid to act due to fear of similar backlashes should they make a mistake or be portrayed in the media as having made an error.
Schools and communities today face a number of these difficult challenges as they continually are required to take on what had traditionally been parental responsibility for students. It is sadly all too common to see situations where parents abandon responsibility for their children putting pressure on students and those who educate them. Apparently, in Ms. Tran’s case, the parents may have totally abandoned their daughter putting her in a clearly challenging situation where she needed to work many hours while she was still attempting to perform at high academic levels. More typically, uncaring, irresponsible or ineffective parents fail to hold their children accountable and allow them to fall into unhealthy patterns such as truancy and excessive tardiness.
While schools in many other countries simply give up on these students and expel them, American schools as well as those in a number of other countries have attempted a number of innovative approaches to try to keep at-risk students in school. Approaches utilizing local courts have often been effective in reducing truancy and drop-out rates when thoughtfully developed and administered. Cases like the Tran case can unfortunately create an unfavorable impression for court intervention when they are misconstrued as the norm rather than the exception by groups that see almost any court intervention in student cases as inappropriate.
The Diane Tran case is truly a sad situation that will likely have a negative impact beyond the experiences for those who were directly involved.
Terrorists Targeting School Children are Ruthless
Since one of the first attacks by Terrorists when Yassar Arafat orchestrated an attack on an Israeli school bus using a land mine in 1948, terrorists groups have periodically specifically targeted innocent school children around the world for their attacks.
In a recent series of attacks, terrorists in Afghanistan have injured nearly 300 girls and their teachers by contaminating school facilities with poisons. These vicious and tragic attacks appear to be designed to interrupt the process of educating girls which has been a goal of many terrorists in the region.
It is truly sad that there have been so many school children targeted by terrorists in the Middle East. Most attacks occurring in Afghanistan, Iraq, Turkey and Israel but children have been attacked in many other regions as well. Unfortunately, children often become disposable pawns for desperate men and women who are willing to use horrific violence to attempt to force their beliefs on the larger population.
Girl Graduates Early From High School and is Shot and Killed Near Her Home
A 17-year-old girl was tragically murdered near her home while driving home from a date the day after she graduated from high school. The exemplary student had graduated from high school one year early and had planned to serve as a volunteer at Little Lighthouse during the summer before entering college to work towards a degree that would enable her to serve special needs children.
These types of senseless deaths are still far too common in our nation. This murder in Tulsa, Oklahoma illustrates the tremendous loss to our families and to our communities that occurs when someone is murdered. The victim was shot with what police describe as a high-powered rifle which is a broad definition that could cover hundreds of different makes and models of firearms. Police have not determined a motive for this tragic shooting at this time.
Crash Leaving Nine Injured Near California High School Shows Just how fast a Multi-Casualty Event Can Occur
At least five students were transported to the hospital after the driver of a pickup truck ran a red light and hit the group of students as they walked in a crosswalk near their California school. The incident took place shortly after school dismissal according to public safety officials.
This type of incident demonstrates just how fast a major crisis event can occur and how school officials must be prepared to address mass casualty events whether they are caused by an active shooter, a tornado or a traffic accident. Many schools today still lack written mental health recovery plans to address this type of incident and a proper incorporation of the National Incident Management System into their organization to help them manage the crisis when it takes place.
This tragic incident is typical of the many school crisis situations that occur each day in American schools that do not involve acts of violence or other types of incidents people most commonly associate with school safety, security and emergency preparedness.
Thousands of Dollars Donated for Texas Student Arrested for Truancy
17-year-old Diane Tran, a Texas honor student who was arrested for failure to comply with a probate court judge’s order not to be absent from school has attracted a considerable amount of support and financial assistance from people across the nation and from 13 other countries. Thus far, more than $70,000 has been donated by people who are sympathetic with Ms. Tran’s situation.
This case continues to draw national and international media attention.
Ms. Tran has developed a strong base of support in the United States and abroad. Many people in other countries where truancy is much less of a problem than in the United States are particularly confused by this case. The use of courts to help schools deal with severe societal problems like truancy, smoking, assaults, disorderly conduct, weapons violations and other common and problematic behaviors has drawn criticism in recent years.
School officials have been trying for decades to address major reductions in the authority of school officials combined with many apathetic parents and top performing students like Ms. Tran sometimes get caught up in these efforts.
Arrest of Texas Honor Student Diane Tran for Disobeying Judge’s Orders Raises Questions
There has been a considerable amount of controversy over the decision by Judge Lanny Moriarty to incarcerate 17-year-old honor student Diane Tran after she disobeyed the judge’s instructions not to miss school. The Willis High School student has drawn much sympathy because she has stated that she has missed school because works a full-time job as well as a part-time job while she is taking advanced placement courses and dual credit college level courses. Ms. Tran maintains that she is often too exhausted to get up in time for school due to her heavily loaded work and school schedule
Probate court judge Moriarty has ordered Tran to spend 24 hours in jail and pay a $100 fine. Judge Moriarty has indicated that he wants to make an example of Tran to help deter other truancy violators.
Tran has stated that she is working two jobs to help support an older brother who attends Texas A&M University and her baby sister who lives with relatives in Houston. Tran has stated that her parents moved from the area after they divorced abandoning her.
Tran is Vietnamese and this type of work ethic to support family members in need while working hard to obtain good grades in school is fairly common from what I have observed living and working in Vietnam.
This case has drawn much attention in the press and has many people concerned. This case also demonstrates the challenges faced in our society as school and court officials struggle in nothing short of an epic battle to reduce truancy and the drop out rate. When I was a school district police chief, we had two school district police officers who worked with two school social workers to help reduce truancy and the dropout rate. Citations to appear in court for parents and for students were an invaluable tool.
This case is far from the typical cases that we dealt with. Our cases more typically involved students who were not performing well academically and had missed 15, 30 or more days in a single year and parents who sometimes openly encouraged their children to miss school. In one case, a parent from Germany kept both of his elementary children home from school for two years.
Having worked directly in these types of truancy reduction efforts, I am reluctant to firmly conclude that the judge in this case is absolutely in the wrong, but the available information does raise some serious questions about whether this case has been handled in a reasonable manner. I am concerned however about the judge’s assertion that Ms. Tran was absent from school following a direct court order from the judge. Judges must take steps to maintain their credibility in the court process and other violators do react to what judges do or fail to do to back up their directives to defendants.
We shall be following this case as it develops.