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School Safety Keynote Presentations – Wisconsin Educators Learn ways to Build Successful Schools
I felt honored to be allowed to serve as the closing keynote for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction at their awesome Building the Heart of Successful Schools Conference in Wisconsin Dells last Friday. The department had an amazing line up of amazing speakers including Dr. William Steele and Dr. Jeff Duncan-Andrade. This was my second keynote in Wisconsin in the past four weeks, and I feel blessed to have been able to present there on a regular basis over the past decade.
Wisconsin has been a very progressive state in terms of school safety and has licensed our school crisis planning templates for every K12 school in the state through the Wisconsin Homeland Security Council. I had a well-attended breakout session on Pattern Matching and Recognition followed by an energized and passionate group for the closing keynote session.
It has been a very busy week and a half with a school security assessment for an independent school, the first day of a school security assessment for a public school system in North Carolina, several interviews with the Today Show and last Friday’s conference in Wisconsin. I am tired, but it is that good type of tired that comes from meaningful hard work. If you truly love what you do, you will never work a day in your life. I must say that I have been fortunate to love what I do throughout my adult life.
As I have said many times, I feel truly blessed to be allowed to interact with so many dedicated educators, mental health professionals, public safety officials, architects and other advocates for the children each month.
School Violence Expert Tip – Reduce the Chances of School Weapons Assaults by Reducing the Number of Fights
While the media may focus intently on mass casualty school shootings, the typical school weapons assault bears little resemblance to these catastrophic and tragic incidents. And while it is important for us to work diligently to try to prevent and prepare for mass casualty school shootings, we must also work to address the far more common forms of school violence. Leading school violence experts recognize that the majority of school weapons assaults do not involve fatalities and do not result in mass casualties. In fact, the majority of school violence incidents involving weapons are carried out with edged weapons and blunt objects rather than with guns. In fact, most of the school weapons attacks we have worked involve box cutters, razor blades, and relatively small knives.
Evaluating hundreds of these incidents reveals some noticeable and important patterns. For example, we have noted that the most common denominator for school weapons assaults is the common schoolyard fight. While the incidents are typically not mass casualty events reported in the national news, most school violence incidents involving weapons occur just before, during or immediately after a fight. One means to reduce the chances that a school violence incident involving weapons will occur is to work to reduce the number of fights at schools and school events. If twenty-five fights per year occur at a middle school, the chances that a school violence incident involving a gun, knife, or other weapon will occur increase. If staff at the school can reduce the number of fights by 80%, the chances of weapons being used in a school violence incident decline markedly.
We feel that it is also very important to remember the negative effect of fights on school climate and culture. Fights degrade the learning environment by causing distraction and tying up considerable staff time. While no single strategy will eliminate the threat of school violence, the reduction of triggering behaviors such as fights is one effective part of a comprehensive approach to school violence prevention.
School Safety Expert Tip – Focus on Improved Student Supervision for Improved School Safety
One of the most effective ways to improve school safety is to focus on effective student supervision. Though a much less expensive approach than security cameras, improving student supervision can protect students from a wide array of hazards ranging from taunting to terrorism. Student supervision is one of the most effective school safety strategies we have seen. Whether the danger is from a tornado, gang activity among students or an active shooter, improvements in student supervision at school and on field trips can be a powerful preventive school safety tool and can dramatically speed up emergency protective actions such as lockdown, evacuation, severe weather sheltering or shelter in place for hazardous materials.
Students who are not being effectively supervised are not only more vulnerable to victimization by others and involvement in accidents, they are also more difficult to move to safety rapidly. Making an effort to develop and maintain effective student supervision is a powerful school safety strategy.
School Security Consultant Expert Tip – Consider Free Resources before Retaining School Security Consultants
While qualified school security consultants will provide benefits far beyond the fees they charge, school officials should always carefully consider whether quality free resources can be obtained before retaining school security consultants. Many state agencies provide high quality and free school security consulting resources. Two of our analysts provided free school security consulting services while we served with the Georgia Office of Homeland Security and another Safe Havens analyst did so as an intern. Then as now, we were often troubled to see school officials pay school security consultants for services they could have received for free from government agencies.
While several school security consultants have become upset when we advise schools of this, our purpose as a non-profit school safety center is to make schools safer and helping schools utilize their available funding more efficiently is one of our goals. The best school security consultants have to routinely turn away paid work and should not be offended by school officials who seek to wisely utilize their limited fiscal resources. School officials should consider pushy or aggressive actions by school security consultants as a potential warning sign.
Safe Havens Evaluation of the Preliminary Summary of the Sandy Hook Report
Lessons learned from the preliminary summary of the Sandy Hook Report
Campus Safety Magazine has posted a feature article prepared by five Safe Havens Analysts. The article outlines seven of what our analysts considered to be seven of the most important observations from the preliminary Sandy Hook Report summary. On November 25th, the state attorney general released a preliminary summary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting Report. The Sandy Hook Report has been long awaited by school officials who have been forced to make tough decisions over the past 12 months on the way they approach school safety and school security. At the time of this posting, most of these key observations have not been addressed in the media coverage we have seen on the report. The points about school lockdowns and the ways schools should hold lockdown drills are particularly important, even moreso in light of the considerable amount of erroneous information that has been put forth in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy. We feel these points bear a critical look by school and public safety officials as they evaluate plans, procedures and drills for not only active shooter incidents but also any other type of crisis decision-making. We owe it to the victims to avoid some of the misconceptions that abounded previously to the release of the preliminary Sandy Hook Report, and to look for ways to learn from this tragedy and make reasoned and rational changes to improve the safety of students and educators everywhere.
School Safety Video from Safe Havens International wins Davey Award
I am proud to announce that our Safe Havens Video team was recently awarded a Davey Award for our video training series “Safe Topics”. The award is for our series as a whole and is a fitting reward for the hard work our team put into this video, which is already in use by school districts around the country. Most of our school security assessment clients are now using the Safe Topics school safety video series to enhance their school’s emergency preparedness and staff safety training.
The Safe Havens video crew has filmed school safety footage in Mexico, Bolivia, Canada, France, the Netherlands, South Africa, and Vietnam. They have produced training videos for the United States Department of Education, the Pennsylvania Department of Education, the Hawaii Department of Education, and numerous school systems and law enforcement agencies.
The Davey Awards honor outstanding creative work from small firms to highlight the “Davids” who go up against big firms with big budgets. Just like David who defeated Goliath with a big idea and a little rock, the Davey Awards recognize firms like ours with big ideas that can change the world. This year there were nearly 4,000 entries from media agencies all over the world.
The Davey Awards is judged by the International Academy of the Visual Arts (IAVA), a worldwide organization with over 600 members including luminaries from companies like Disney, GE, Keller Crescent, Microsoft, Monster.com, MTV, Sesame Workshops, and many others.
“This year’s Davey Award winners truly represent the best small firms worldwide. The work entered into this year’s competition embodies a smart, tactful approach to creativity and highlights the capabilities and forward thinking mindset that makes small agencies so unique” noted Linda Day, Executive Director of the IAVA.
This award is the third national award won by the Safe Havens International Video Unit. They have worked hard to earn all three awards and we are proud of their efforts.
A time for Thanks
Safe Havens is comprised of more than 30 unique individuals with a number of practicing Christians among our ranks. As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving day with our families, we would like to extend our hope that you have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday. We all feel truly blessed to be alive and to have the privilege to do what we love each day.
Sandy Hook School Shooting Summary Report Released
The final summary report for the Shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School was released this afternoon. Several of our analysts are reviewing the report now. We thought that some of our readers might be interested in the report as well.
Connecticut State Police Scheduled to Release First Report of the Sandy Hook Elementary School Attack
The Connecticut State Police may be releasing the first in a series of reports from their investigation of the deadly attack at Sandy Hook Elementary School last December. At this point, there are indications that a brief summary report will be released to the general public, but the full report may not be released at this time. Hopefully, this report and future report information will be released by the Connecticut State Police when it is appropriate. This should help put to rest much of the conspiracy theories and wild speculation that has been so prevalent in this case. While some of these harmful activities will no doubt continue, we hope that there will be a decrease in these types of insensitive speculation that must be painful for families who have lost loved ones in the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary.
Just as it must be very painful for survivors of the holocaust to listen to gibberish from holocaust deniers, it must be quite painful for family members who lost loved ones, survivors of the terrible attack, and residents of this peaceful community to bear the burden of those who claim the event never happened or who attempt to profit from the event by presenting on “what really happened at Sandy Hook” before the facts of the case are made public – even though they had no direct role.
Having reporters approach your house with a microphone concealed in a bouquet of flowers to try to trick you into a surprise interview must be a painful experience for a parent who has lost a child in such a brutal manner. School security consultants rushing to Newtown to capitalize on the event by doing media interviews has also caused distress. We, as well as many educators and public safety officials in Connecticut, found this practice to be quite disturbing. As neither the school district nor public safety officials summoned them to the community, people were stunned at this unscrupulous and opportunistic behavior. One official likened one of these folks to a hyena coming in to feed off the dead.
Sadly, there is no shortage of individuals who are so focused on making money. They either do not care or perhaps do not realize what damage they can cause with these callous marketing approaches. Anyone who is more concerned about getting on the news more than they care about the emotional well-being of the survivors is not student and school-centered. As with numerous past tragedies, these types of individuals often then try to create an implied narrative that they were called to the scene as responders. These sad events show just how money obsessed some people can be.
The Connecticut State Police, local and federal law enforcement officers working this investigation have been under what must be intense pressure while trying to conduct a thorough investigation in a sensitive and responsible manner. Though there will certainly be unanswered questions, after this report and any subsequent reports, we are hopeful that a more meaningful dialogue about school security can commence as we learn more reliable and accurate information.
Safe Havens Selected to Assist the Maine Department of Education in School Security Assessment
The Maine Legislature has directed the Maine Department of Education to examine school security. Safe Havens International feels honored to be selected to assist in the school security assessment project after careful vetting by the Maine Department of Education. The Safe Havens International team working on this project also been trusted to work on the 2013 White House School Safety Initiative and has completed more than forty school security assessment projects this year. Safe Havens analysts have also been asked to conduct school security assessments in Nigeria and Kenya as well as in more than 20 states in the past nine months.
Safe Havens analysts will collaborate with a multidisciplinary team of education, architecture, homeland security, and public safety officials to help evaluate climate, culture, and emergency preparedness of Maine schools. Safe Havens analysts have previously assisted with five statewide school security assessment projects. Safe Havens is the only organization in the nation to have completed more than one state-level school security assessment process.
Like every school security assessment project, each state government school security assessment project has been a learning experience for us. Working with state department of education, homeland security, and law enforcement officials on such large-scale school security assessment projects has been incredibly insightful to us all.
The selection of Safe Havens International to assist the Maine Department of Education for this impactful school security assessment project speaks volumes of the reputation our analysts have earned. I am personally grateful to our dedicated team of school security experts. I am continually inspired by their efforts to make schools safer and more productive places of learning.
Mixed Messages – Many School Officials Overwhelmed by Conflicting School Security Recommendations
During a very large school security assessment project, we had a series of meetings with a number of public safety agency representatives, education leaders, and representatives of teachers and other categories of school employees to obtain feedback. One extremely important finding that arose is consistent with what we have heard in many different school security assessments in most regions of the country. School superintendents, building administrators, teachers, and a variety of public safety officials reported that they have experienced considerable confusion because educators are constantly being told conflicting things by different school security experts and different public safety officials.
One superintendent was concerned that he had repeatedly been told to change lockdown procedures as local police attended different seminars hearing different information from different speakers. He reported that it was extremely challenging to change lockdown protocols five or six times in a period of one or two years. If we put ourselves in the shoes of a school superintendent, we can understand how difficult this is. For example, a school superintendent who complies with the instructions to make these changes may have to:
- Spend time revising their plans five times in two years.
- Spend money reprinting 1,800 emergency plans for teachers.
- Dedicate time to issue the 1,800 plan components to the teachers.
- Dedicate precious and extremely limited staff time to re-train 1,800 teachers.
- Experience a loss of confidence of teachers who cannot understand why their leaders and public safety officials cannot make up their minds about life and death matters.
This makes it even more important that school safety, security, and emergency preparedness concepts be carefully vetted before they are implemented. Our experience has been that these types of situations can often be avoided by:
- Asking if the suggested approach has been properly evaluated to provide evidence that it will actually work.
- Carefully vetting new procedures with fire service, emergency management, and law enforcement officials rather than with law enforcement officials alone.
- Utilization of the problem seeking approach where planning teams conduct a group activity where they use a scenario where the concept has failed as a starting point and the group has to figure out why this could occur.
- Carefully testing new concepts in a manner that is reflective of how they will actually operate.
Taking the time to vet new school safety concepts is worth the time and energy required. Thoughtful vetting using these approaches up front can prevent considerable difficulty in the future.
Indiana School Safety Specialist’s Academy to Graduate more than 500 New School Safety Specialists
This week, the Indiana School Safety Specialist’s Academy is training more than 500 new School Safety Specialists. Graduates of the two day live training will also have to complete two additional days of web-based training and a third day of live training this spring before they are certified. Since its founding in 1999, the Academy has certified more than 2,000 School Safety Specialists and has hosted guest students from a dozen states. This week’s Basic School Safety Specialists Academy class was the largest in the School Safety Specialists Academies’ long and impressive history. I have keynoted the School Safety Specialists Academy every year for more than a decade and have always found the audiences to be among the most highly informed conference attendees. It is a pleasure and an honor to be allowed to present at the Academy again today.
The Indiana School Safety Specialists Academy goes to considerable lengths to select excellent presenters not only nationally, but within the state of Indiana. Whether the presenter is a practitioner from Indiana or a national level presenter, The Academy staff carefully scrutinizes speaker evaluations to determine which speakers will be allowed to present in future sessions. Renowned speakers like Dr. Bernie James and Lt. Col. Dave Grossman are also invited back year after year because they have such strong evaluations. Whether presenting for the Basic Academy or for the advanced sessions, I have always felt challenged because I know attendees want new and proven information on school safety. It was truly a pleasure to once again have the opportunity to present for this impressive program.
Safe Havens Completes School Security Assessment for Flemington-Raritan, New Jersey Schools
I delivered a one-hour presentation to summarize our report of findings for the Flemington-Raritan School Board in Flemington, New Jersey last night. The school security assessments were conducted in September, and the written strategic report of findings and school security assessment site reports for each school in the district were delivered in October.
School security assessments afford us an opportunity to learn from each client and this project was no exception. The district’s superintendent developed a superb rubric to allow his board to track the district’s progress in implementing the numerous opportunities for improvement identified in the report. He also assured the board that the district’s leadership team would work to maintain the numerous positive aspects identified in the school security assessment report. The level of student supervision, connectivity between students and staff, and a close collaboration between the district’s facilities department and building principals were all very impressive.
While on site to deliver the report of findings, I conducted two training sessions for front office staff and building administrators. It was an absolute pleasure to work with this high-quality, student-centered school district.
School Security Assessment Tip – Require a Draft Report when Utilizing School Security Consultants for School Security Assessments
Safe Havens analysts have assisted with more school security assessments than any organization in the world. The depth of experience gained in helping to perform school security assessments for more than 5,000 K12 schools across the nation, as well as in other countries, has revealed that a far more accurate written report can be produced when the client is afforded an opportunity to fact check a draft version of the document and to help the school security experts who prepare it ensure that the language used to describe opportunities for improvement are clear and understandable to the people who will read it.
Any firm with a solid reputation for integrity can provide an accurate and honest outside evaluation. While school security experts who have questionable reputations may fear allegations of inappropriate influence by clients, reputable school security experts will not have any trouble handling these types of allegations. As a case in point, many federal courts allow the hiring attorney to fact check a draft version of a written opinion rendered by a school security expert serving as an expert witness. As this approach is considered valid in a federal court of law where an expert witness faces intense scrutiny, we feel it is no less appropriate in a school security assessment where the need for accuracy is equally important and subject to later scrutiny.
A school security expert with an established reputation for integrity will refuse to change findings that are accurate and properly phrased. We have done so for a client that directly told us that we would lose several hundred thousand dollar’s worth of work on a future project if we did not eliminate an accurate finding from our report. We politely informed the client that our integrity was worth far more than the fees for any project and the finding stayed in the report.
We have had many clients express to us that they have been stuck with an inaccurate report of findings because the report did not match what they were told in a brief exit interview by the consulting firm. Inaccuracies and unclear writing can create significant practical hurdles and legal challenges in future safety-related litigation. As a client, school officials should exert their right as customers to review and comment on a draft report before a final report is produced.
School Security Assessment Expert Tip – Conduct Pre-mortem Exercises as part of the School Security Assessment Process
I had the great pleasure of presenting on school security assessments for a general session yesterday at the 2013 Minnesota Symposium on Terrorism and Emergency Preparedness (M-STEP) conference. I was a keynote speaker at the same conference in 2002 and felt honored to be asked to return. Deputy Fire Chief Todd Seitz of the Brooklyn Park Fire Department wanted me to present the findings of our extensive research from writing our newest book Staying Alive – How to Act Fast and Survive Deadly Encounters to the group. He especially wanted me to share with the audience what we have found during thousands of controlled one-on-one crisis simulations during school security assessments we have performed.
One simple but powerful concept we covered is what Dr. Gary Klein refers to as a pre-mortem exercise. While it is valuable to conduct post-mortem activities to learn what went wrong as well as what worked well in a school crisis, finding and correcting opportunities for improvement before an incident occurs is more proactive. The school security assessment process is an excellent opportunity to do this.
According to Klein, a pre-mortem activity involves an exercise which simulates that our prevention measures, crisis plans or other critical activities have failed in an incident. Participants who have a deep understanding of the approaches involved are tasked with clear instructions. They must accept the concept being tested has indeed failed no matter how confident we are in the approach. They must also determine what would most likely cause such a failure. Klein’s work has demonstrated that people who are closely attached to the concepts being tested often have an excellent ability to spot serious planning flaws even when they are emotionally attached to their plans. We have found this to be true when our analysts use pre-mortem exercises during school security assessments and staff development sessions.
Consider using pre-mortem exercises as part of your school security assessments to more effectively vet plans, procedures and strategies. Find and correct deadly assumptions now rather than during an event when lives are at risk.
Former Delta Force Special Operator Provides Compelling Interview for Staying Alive – How to Act Fast and Survive Deadly Encounters
Tom Satterly is the epitome of the best America has to offer. Tom recently retired from a distinguished career with the United States Army. Having served his country as a member of the 82nd Airborne Division and as a Green Beret, Tom was selected for training with the Army’s elite Delta Force. Selection for the year-long Delta Force Training requires physical fitness comparable to that of an Olympic athlete. As with the Basic Underwater Demolition (BUDS) training for United States Navy SEALs, completion of the training requires an incredible degree of mental toughness and adaptability. Tom was able to complete this training before being selected for an even more selective group of men who serve as Delta Force Special Operators.
Awarded six Bronze stars for his service to the United States Army, Tom survived 18 hours of intense combat in Mogadishu in a battle that was depicted in the movie BlackHawk Down. I have met three men who survived that terrible battle and have the deepest respect and admiration for all of our service members who fought there. In fact, awe would be a better description of how I feel about these men, the men who survived the Battle of the La Drang Valley in Vietnam, the assaults at Normandy, Tarawa, the Battle for Midway Island and other military actions where our troops have overcome incredible odds. Staying Alive – How to Act Fast and Survive Deadly Encounters is designed to help distill knowledge and concepts from people who have been able to apply them to survive events that many do not. While there are no guarantees in fast breaking life and death situations, there are possibilities and probabilities for dramatically improving human performance that we can learn and apply.
In his first public interview, Tom was kind enough to share what he could from his vast knowledge and experience for both the book and the video. As with other special operators, he must abide by appropriate restrictions on what he can discuss but was able to share with us concepts for improving human performance that the average person can learn and apply. I shared some of his insights with more than 600 educators and law enforcement officers in Connecticut last week and had feedback from a number of attendees who found his advice to be extremely helpful. His contribution to Staying Alive – How to Act Fast and Survive Deadly Encounters is both valuable and appreciated.
We feel truly blessed that this amazing human being has been so generous of his time with us so that others can learn from him how to make themselves and those they care about safer. He is currently serving others as a facilitator with Adventure Combat Ops (www.adventurecombatops.com), and serves as a trainer and consultant with law enforcement agencies and military groups, both overseas and here at home. His site can be found at www.worldthreatreduction.com.
School Safety Advocates in Tennessee
I had an absolute blast doing school safety presentations for four groups last week. I met nearly 1,000 school and law enforcement officials in Connecticut and Tennessee. I was so fired up when I finished presenting in Connecticut that I drove all the way to my next night’s hotel after forgetting something and had to drive through Hartford traffic two more times that afternoon. I was so inspired, this hardly seemed a bother.
My next presentation was in Jefferson County, Tennessee and I was equally inspired by the school safety advocates I encountered there. I had the good fortune to meet a high school administrator with a stellar record not only as an effective and contentious school official but as a United States Navy SEAL. I was deeply impressed with the Jefferson County Sherriff’s Department as well. Every school in the county has a full-time sheriff’s deputy serving as a school resource officer. While I was pleased that every SRO attended the training, I was most impressed that the sheriff, chief deputy, supervisors, and the fire chief made time for the school safety training as well. School safety is clearly a priority with the public safety agencies in Jefferson County.
The enthusiastic hugs from deputies and educators were much appreciated at the end of the presentations. While interacting with the deputies, I was as deeply impressed with them as I was with the high caliber of educators, mental health personnel, and support staff. I was so excited at the end of the day, I left my computer in the church where I presented! Thankfully, my client caught the oversight and another 90-minute drive corrected my error. Though I once forgot a power cord for my laptop, I have never made this type of error once, let alone twice! This was simply an exhilarating week working with many true professionals who care deeply about school safety. I really feel so deeply blessed to be allowed to work with so many awesome people.
I was honored to be asked the next day to present on school safety in Jefferson County again in 2014 and look forward to returning to this wonderful and beautiful community, as well as the people who make is such a special place to live and attend school.
Is sixteen hours enough time to learn to attack an active shooter?
While delivering a conference keynote at a state emergency management conference recently, I ran a simulation of a student holding a gun to his temple with his finger on the trigger and threatening to commit suicide. The volunteer who had to verbalize what she would do as 400 people observed was a university administrator. After she described for me and the audience what she would do to try to address the situation, we discussed her responses as a group. When I asked if anyone in the audience would do anything differently, an attendee stated that she should have attempted to take the gun away from the student. When I asked if he felt that she was capable of doing so, he told me that she would be if she had been properly trained. As an instructor who teaches a sixteen hour program which includes techniques to attack an active shooter as a last resort, he felt that she would be able to reliably do so if she had completed this two-day training program utilized by many K12 schools and institutions of higher learning. When I polled the other 400 public safety officials in the room, not one agreed that it would be a proper course of action to attempt to disarm the student.
During the discussion, the attendee stated that 16-hours of training on disarming an armed aggressor is more than a police officer gets. I received two weeks of this type of training in the first police academy program I attended and additional training over my two decade law enforcement career. I would not consider it an appropriate response to use a disarming technique for the situation depicted in the video scenario. I later learned that the gentleman asking the question is a highly motivated and dedicated campus security director at an institution of higher learning. During a discussion following my keynote session, a group of attendees expressed concern that a caring and intelligent professional who had completed a nationally recognized instructor program would so attempt to apply techniques that are clearly designed to be applied as a last resort for active shooter situations to a situation where a student was holding a gun to his head threatening suicide. Another higher education campus security director, who is also an instructor for the same program, expressed concern that such misapplications are likely under field conditions.
Campus safety experts, law enforcement officials, insurance carriers, and campus administrators remain heavily divided on this hotly debated concept. People on both sides of this discussion can easily become defensive to their respective stances because they are so passionate about their responsibility to protect staff and students. To be clear, I have never advocated that students and staff remain passive if they are trapped in a room with an armed aggressor who is actively attacking the group with a firearm or other weapon. At the same time, extensive review of research on how the human brain works under life and death stress, personally working seven active shooter incidents in K12 schools, and hundreds of more typical school and university shootings, stabbings and other weapons assaults combined with what our analysts have found in conducting more than 3,500 controlled one-on-one campus crisis simulations, leaves me deeply troubled about current concepts being used to train people to attack and active shooter as a last resort.
Four of my colleagues and I have been conducting extensive research on this topic for a chapter dedicated to this approach in our new book Staying Alive – How to Act Fast and Survive Deadly Encounters. We have interviewed numerous subject matter experts ranging from Delta Force Special Operators, Researchers, and leading campus safety experts. We have also interviewed victims and witnesses of dozens of campus shootings including those at Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook Elementary School. We also ran simulations with campus employees who have completed training programs on attacking an active shooter as a last resort while also conducting simulations with employees from the same organizations who have not participated in this type of training.
Our conclusion is that the current active shooter training programs can result in the type of misapplication described earlier. We respectfully caution that training of this type must be significantly improved to reduce the significant danger of these unintended and deadly consequences.
What School Crisis Planners can learn from Navy SEALS
I recently read the book The Heart and the Fist – The Education of a Humanitarian, the Making of A Navy Seal. The book was written by Eric Greitens who was a Rhodes Scholar who earned his PhD at Oxford and did extensive humanitarian work around the globe before becoming a U.S. Navy S.E.A.L. I found the book to be well-written, interesting, and insightful. We relentlessly research and study how people can better prepare for and respond to life and death crisis situations. Greitens book was one of the books I read while researching our latest book Staying Alive – How to Act Fast and Survive Deadly Encounters due out from Barron’s this April.
I thought the author did an excellent job in examining how mental confidence is built during SEAL training. He also does a great job in describing specific concepts the Navy uses to instill the unusually high level of confidence and competence in their trainees and graduate of SEAL training. I recommend The Heart and the Fist for those who are serious students of school crisis planning As we have maintained for years, while it is impractical to try to train educators in the same manner as special forces operators, some of the same concepts they use can be conveyed to members of the general public in an appropriate fashion to help them improve their ability to think fast and survive challenging events. Many school crisis planners we have worked with have successfully incorporated lessons learned in other disciplines such as the military, law enforcement, fire service, and emergency medical care.
Safe Havens Selected to Perform School Security Assessment at Independent School in Nairobi, Kenya
Safe Havens International has been selected to perform a school security assessment for an independent Christian school in Nairobi, Kenya. Safe Havens Executive Director Michael Dorn will travel to Kenya for a week in January to conduct the on-site portion of the assessment while Steve Satterly, Dr. Sonayia Shepherd, Russell Bentley, and Phuong Nguyen will provide off-site research, analysis, and report preparation. Safe Havens routinely performs school security assessments for independent schools across the nation and has been receiving an increasing number of requests to perform school security assessments not only in the U.S. but in other countries as well. Safe Havens has also been selected to conduct a school security assessment in Nigeria and is being considered for a school security assessment project for an independent school in Thailand.
As is our practice on high-risk targets for terrorism, we will not be identifying the school by name prior to the site visit. Two parents from the school were killed and two students who attend the school were wounded in the tragic terrorist attack at a Nairobi shopping mall. Safe Havens feels deeply honored to be entrusted to perform this detailed and particularly high-stakes independent school security assessment.
School Security in Connecticut
I am travelling to Wethersfield, Connecticut today for two training sessions for 700 school officials and law enforcement officers. I have had great interaction with many dedicated advocates for the children in many trips to Connecticut. I will travel from Connecticut to another school district presentation in Jefferson, Tennessee. I am excited and looking forward to working with presentations for both districts.
School Security Expert Tip – Exterior Door Numbering Can Save Lives and Provide Daily Benefits
Many schools have placed large numbers on each exterior door to help emergency responders navigate their facilities in the event of a school security incident. Our clients have reported numerous other day-to-day benefits from this practice. For example, numerous clients have told our school security experts that this makes it easier to direct visitors for special events and helps maintenance personnel understand which door needs repair when work orders come in. This school security practice is relatively inexpensive and can provide years of benefit even if there is never a major school security incident.
Some of our clients add directional letters to make communications even more effective. For example, 4W would indicate door number 4 facing west. A few of our clients even place the numbers and letters on the inside of exterior doors at the bottom of the doors so they can be seen when crawling during a fire. Our school security experts generally do not recommend numbering individual classrooms on the exterior of the school as this could help an aggressor locate a staff member or student they wish to attack or in the case of students abducted.
Our school security experts try to focus on the simple and inexpensive approaches to school security as well as appropriate school security investments that are more costly.
School Security Expert Tip – Is it Practical and Safer to Teach with the Door Locked?
The most common questions our school security experts get during school security expert assessments involve lockdowns. When we keynote on school security, the majority of the questions we get also involve lockdown procedures. This makes it clear that educators are deeply concerned about this issue. One increasingly popular approach in K12 schools is for teachers to make it a practice to teach with the door locked. This practice has already proven to be effective with at least one incident in a Louisiana school where a middle school student killed himself in a school restroom after he was unable to kill two teachers because they were both teaching with their doors locked. While this is one example of the benefits of teaching with the door locked, there are other reasons that show that this school security practice should be considered.
One principal in Bibb County, Georgia instituted the practice of requiring all teachers to teach with their doors locked in the early 1990’s as one means to reduce classroom disruptions and tardy students. By requiring teachers to lock their classroom doors as soon as the late bell rang and students who had not made to class on time to come to the office, hundreds of tardy students interrupting classes were reduced per day. When students had to come to the office and to have an administrator escort and admit them to their classes, students quickly learned to make it to class on time. This increased time on task, improved school security, and improved the learning environment.
This approach has also been implemented in schools that are aware that there have been many instances where an aggressor has managed to breach school security and then enter a classroom to attack students and/or staff. From students who have been attacked by another child’s parent in retaliation for alleged bullying activity to more severe situations where teachers have been killed by an ex-spouse in front of their students, serious assaults have occurred in a number of public and non-public schools. While most of these incidents do not garner intensive national media coverage, they have a tremendous negative impact for those who experience them.
Understandably, some administrators feel that having to use a key to enter a classroom for observations is more disruptive, I suggest that a principal entering the room will distract students and interrupt learning regardless of whether a key is used or not. A number of educators who have adopted this practice report reduced rather than increased classroom distraction because teachers become more selective in issuing hall passes to students. Keeping in mind that distraction occurs every time anyone enters or leaves a classroom, the approach may be less disruptive than many people assume if it is implemented thoughtfully.
School Safety Presentation in Indianapolis
I had a great time keynoting the Emergency Management Alliance of Indiana conference today. The emergency managers, law enforcement officers, fire service professionals, and military personnel were an awesome and gracious group.
The conference organizers, meeting planner, vendor, board members, and officers went out of there WAY to makes sure every detail was seen to and attendees were intensely interested in the topics I was asked to present on. I had been asked to perform our concealed weapons demonstration, visual weapons screening, and pattern matching and recognition programs. Due to recent problems with school security experts conducting school security assessments, I was asked to go through the “red flags” they could look for to pick out the overnight media experts hawking services by saying whatever it takes to get an interview with the national news. We closed with information on free school crisis planning resources that are available to all public and non-public schools in Indiana. I feel honored by the rousing standing ovation I received from this respectful and kind group of people who protect us each and every day. At the end, I was overwhelmed with men and woman hugging me and thanking me for our center’s work.
I have been once again blessed to present to staunch defenders of all we hold dear. It was truly an amazing day.
School Safety Presentations – 2013 Emergency Management Alliance Conference
Today, I will have the good pleasure to present three sessions at the 2013 Emergency Management Alliance Conference in Indianapolis, Indiana. I am presenting Weapons Concealment and Detection, Six Senses of School Safety, and When Young Lives are at Stake Emergency Operations Planning for Schools. I have been honored to keynote several dozen conferences in Indianapolis and always look forward to my next visit. I have another keynote in Indianapolis next month for the Indiana Department of Education School Safety Specialist’s Academy and am excited about that session as well.
Manuscript for Staying Alive – How to Act Fast and Survive Deadly Encounters completed.
Our dedicated authoring team was able to deliver the 60th and final version of the manuscript for Staying Alive – How to Act Fast and Survive Deadly Encounters to Barron’s several hours ahead of deadline last week. We were smack in the middle of finishing the manuscript and completing reports for four different school security assessment projects when we received a short notice request to present as finalists for a major school security assessment proposal we had submitted.
While four of our team members handled the presentation, my son Chris worked diligently to cover our workload. Chris came through and finished the final round of edits of the 89,000 word manuscript for Staying Alive. This week, Chris will be sending the final graphics and photographs to Barron’s and the book will be released in bookstores this April. This powerful book is among the most extensively researched and comprehensive work in a field of many extremely well written titles such as the Gift of Fear by Gavin deBecker, On Combat by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, Unthinkable Amanda Ripley and Sources of Power by Dr. Gary Klein.
Though much work remains to be done for the final edits and companion video, the heavy lifting of the last eleven months has been completed. Dr. Sonayia Shepherd, Chris, Steve Satterly and content developer Phuong Nguyen have all worked past midnight on many occasions to research, write and rewrite version after version of each chapter in this incredible book. Feedback from a diverse team of seven experienced subject matter experts has been that it is hard to put the book down and that every reviewer learned important things even though they have more than an average of two decades of experience each.
The book will not only be available in bookstores, but Wal-Mart is already listing the book as available on a pre-order basis at a heavily discounted price from the anticipated retail cost. I am relieved and most grateful that my amazing co-authoring team has been able to finish this true labor of love.
School Security Assessment Team – a Group to be Proud of
When is the last time you took stock of the amazing people who help to make your schools safer? More importantly, when is the last time you took a moment to express your gratitude for the many things that they do exceptionally well every day? Meeting constant deadlines and “putting out fires” can make it easy to lose site of why practitioners are typically immensely busy people.
This thought has hit me from time-to-time throughout my school security career. It once again smacked me between the eyes unexpectedly during this past incredibly hectic week. I along with four of my colleagues had to deliver a short notice presentation last week. Safe Havens was one of four finalists for a school security assessment project for more than 200 schools and the client is on a tight deadline. Fortunately, the timing for the presentation could not have been better as Dr. Shepherd and I were both not scheduled for off-site work that day. While driving to the interview, another school security consultant who did not make the finalist selection called to congratulate me. I not only appreciated the kind and professional gesture, but I also learned that Safe Havens had been ranked first of the four finalist firms in first phase of the bid review process. Bids of this scale are incredibly competitive and I knew there would be some top firms on the list of finalists.
As I continued the drive, I reflected on how fortunate I was to have a dedicated team of school safety experts to put such a quality bid together on short notice. The project will require twenty-one Safe Havens personnel to be on the ground and several more staff supporting them off-site. This reminded me how Safe Havens has grown steadily from a small team of only four school security experts over the past thirteen years. I thought about how I would describe the extensive and varied backgrounds of our diverse team members to the panel in a relatively short presentation. I realized that our team included five school security directors, three school district police chiefs, two team members with full-time state government emergency management and homeland security experience, two analysts who have completed advanced anti-terrorism training in Israel, an attorney and authors of more than two dozen books on school safety. Members of our team are currently assisting in our sixth statewide school security assessment project and were trusted to work on the 2013 White House School Safety Initiative. The experience the analysts have working in more than twenty countries is unmatched in the private sector. The analysts on this team have assisted with school security assessments for more than 5,000 K12 schools and are the only school safety team in the nation to have worked on multiple statewide school security assessment projects.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized just how easy it can be to take your own people for granted. While I periodically take the time to express my gratitude for their work, the sheer volume of our work this past year has been staggering, even for the world’s largest school security assessment team. Our personnel have been conducting school security assessments, delivering school security keynotes at conferences and providing training to school and public safety officials almost every week since that fateful day last December.
While it has been a heavy load, our school security assessment team has been up to the challenge meeting demanding deadlines and delivering work that consistently exceeds the expectations of our clients. I am truly impressed with the dedication of our analysts, video crew and support staff. They have performed to incredible levels this year and have truly achieved results that are nothing short of remarkable during this challenging time.
I found it easy to describe what I truly believe to be the world’s most experienced, dedicated, and talented school security experts to the committee. When combined with vast expertise of two internationally experienced partner firms who have worked extensively for clients including the U.S. State Department, Department of Defense, U.S. Department of Homeland Security and other large organizations, it was easy for me to confidently state that our team could perform exceptional school security assessments for the client in a manner unmatched by any school security firm in the world.
While the competition for this project is tough, I am proud of my team regardless of which firm the district selects. As I have articulated before in this column, I am continually inspired by the dedication of what I feel is the most skilled and unparalleled school security assessment team in the world. While we can always find something to be upset about if we try, there is so much good in the world if we just take the time to look for it. Take the time to consider who is on your dedicated school security team, how hard they work and what they have done to make school a safer place for all. Most importantly, take the time to thank them for their important contributions.
Thank you team!
School Security Incident – Massachusetts high school teacher second teacher murdered in the U.S. this week
The body of teacher Danvers High School teacher Colleen Ritzer was found in the woods near her school. District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett stated that a 14-year-old student is being charged as an adult in the murder. Danvers, Massachusetts is described as having a low crime rate. School officials have announced that all schools in the district were closed today as a result of the incident.
Schools have been conducting school security assessments in unprecedented numbers since the tragic school security incident in Newtown, Connecticut last December.
School Security Expert Breaking Event – School Shooting at Middle School in Sparks, Nevada
Few details are available at this time, but police in Sparks, Nevada are confirming that a school shooting occurred this morning in the suburb of Reno, Nevada. Police have indicated that there currently is no additional danger. Our school security experts will provide additional information in the Safe Havens Blog as it becomes available. School shootings like this one remind us that school security is a timely issue. Our school security experts have worked more than 300 school shootings and edged weapons assaults including seven active shooter incidents in U.S. and Canadian schools, and will provide appropriate expert commentary when adequate information becomes available.
School Security Expert Tip – School Safety Newsletters can Help Raise Awareness
A number of our clients have had success utilizing various forms of concise school security newsletters to raise awareness of school safety issues. To assist our clients, our school security experts routinely grant permission for reprinting of our articles, columns and blogs relating to school security. We also encourage the use of links to our numerous free school safety videos in the ask Safe Havens section of our website for school security newsletters. These videos are typically one to four minutes in length and address a wide array of school security and safety topics.
Our analysts are also glad to interview for school security newsletters of this type. Please feel free to contact us if you think our school security experts can ever be of assistance in your efforts to better educate students and staff. Providing free information and technical assistance is a primary goal of our non-profit school safety center.
School Safety Expert Tip – Holistic School Safety Approaches
Well-intentioned but emotional reactions that are driving large numbers of smart, well-educated and experienced people to overemphasize mass casualty school shootings. This deadly overemphasis has been resulting in preventable deaths in our schools since the mid 1990’s.
The utterly shocking scale of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School has intensified this deadly phenomenon. As school children continue to die in significant numbers from lightning strikes, most schools still do not purchase $300 lightning strike detectors that could prevent many of these deaths. We lose roughly the same number of children each year in fatal playground accidents as were killed in our third most deadly school attack at Sandy Hook Elementary School. As a result, schools are expending considerable amounts of time and money training staff in concepts that have often not been validated by external review for threats that are extremely rare though catastrophic.
While the media focuses intently on mass casualty acts of violence, the far more common tragedies that claim many young lives go quietly unnoticed. While we expend millions of dollars on concepts which are not only as of yet not proven to work, and which very well may prove to increase danger, we often ignore free and low-cost approaches that have demonstrated success.
For example, thousands of school teachers attend two-day training programs on active shooter response that has never been validated, while they are not provided training in research-based de-escalation techniques. Similarly, school systems purchase millions of dollars in security camera technology only to have security camera footage provide evidence in civil actions that staff have not been properly trained in simple techniques to improve student supervision that would prevent the very incidents recorded by the cameras.
School safety efforts should be driven by careful evaluation rather than speculation. While active shooter incidents do occur with enough frequency to demand our attention, more school children die from other causes which should also demand appropriate attention. I in no way intend to imply that proven measures should not be employed to address active shooter incidents in schools. However, far too many preventable deaths in our schools when we focus on rare but catastrophic events while ignoring more common lethal events that we could easily prevent.
School Safety Expert Report – Requests for School Safety Consulting Assistance are Still Unusually High
I had the pleasure to keynote a school safety conference in Ebensburg, Pennsylvania today. More than 200 educators, public safety officials and other school safety advocates turned out for the event. I have been truly blessed to have found great weather and awesome people for my school safety presentations and projects in Pennsylvania, Nevada, Tennessee, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Montana, Minnesota, and New Jersey in recent weeks.
I have also been fortunate to have the chance to interact with many other school safety experts who are practitioners, researchers and school safety consultants from across the country this fall and feel truly blessed. At the same time, it has been challenging to meet all requests for school safety assistance. I have only taken about two weeks off work counting holidays and weekends since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary school. Most of our full-time staff have also had very few days off. While we have chosen to serve and feel honored to do so, our dedicated school safety experts have their physical limits just like anyone else.
There is a significant interest in school safety right now and we are still getting an astounding number of requests for assistance from across the nation and abroad. We have requests from Kenya, Thailand and Nigeria as well as a steady stream of requests for school safety expert services from across the nation. We have added more than a dozen adjunct analysts to the Safe Havens team over the past year to meet the increased demand for school safety services. However, we have still had to decline dozens of keynote requests, school security assessment projects and one massive national school safety consulting project. We beg patience when it occasionally takes us a day or two to respond to requests for school safety assistance. We work diligently to emphasize quality of service and this periodically results in some delays in responding.
I look forward to two student school safety presentations tomorrow morning, to the presentations and school safety assessment visits in the coming months and most of all, for the opportunity to interact with so many dedicated school safety experts from across the nation and abroad.
School Violence Expert Report – Teacher from Private School in Long Beach California Stabbed to Death in Front of Students During Field Trip
Long Beach, California Police have arrested 50-year-old Steven Brown for murdering 53-year-old Kelleye Taylor who was a teacher at Huntington Academy during a field trip to a park near the school. According to police reports, Brown stabbed the teacher in the neck during a field day activity at the park. Police said they were still investigating the reason for the attack but there may have been custody issues involving Taylor’s grandchildren.
This type of incident highlights the need for proper security and emergency preparedness for field trips as mentioned previously in this blog. School violence experts often urge schools to consider these types of situations in their school violence prevention efforts. The tragedy also demonstrates the types of challenges schools face with domestic and child custody issues. Gerald Summers and Sue Ann Hartig from Evansville Indiana specialize in helping K12 schools address child custody issues. Summers is a veteran lawman and a retired school security director and Hartig is a retired attorney. We have heard superb feedback on their seminars for school officials on this critical specialty topic area. I have not met anyone who knows as much about these sometimes complex situations that have been a trigger for so many school-associated homicides.
While school safety assessments are an important means to improve school security and school safety, making efforts to develop prevention procedures as well as crisis plans that address off-campus events is also important. This incident demonstrates why behavioral approaches such as pattern matching and recognition are so important to the prevention of school violence. The incident also illustrates why emergency communications can be an important consideration for field trips, after school events and other activities.
School Security Conference Presentation – Montana Crime Prevention Conference
I was honored and truly blessed to be allowed to present a plenary session at the Seventh Annual Montana Crime Prevention Conference in Bozeman today. I have been fortunate to present on school security at a number of professional conferences in Montana. I have always found the folks in this beautiful state to be straightforward and down to earth. Though a sparsely populated state with a relatively low violent crime rate, there are many positive school security and emergency practices in place in Montana such as the state’s robust school drill requirements.
We discussed pattern matching and recognition and I delivered my motivational presentations Weakfish – Bullying Through the Eyes of a Child and Dream Catchers – Succeeding and Surviving in the Helping Professions.
It was truly a pleasure and an honor to return to big sky country and interact with so many outstanding advocates for the children.
School Security Expert Tip – School Security Experts and Practitioners Can Learn From Experts in Other Disciplines
While there are a number of high caliber school security experts, there are also an astounding array of subject matter experts from other fields who can help make our schools safer, more effective, and more comfortable places of learning. I have been blessed to have had the privilege to interact with a number of people that I can only describe as brilliant during my career. LT. Col. Dave Grossman is one such person I mention with regularity.
I have also learned a great deal about school security from people I have never had the privilege to meet such as Gavin deBecker and Dr. Gary Klein. I devour books by people like Klein, Debecker and Amanda Ripley and have learned a great deal from them. I have learned a great deal from a university professor named Michael Roberto even though I am sure he would not describe himself as a school safety expert. Dr. Roberto has done a superb job of synthesizing the works of a number of other very smart folks. Our analysts have been able to make schools safer across the nation as well as in places like Mexico, Bolivia, South Africa, and Vietnam by drawing upon the work of these talented men and women.
People sometimes ask me why I am so impressed with other experts when I sometimes strongly disagree with some beliefs they have. This is a logical question. Like school security experts, any subject matter expert who has presented and/or published extensively will cover a wide range of concepts, professional opinions and beliefs. This frequently creates situations where experts lack total agreement. This is particularly true among the nation’s top school security experts. For example, just I sometimes disagree with Gregory Thomas, one of the nation’s most respected school security experts, I sometimes have differing views from those of Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, who I cite regularly in my presentations, blogs, articles, and books.
As a practitioner in the field for more than three decades, I have learned that while school security experts may not always agree, we can often learn from others who hold some significantly differing viewpoints. I have also learned that there is much that I or any school security expert can learn from brilliant subject matter experts. At the end of the day, the safety of our schools demands such intellectual interaction and collaboration.
School Security Expert Tip – Write it down!
Though I decline most of the requests I get to serve as an expert witness for school security cases, I do find the few cases I accept to be a great way to learn to serve our clients better. As with my experiences as a law enforcement officer, my school security expert witness experiences and consulting sessions with clients for years have all shown me that thoughtful documentation can help to reduce exposure to civil liability while improving school security.
During site visits for school security assessments for both a public school system and an independent school last week, the same issue arose. Both school organizations had taken some impressive steps to enhance school security. At the same time, both organizations had sometimes failed to create effective documentation for some of the measures they had implemented. Taking the time to develop systems to document efforts to improve school security can be easy and well worthwhile.
For example, one practice we implemented early in my career as a school district police chief was to create a simple diagram outlining police coverage for every school athletic event. Our department designated an officer to supervise each event. This officer was required to develop a diagram depicting each officer’s areas of responsibility at various times. For example, for a football game, the diagram would show where a particular officer was to patrol during the game, during half-time and where they might need to move to at the end of the game. By noting the officer’s name on the diagram, we were able to make sure that each officer clearly understood where they were supposed to be and where they needed to move to at various times. This eliminated any confusion about who was supposed to be where. At the same time, this created a documentation trail that could easily be produced if we were litigated as the result of a safety or security incident.
Though fights were occurring at almost every football game our district held, this approach dramatically reduced them. Implementing a standard practice of prosecuting anyone under the age of 21 who was found to be under the influence of alcohol reduced fights even further. These approaches combined with banning anyone wearing gang attire and prosecuting anyone who intentionally struck another person made fights a rarity at our athletic events.
Doing the right thing, combined with solid and accurate documentation will not only reduce the chances that schools will be successfully litigated, it will more importantly reduce the chances that something will happen to provide a reason for litigation in the first place.
Safe Havens Selected for Statewide School Security Assessment Project
Safe Havens International analysts have assisted with five statewide school security assessment projects over the years. Safe Havens was selected last week to assist with a sixth statewide project in New England. We are in the process of finalizing the contract and will make a more detailed announcement as soon as this process is completed. State level school security projects are always a challenging but wonderful experience. These school security projects are also some of the most productive in terms of cost/benefit ratio for statewide approaches to school security.
School Safety Center Approaches Enhance the Safety of Our Schools
Our non-profit school safety center has been fortunate enough to interact with a number of other school safety centers over time. Though a number of state government school safety centers have been defunded and closed over the years, others are still providing an array of valuable services to schools and their community partners. We recently learned that the State of Minnesota has decided to fund their state school safety center once again after funding had been cut for a lengthy period of time. We are glad to see this step to enhance the level of school safety in Minnesota. There are significant benefits to a properly run state school safety center as well as those of well-run non-profit centers like ours and the highly regarded National School Safety Center.
The school safety center approach has had a positive impact on school safety in a number of states and at the national level, and we applaud the efforts at our colleagues at school safety centers across the nation.
Panic Buttons in Schools – What School Security Assessments Show Us
Our analysts have been pleased to note that far more K12 schools are installing duress buttons than in the past. Commonly called “panic” buttons, duress buttons allow school staff to communicate an emergency to a call monitoring center or in some cases directly to school security, school police or even 911 centers in rare cases. During the more than forty school security assessment projects our analysts have conducted this year, we have found that the majority of our public and non-public school clients either have recently installed or were receptive to our recommendations that they should install panic buttons. This is a stark contrast to what we have found assessing thousands of K12 schools over the years. We feel this indicates significant progress in school security.
Our analysts are however, finding a very common gap when panic buttons have been installed in schools. During controlled one-on-one crisis simulations, we have regularly found that the reasons school employees activate the panic buttons does not match the expectations of law enforcement officers. For example, when responding to a video scenario of an agitated visitor brandishing a claw hammer or a large knife, many staff correctly state they would press the button (though a surprising number say they would not because the aggressor does not have a gun). However, when we query local law enforcement officers who would respond to the panic button activation, they routinely tell us the buzzers are installed for active shooter situations and that they would respond accordingly. In addition, a surprising number of school office employees responding to a scenario involving a fire state they would activate the panic button not realizing that only law enforcement officers would be dispatched. Relating to this, we have found that the majority of test subjects do not realize they should also call 911 to provide more detail if the situation allows them to do so.
There are a number of very robust panic button systems which are tied to security cameras and audio allowing dispatch, security and/or 911 center personnel to see and/or hear what is going on in an area where the panic button is activated. However, the majority of systems installed by schools lack these features.
We recommend that schools that install panic buttons provide employees with written guidance on their use and some form of staff development to better prepare them for situations where they might be used in an emergency. Of course, these efforts should be properly documented and all panic buttons should be tested on a regular basis.
School Security Assessments in North Carolina
I just finished our last onsite meeting as part of a school security assessment for the Granville Public School System in North Carolina. I am now in Charlotte to start a school security assessment for an independent school there. Safe Havens has been honored to perform school security assessments for dozens of North Carolina school systems, parochial and independent schools. We have also had the privilege of training hundreds of North Carolina educators and public safety officials to perform school security assessments. Safe Havens analysts have performed school security assessments for six public school districts and two independent schools in North Carolina this year and as in years past, have typically found North Carolina schools to be proactive and progressive in terms of school security practices.
Conducting forty school security assessment projects this year has been challenging even though we now have more than 30 analysts. At the same time, it has been a rewarding year as we have had the opportunity to interact with many true advocates in North Carolina as well as in almost every other region of the country. I am proud of our client’s efforts to make their school safer. I am equally proud of our dedicated analysts who are often on the road more days than they are at home with their families. It has truly been an inspiring experience.
School Security Assessments – About Kids or Profits?
I had a rather unpleasant phone call from a school security consultant last week. As he has done on several occasions in the past, he attacked me and our non-profit center in a rude and rather unprofessional manner. I remained polite and tried to address his concerns but he became even more agitated and then abruptly hung up the phone after accusing me of being a coward after when I refused to agree with his conclusions relating to a particular school security incident. This same consultant was involved with a series of very unethical actions as part of what can only be described as an internet smear campaign a few years back. He apparently lost his school safety position with a public school district over his involvement in the scandal.
While there are many highly qualified school security consultants, the field is by nature largely unregulated. As a result, many different types of people engage in work in the field. School security consultants vary widely in quality, credentials and in some cases, credibility. While I have met many great school security consultants, there are definitely a few consultants who are more focused on money than in making schools safer. One example of this can be seen in how the topic of school security assessments is often approached. While some firms insist that only a school safety consultant can perform a school security assessment, there are a number of government and private sector school security experts who feel that there are instances where school officials and local public safety personnel can and should be trained to conduct their own school security assessments. As few school districts can afford to have an outside firm conduct school security assessments on an annual basis, internalizing this capacity makes sense to many school safety practitioners.
Having conducted school security assessments both as part of a government school safety center and on behalf of the world’s largest non-governmental school safety center, I have many of the same viewpoints on how they should be conducted now as I did when I performed them for the Georgia Emergency Management Agency – Office of the Governor (GEMA). Members of the School Safety Project then and the analysts from Safe Havens International now think of school security assessments as an approach that should be performed on an annual basis rather than as a one-time project.
This is one reason we encourage school districts that are having school security assessments performed by outside vendors to require the vendor to provide training to local public safety officials and schools staff to train them how to conduct their own school security assessments. Safe Havens has now trained more than 2,000 school security consultants, school employees and public safety officials to conduct school security assessments. We have also helped with state-wide school security assessment training programs in five states. While some for profit school security consultants have become vocally upset by this practice, our role as a non-profit center is to make schools safer and this is one way for us to do so. Though we have been criticized and harassed on numerous occasions by several school security consultants, Safe Havens will continue to bid our school security assessment projects at rates far below what for-profit firms charge. Though we have upset some school security consultants by the practice, we will also continue to train local teams in school security assessment processes. To us, school safety is about kids, not revenue generation.
School Security Audits Should Examine the Big Picture of School Security and Safety
Our analysts have been working on school safety, security, climate, culture and emergency preparedness projects almost every week since the tragic school shooting at Newtown Elementary School. As Safe Havens assists more schools with school security audits than any organization in the world we are aware of, our analysts have learned a great deal about what is and is not effective when conducting school security audits.
Since our analysts first began conducting school security audits many years ago, we have been increasingly impressed with the need to look beyond the basic school security approaches that are the focus of most school security audits. We have worked many school shootings and other school security incidents in schools where limited scope school security audits were conducted and simple and easy to implement opportunities to prevent tragedies were missed. Often, these opportunities have been overlooked due to an over-emphasis on security hardware and technologies without also addressing the human behaviors of students and staff that often have a role to play that is at least if not more important to these school security approaches.
Of the more than 5,000 public, private, independent, parochial, charter and other schools our analysts have assisted in clients in assessing, most of the most important opportunities for improvement involve a combination of security and emergency preparedness hardware combined with improvements in practices of students and staff that we observe when conducting school security audits.
Connecticut State Police Sandy Hook School Shooting Report Will Answer Many Important Questions
For many months now, there has been much speculation about what did and did not take place at during the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown Connecticut. Some of this speculation has been harmful in various ways. For example, parents of children at the school and educators in the region have expressed to me that inaccurate information about the incident has been painful to them. I have heard this many times before with past school shooting events. Inaccurate conjecture and speculation about the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School has also had a noticeable and adverse impact on how prepared educators are to respond to school crisis events. Our analysts have noticed a distinct increase in missed action steps and of even greater concern, dangerous action steps during our controlled school crisis simulations since the school shooting in Newtown.
Hopefully, the Connecticut State Police report will provide us with a clearer picture of what did and did not take place at Sandy Hook Elementary School. At the same time, we must understand that there will almost assuredly be some unanswered questions even after the report is released. Having worked seven active shooter incidents in K12 schools, my experience has been that even when you review thousands of pages of police reports, depositions and other documents, there will be some things about the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School that we simple will not be able to determine with certainty.
As with past active shooter incidents, many people will focus on a few aspects of the incident while some of the most critical lessons we can learn will be largely ignored. This has definitely been my experience with several mass casualty school shootings I have worked including the Thurston High School Shooting in Oregon, the school shooting in Tabor, Canada and the Red Lake Reservation school shooting in Minnesota. Some of the most important lessons learned from each of these tragic school shootings have still not been addressed in many school systems and non public schools in the United States and Canada.
Much of the public discourse following this tragic event has been relatively unproductive creating fear, anger and disagreement over what might have worked while we often ignore many things that are proven to work to prevent, prepare for, respond to and recover from school shootings. Our hope is that we can learn some key lessons from the Connecticut State Police report on the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School so the tragic loss of lives in Newtown will not have been totally in vain.
School Security Expert Tip – Full Interview with School Employee from Dekalb County Elementary School Hostage Situation Illustrates Potential Danger in Training School Staff to Attack Active Shooters.
I found this interview with the bookkeeper who did such a superb job in de-escalating the extremely tense hostage situation at a Dekalb County Georgia elementary school to be an excellent example of how well school employees can perform under dire conditions. This interview helps to demonstrate how important it is to remember that not all aggressors armed with guns are active shooters. Had this school employee attempted to attack and disarm this aggressor, a far more deadly incident would likely have occurred. Though the various approaches to train school employees to attack an active shooter as a last resort would not advocate that she attack the aggressor in this situation, our controlled simulations have revealed that many people who view training videos or complete training programs of this type frequently misapply the concepts and do respond to such scenarios by saying they would attack the aggressor when it is clearly dangerous to do so.
While we do not suggest remaining passive when trapped in an enclosed space with an active shooter, we feel that more comprehensive training approaches are needed to reduce the significant danger that people will misapply the concepts being taught.
School Security Expert Experiences – School Security Concerns in Connecticut
School security has been a major topic in Connecticut. Connecticut school officials have been bombarded with marketing materials, calls by sales people and other contacts by people and organizations trying to sell them safety since the tragedy. While this has been occurring in all fifty states, education leaders report and frequently lament intensive activities of this type in Connecticut. During a trip to work with three Connecticut school districts a few weeks ago, several educators and public safety officials expressed anger that a school safety consultant had even rushed to Newtown from another state to do media interviews. While they understand the need for expert commentary, they felt that giving the appearance that he had been summoned to the scene was both misleading and insensitive. There have also been a number of instances of reporters approaching the houses of parents who had lost children with microphones concealed in bouquets of flower to ambush parents with surprise interviews, these types of events have generated considerable stress, pain and sensitivity to what one school official referred to as profiteering. Many people feel they have been victimized all over again. One administrator told me this week that a school employee who lost a loved one in the incident had decided to retire because of the relentless barrage of media interview requests.
School and public safety officials appreciate and understand that the media can and must report the news. They also understand and appreciate that there are people and organizations that can help them make their schools safer. At the same time, many people in the state have expressed that they have grown weary of efforts that they sometimes perceive to be unprofessional, opportunistic and in a few extreme cases, disturbingly predatory. Though we have not made a single unsolicited phone call nor sent any mail to solicit school security work in Connecticut or any other state in the wake of the Sandy Hook incident, our school safety experts have been very busy providing services to Connecticut schools this year. While we gladly respond to requests for information and services, we simply do not feel that it is appropriate to solicit work no matter how intense the interest in the subject.
Responding to requests, our dedicated team of school security experts has had the privilege of keynoting conferences for thousands of people and have conducted numerous school security assessments in Connecticut. Educators, students, parents, public safety officials, elected officials and members of the public have discussed and debated an array of approaches to try to address the fear generated by the nation’s third most deadly school attack at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Gun control, arming teachers, metal detectors, security cameras, armed security officers, school resource officers, ballistic laminates, school design, mental health services and many other measures have been discussed at length in an attempt to improve school security in Connecticut.
When the Connecticut State Police release the much anticipated report outlining the results of their investigation, the airways will again be awash with stories about the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Educators and public safety officials will again be assailed with relentless requests from reporters as is to be expected in a country with cherished and often highly critical freedom of the press. Citizens of Connecticut will speak their mind in sometimes emotional, emphatic and passionate discussions as can and must occur in a country with a right to free speech unprecedented in world history. But sadly, school superintendents, headmasters and school board members will be inundated with another round of sometimes insensitive sales pitches.
I have had the privilege to interact with several thousand educators, public safety officials, elected officials, students, parents and concerned citizens in Connecticut to discuss school security this year. Though many vendors have been respectful, reasonable and utterly professional as they attempt to conduct business in the state, some have not been so thoughtful. We urge those who offer services and products relating to school safety and security to be respectful in their efforts to make Connecticut schools safer.
School Safety in Africa – Life and Death in Mozambique
I apologize for not blogging more often, but our summer schedule has been rather hectic.
In August I visited a rural province of Mozambique. The Zambeze Delta region is as remote a location as I have ever visited. It was a wonderful and informative experience. Schools in the area I visited typically have dirt floors, no power and no running water. A school often consists of a simple thatched roof, a blackboard and hard wooden benches and a crude dirt soccer field. Yet children can and do learn.
In this part of Mozambique, lions, hyenas, crocodiles, cobras, hippos and cape buffalo are unique hazards that claim many young lives. The mortality rate for young children is so high that parents in the region typically do not name their offspring until their fifth birthday. Once children reach the age of five, they are more likely to survive malaria and have learned more about spotting the many types of wildlife that often can and do attack people. Though I was there for only two weeks, I had a couple of close calls including one instance where I sat down for a moment only to be told that a cobra was only five paces away. My inability to spot the snake could have been a lethal error had someone familiar with local hazards not been there to spot the danger.
The region I visited is one of the last truly wild regions left on the Dark Continent. Through private efforts, the region I visited has truly amazing populations of wildlife that cannot be seen outside of national parks in places like Kenya where poaches have wiped out most of the countries’ wildlife. Though the trip had a few tense moments, it was one of the most wonderful trips I have been blessed to experience. The trip provided a stark contrasts relating to school safety we sometimes see around the globe. This contrast reminded me just how fortunate American children, parents and school officials can are to live if a place where we see the deaths of young children as an anomaly rather than a routine fact of life.
School Security Expert Tip – Another U.S. Multiple Victim Knife Attack
Another campus attack involving a knife demonstrates that multiple victim knife attacks do occur. In the latest attack in a Houston high school, one student was killed and three injured by a knife wielding aggressor. I have personally worked two multiple victim knife attacks when I was a school district police chief, one in an elementary school and one in an alternative school. These attacks were thankfully not fatal but they were pretty bloody incidents. One incident involved a little girl armed with a butcher knife. I have seen this dynamic repeatedly working as a school security expert not only here in the U.S. but in Asia and other parts of the world as well.
We constantly discuss this in our school security assessments and in our school security keynote presentations. The research by our school security experts has found that mass casualty edged weapons attacks are more common in countries with harsh penalties for possession of a firearm like Japan and the People’s Republic of China. Keeping in mind that offenders use a wide array of weapons to attack people in schools can help remind us that school security measures need to address not only school shootings, but the range of school security incidents that do not involve guns. Our team of school security experts all types of weapons assaults should be considered in school security efforts.
School Security Expert Report – Active Shooter Incident Reported at McNair Discovery Learning Center in Dekalb County, Georgia
Dekalb County Police Officers are reporting that one man is in custody after brandishing a gun at McNair Elementary School in Decatur, Georgia. It is unclear at this time if any shots were fired but school officials are now indicating that no students have been injured. The incident was initially reported as an active shooter incident based on a statement by a school board member. Our school security experts regularly work school weapons incidents and are concerned that people have become conditioned to think of active shooter incidents as the most common school security incidents when they are in fact rare events.
School Security Experts from Safe Havens help Develop a new Free Resource on Active Shooter Situations from the United States Department of Homeland Security
The Federal Emergency Management Agency recently released a new free online training program titled IS-360: Preparing for Mass Casualty Incidents: A Guide for Schools, Higher Education, and Houses of Worship. Part of the 2013 White House School Safety Initiative, the course focuses on mass casualty events such as active shooter situations. The course is offered to focus on three unique areas: K12 schools, Institutions of higher learning and places of worship. The courses were developed in response to the deadly shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School and other incidents.
Safe Havens personnel Michael Dorn, Steve Satterly, Chris Dorn, Dr. Sonayia Shepherd, Phuong Nguyen and Gregory Thomas helped write the content for this series of courses. The courses are designed for those who want to learn more about preventing, preparing for, responding and recovering from active shooter situations.
School Safety Expert Resource – The Power of Intuition – How to Use Your Gut Feelings to Make Better Decisions at Work
Regular readers know that we routinely suggest books, articles, manuals, videos, and other learning resources related to school safety. In the past, we have highlighted Dr. Gary Klein’s excellent book Sources of Power – How People Make Decisions from MIT Press as a valuable school safety resource.
For those school safety experts and practitioners who are concerned with life and death decision making in the prevention, as well as preparedness and response arenas, I also highly recommend his book The Power of Intuition – How to Use your Gut Feelings to Make Better Decisions at Work which is published by Doubleday.
Klein is a brilliant researcher who does a superb job demonstrating how we can make more effective decisions when we learn to trust our intuition. Klein maintains that intuition is really much more than a gut reaction because our intuition is based on our factual life experience. This book is an especially valuable resource for people who need to train others to be able to spot signs that a person could be dangerous and/or to be able to rapidly make life and death decisions.
I read The Power of Intuition while conducting research for our new book Staying Alive – How to Act Fast and Survive Deadly Encounters which is due out in bookstores on May 14, 2014. I recommend The Power of Intuition for all who seek to carefully research the field of school safety.
School Security Experts from Safe Havens International Selected to Write Major Book for Barron’s
Five members of the Safe Havens International team have been selected to write a groundbreaking book for Barron’s, the highly regarded publisher. While our school security experts have already published nearly 30 books on school security, safety and emergency preparedness, this is book designed to address security and emergency preparedness in any setting.
The working title for the book is Staying Alive, How to Act Fast and Survive Deadly Encounters. The book will be combined with more than a dozen web-delivered companion videos which are designed to be utilized as training vignettes. The book will focus on evidence-based, assessment-based, and research-based approaches that can help people spot and react to indications of danger in time to prevent deadly situations as well as to survive those they cannot avoid.
At this point, it appears likely that the companion videos will be available through the Barron’s and Safe Havens website at no cost.
The school security experts co-authoring the book will outline the approaches that have been proven to improve school security as well as those that have been proven to work in other settings. Our experience has been that many school security approaches are more advanced than what we often see utilized in other settings. By sharing these proven school security concepts with the general public, we hope to be able to reduce the loss of human life in other settings as has already been accomplished by American K12 schools. American K12 school security, safety and emergency preparedness measures, combined with improvements in emergency medical care and better public safety response approaches, have successfully reduced the per capita rates of death from a range of causes such as homicide, heart stoppage and lightning strike.
The Safe Havens International school security experts working on this book feel honored to be selected by one of the nation’s most respected publishers to write this groundbreaking book. Safe Havens analysts have already served as authors for books published by Mcgraw Hill, Prentice Hall, and Jane’s.
The co-authoring team and research lead will be discussing the work of a number of the nation’s top experts from various fields including Dr. Gary Klein, Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, Gavin de Becker, Dr. Michael Roberto, Gregory Thomas, Dr. Caroline Mears, and Amanda Ripley in a format that is heavily cited yet easy to read. Staying Alive will be available in bookstores on May 14, 2014 and is expected to become a leading book on the topic.
School Crisis Planning Experts at Safe Havens Selected to Help the South Dakota Department of Homeland Security Develop New School Crisis Planning Templates
Safe Havens analysts have assisted state and federal government agencies develop numerous school crisis planning and school safety resources. Safe Havens International was selected to help the South Dakota Department of Homeland Security develop new crisis planning templates for K12 schools in the state. Four of our analysts assisted on this project.
I will be presenting a session on evidence-based approaches to school crisis planning for the department today in Pierre. I will then keynote the South Dakota School Superintendent’s annual conference in Pierre this afternoon.
Safe Havens analysts have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to present many times in South Dakota and feel honored to once again work to help make South Dakota Schools safer.
School Security Audits – The Problem with Summertime Audits of School Security
Many school districts and non-public schools are under pressure from parents to conduct school security audits before the coming school year. While this is understandable, conducting school security audits when school is not in session is significantly less effective and can result in increased exposure to civil liability.
Safe Havens analysts have assisted with various types of school security audits for more than 5,000 school facilities across the United States. We have consistently found that school security audits conducted when schools are vacant reveal far fewer safety, security and emergency concerns and do not represent an accurate assessment.
While there are instances where school security audits must be conducted during the summer months, the approach should be avoided when possible. While many people are focused on physical features of schools, numerous tragedies have shown that the effectiveness of school security, safety and emergency preparedness measures are heavily influenced by what staff and students do during the school day.
For example, numerous school districts have settled or lost major lawsuits after implementation of some of the most intensive physical security technologies failed to prevent shootings and other major incidents during the school day. Typically, these cases involve gaps in security that are created by human practices that cannot be detected when school is not in session. For example, one large school district settled a lawsuit that was filed after a student was shot and killed by another student who was dangerously mentally ill. During the litigation, it was revealed that the district had been awarded more than $40 million in federal grant money to improve school security and emergency preparedness. The district had invested heavily in school security technology but had not addressed the issues that led to the shooting. For example, student supervision at the school was a significant factor in the shooting as both students involved were out of class for approximately two hours while the killer attempted to locate and shoot the victim.
It is extremely common to see costly security technology improvements in schools fail because they have been made without adequately assessing how students, staff and visitors interact.
School Safety Advocates Gather for National Conference on School Safety Design
I had the pleasure of keynoting the Council for Educational Facilities Planners International (CEFPI) Safe Schools Symposium – Best Practices for Your School in Raleigh, North Carolina this week. Architects, school planners, engineers and education leaders from as far away as Alaska attended the conference. We had an excellent group of attendees and it was an absolute pleasure to get to interact with so many talented professionals from the various disciplines. School safety is a major issue and incorporating school safety and security into new school construction as well as renovation projects is a critical aspect. Many of the architects expressed concerns relating to school clients who are moving hastily to remove glass from their new school projects due to fear of gunmen. While this approach may make people feel better in the conceptual phase, school safety experts generally agree that this can increase danger. When we review the research on crime prevention through environmental design and listen to experienced school safety directors, it becomes apparent that this approach can have the opposite effect of increasing school safety challenges rather than reducing them.
This is the fifth school design conference I have keynoted this year and I have heard the same feedback at all five events. School officials are very concerned about school safety and are asking architects to make changes to school plans. Sometimes this will have a positive effect on school safety and in other cases, things may not go so well. The strong reactions since the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School have made most people far more focused on school safety than in the past.
We urge our clients to be thoughtful and to evaluate the research when making school safety decisions. It is very easy to create a harsh institutional climate while reducing the ability of students and staff to detect danger when our desire to create safe schools becomes out of balance with our actual levels of risk.
School Lockdown – Free Webinar on Potentially Dangerous Lockdown Concepts
In cooperation with the Illinois Principal’s Association and the Education Leaders Network, Safe Havens International has released another free webinar titled Potentially Dangerous Lockdown Concepts. There has been a great deal of discussion about school lockdown procedures in recent years.
Safe Havens Video has produced a number of Ask Safe Havens video podcasts as free resources to help improve school lockdown procedures. We have also posted a number of blogs, written articles and columns on the topic for other publications and of course, have been teaching advanced lockdown concepts at conferences around the nation on a regular basis. We hope this information will help you improve the lockdown procedures and their implementation.
School Security and Architecture – Meeting Awesome People from Coast to Coast
Safe Havens analysts have been rather busy keynoting dozens of school safety conferences around the nation. Our analysts have keynoted conferences on a variety of topics including school security conferences for architects, engineers, and school planners. This week was truly a great experience for me. I felt truly honored to present a keynote and two breakout sessions for the Kentucky Center for School Safety on Monday. They had a great turnout with a number of very relevant sessions and highly regarded speakers to provide Kentucky educators and law enforcement officers with current information on school security.
Yesterday, I keynoted for the first time at Texas Tech University in Lubbock where we had a very diverse group of architects, engineers, school administrators, and law enforcement officials. The conference was put together by Parkhill, Smith & Cooper, a large and highly respected firm of architects and engineers that build schools across the nation as well as in Europe, Asia and the Pacific Rim.
This is the fourth conference focused on school security design issues I have keynoted this year and I have another keynote for the CEFPI conference the Monday after next in North Carolina. Discussing how to incorporate security and emergency preparedness strategies into 21st century design schools and other challenging but productive topics made for a great day.
I have been in a different city almost every day for the past seven days; the great people I have been privileged to meet make the constant travel more than worthwhile. I still have not had a single day off since Christmas day and it can be tough for all of our staff to keep up with our travel schedules. The amazing people you meet along the way make it all worthwhile. It is a constant inspiration to me to meet so many bright, dedicated and highly motivated advocates for school safety whether I am presenting in Florida, Connecticut, New York, Minnesota, Indiana, Kentucky, or Texas.
School Security Assessment Projects – Safe Havens Selected for Farmington, New Mexico School Security Assessment project
Safe Havens International has been selected to perform several dozen school security assessments impacting more than 400 hundred public, parochial and independent schools in more than two dozen states this year. Our analysts have helped conduct school security assessments for more than 5,000 K-12 school facilities over the years and feel honored to be selected for this latest project in Farmington, New Mexico. With requests coming in to help conduct school security assessments for schools across the nation as well as in the Middle East, our analysts are working seven days a week to assist school and public safety officials.
Our approach of evaluating school safety, security, climate, culture and emergency preparedness with a comprehensive approach affords a much broader depth than assessments focused solely on security technologies and policies. The revenues raised by our for fee projects help us provide a wide variety of free school security, safety and emergency preparedness resources. Safe Havens now has more than 30 free school safety training videos on our website along with a free e-book, free webinars, topical papers, checklists and other school security resources.
We consider it an honor every time we are selected for these types of projects. The fact that Safe Havens has an award rate above 80% for bids we submit reaffirms the value that our dedicated personnel bring to these projects. We look forward to conducting this school security assessment.
School Crisis Plan Expert Tip – Copying School Crisis Plans Can Create Major Legal Challenges
One thing we routinely see when we conduct school safety, security, climate, culture, and emergency preparedness assessments is school crisis plan content that has been copied unlawfully. Unfortunately, it is rather common for people to copy school crisis plan content without verifying that they can do so. In a typical situation, a staff member from one school or district asks permission to copy part of the crisis plan from another school organization and is given permission. However, it is not uncommon for the content being passed on to be licensed or copyright protected intellectual property from a vendor. An experienced school safety expert can often quickly track down the original source of plagiarized school crisis plan content. In some cases, people knowingly and intentionally claim to have created the content in the school crisis plan. In either case, copying and utilizing someone else’s intellectual property without permission from the owner of the rights to that property can be a serious legal violation. Individuals and their organization can be litigated and a complaint of plagiarism to a professional regulatory agency could result in sanctions up to and including revocation of teaching certifications etc.
The fact that intellectual property has been used unlawfully in school crisis plans can also garner some pretty negative media coverage and could become a significant issue during litigation in the wake of a school crisis event.
School Tornado Expert Offers Logical and Carefully Researched Advice on School Tornado Preparedness
The devastating tornado that left seven children dead in Moore, Oklahoma has resulted in extensive media coverage. As with other mass casualty school crisis events, inaccurate and potentially dangerous information has been reported.
For example, news reports have related that it is always dangerous to use hallways for tornado shelter areas. Having worked with thousands of schools across the nation and with architects and engineers who design them, there are situations where following this advice could result in mass casualty loss of human life. With the dramatically varying designs of schools across the United States, there are schools where some interior hallways are the best available shelter.
I have had the good fortune to interact with many different people who are well versed on specialty areas in the school safety arena. Steve Satterly has spent considerable time researching school safety topics including school tornado preparedness measures. I have thus far never met anyone who knows more about the topic of school tornado preparedness than Steve. After carefully reviewing the research on this Steve makes a convincing case that assuming that hallways are never suitable shelter areas could result in less safe areas being selected. As with school shooting incidents, making blanket conclusions based on any one tornado event can be a serious and potentially deadly mistake.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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 email@example.com
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.