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Michael Dorn

Maine Department of Education Releases Free Guide to No-cost and Low-cost School Safety Concepts


The Maine Department of Education released a new guide Twenty Simple Steps to Safer and More Effective Schools.  The first document of its type developed as part of a state-wide school security assessment, the guide focuses on relatively easy to implement strategies with little or no budgetary impact that are applicable to most public and non-public schools. 

We are deeply proud of the Safe Havens analysts who agreed to perform the work for this project without any monetary compensation.  From our staff photographer Rachel Wilson to adjunct analysts Rod Ellis and Steve Satterly, a team of eight Safe Havens analysts worked diligently to produce this helpful free resource.  We are also grateful for the efforts of Karen Ouelette from Maine who kindly proofread the document for spelling, capitalization and grammatical errors on a short deadline. Please take a look at the guide and forward it to anyone who might find it be useful in making schools safer.

Click here to download the report “Twenty Simple Strategies for Safer and More Effective Schools” produced for the Maine Department of Education along with an accompanying infographic.

Mass Casualty Knife Attacks at Schools not Neccesarily a New Phenomenon


People who have seen me keynote conferences over the past five to six years are familiar that I often run through a series of mass casualty school attacks involving edged weapons.  I have blogged on this topic several times in recent years because we have noted a pattern for these types of attacks.  My officers worked two multiple victim edged weapons assaults committed by students during my ten-year tenure as a school district police chief in Bibb County, Georgia.  Having been attacked with edged weapons on a number of occasions and having been cut once with a box cutter, I have had a deep respect for what someone can do with a blade. 

One of our concerns about the intensive focus on active shooter incidents in schools in recent years has been that this often results in school and public safety officials failing to prepare for events like the attack that took place in a Pennsylvania high school. The majority of school crisis plans in this country have no relevant protocol for this type of attack or even the far more typical edged weapons assaults. 

This week’s tragic attack should be a stark warning to us all that focusing intently on active shooter incidents is not a balanced approach.  We have noted other attack patterns such as those involving fire as a weapon in school attacks that are still frequently overlooked in many school security approaches.  While it is not possible nor even perhaps logical to attempt to address every possible attack methodology, we should learn from past incidents over a long time span and with a global perspective.  As this week’s incident shows, international patterns can become a local issue very rapidly and with significant outcomes.  This week’s attack follows hundreds of serious injuries and deaths in K12 schools from incidents involving mass casualty edged weapons attacks in other countries.  We felt this was such a significant pattern that we discuss it in the introduction for our new book Staying Alive – How to Act Fast and Survive Deadly Encounters.  

When we started writing more than a year ago, we decided to include several references to mass casualty attacks involving edged weapons and fire. We continue to urge educators and their public safety partners to be sure they are using the all-hazards approach to school crisis planning. 

School Knife Attacks – Why Focusing Pervasively on Active Shooter Incidents can be Dangerous


National media are reporting that as many as twenty students have been stabbed at Franklin Regional High School near Pittsburgh this morning.  Mass casualty attacks with edged weapons at K12 schools have taken place before in the United States and particularly in Asia.  As we have described in previous blogs, hundreds of students and school staff have been killed and injured in edged weapons attacks in schools in the Peoples of China in recent years. 

These types of attack have been so prevalent globally that we discuss them several times in our new book Staying Alive – How to Act Fast and Survive Deadly Encounters.  We have been deeply concerned for some time now that the pervasive focus on active shooter incidents may leave schools vulnerable to alternative mass casualty attack approaches like today’s attack.

As we have pointed out before, the problem of mass casualty edged weapons assaults is exacerbated by the intensive focus on active shooter incidents which can leave school staff and students ill prepared for an array of other types of attack methodologies.  As fire, edged weapons, explosives, and other types of weapons have often been used for mass casualty school attacks, it is important that prevention, preparedness and response measures be broad enough to address any type of attack that occurs.

School Tornado Planning – Separate Action Steps for Tornado Watch and Tornado Warning in your School Crisis Plans


We review many school crisis plans each year.  There are recurrent patterns involving opportunities for improvement that we notice.  I have found one of these patterns in several school crisis plans I reviewed in recent weeks.  This involves lumping the same action steps for tornado warning and tornado watch into one set of action steps.  Barring unusual circumstances, schools typically have different sets of action steps for each of these different situations.  Attempting to use the same set of action steps for both could prove to be dangerous.  If your schools are in an area where tornadoes can occur and the severe weather protocols do not provide different action steps for tornado warning and tornado watch, it would be a good idea to work with local fire service and/or emergency management personnel to update your plans.

School Security Expert Tip – Outside Numbering for School Crisis Situations When it is Helpful and when it can be Potentially Dangerous


For a number of years, we have advised many of our clients to consider using large numbers and when possible, directional lettering (i.e. 1W for a front exterior door facing the West).  This can help emergency responders arrive faster at the location at a school where they are needed when seconds count.  This approach can also be helpful for daily wayfinding, helping visitors locate the appropriate door during a special event, or even for improving communications for maintenance requests.  Our preference is for schools to place these numbers above the door on the exterior for outside way finding and low on the interior to help occupants evacuate in the event of a fire.

There are, however, times when external numbering could prove to be helpful to an aggressor.  For example, during an assessment project for an independent school overseas, we advised a client not to utilize exterior door numbering.  The school is at unusually high risk for terrorist attacks and is surrounded by a high privacy wall to make it harder for terrorists to conduct surveillance of the school.  The campus is rather large with many buildings and can be difficult for someone who is not familiar with the layout to navigate.  Due to unreliable law enforcement response in the region, we felt the benefits of this type of numbering were outweighed by the risks of terrorists being able to more rapidly locate victims in an attack on the campus.  Trusted armed security personnel who would respond to an attack can utilize printed virtual tours and their familiarity with the campus for emergency wayfinding.

In the U.S., a far more common hazard involves situations where classroom and office numbers are placed on outside windows.  This could allow someone coming to a school to attack or attempting to abduct a specific person to more easily locate a particular victim or group of victims.  We suggest school and public safety officials weigh the advantages and disadvantages of this approach before marking individual rooms on the outside of the building.   


Death by lockdown? Questioning “Proof” that Lockdown is a Failed Concept


Though the specific remedies recommended may vary, a number of people have suggested that school lockdowns are a failed concept that should be replaced.  The solutions offered typically center around options focused heavily on teaching people to attack an active shooter as a last resort.  There has been considerable controversy about these options with no real consensus among school safety experts, law enforcement officials, or educators regarding these approaches. 

We feel that while it is important to discuss, consider, and most importantly, to properly test these approaches, it is even more important that we carefully evaluate the idea that lockdown is a failed concept.  Much of the discussion surrounding this assertion has relied heavily on emotional language with statements that are questionable at best.  For example, we have seen repeated references to fatality rates for occupants of individual rooms which do not accurately reflect overall survival rates for the facilities where shootings have occurred.

We have also seen repeated references to lockdown failure that do not match the facts of shootings that are cited as examples of “proof” that lockdown does not work.  For example, we have seen repeated examples citing deaths in classrooms that did not have locks on the door, where staff had not been issued keys, where no lockdown training has been provided, or where no lockdown drills had been conducted.  Using such questionable rationale as “proof” that lockdown is a failed concept should raise red flags.  If you have a solid basis for an assertion, you should not have to stretch to make a convincing argument.

I have repeatedly seen references to the Red Lake Reservation school shooting as “proof” that lockdown is a failed concept.  Having worked that case as an expert witness, I can firmly state that this is not a factually accurate assessment.  Neither I nor the other school security expert who evaluated that case reached that conclusion.  In addition, there was never an allegation of this in any of the many civil actions filed in this case.  Another case that has been used as an example involves the hostage situation in Bailey, Colorado.  One popular active shooter program includes statements that indicate the hostages remained passive and compliant and indicates that the students should have attacked the hostage-taker.  In this case, one student was shot and killed when a police tactical team made a dynamic entry in an effort to neutralize the aggressor because it was apparent that he was going to shoot hostages.  Suggesting that the teacher and students should have attacked the hostage-taker in this example is in contrast to the approach recommended by leading experts in hostage situations.

Some who make these arguments also incorrectly and repeatedly put forth the notion that all traditional lockdown approaches teach people to passively await execution should an active shooter breach a locked classroom door.  Many school districts have been teaching staff to deviate from their emergency plans for more than two decades.  We have long referred to this concept as “Permission to Live.”  Contrary to common assertions, there are ways to prepare staff to adapt to extremely rare and unusual situations like an active shooter breaching a locked classroom door without focusing the majority of instructional time on specific techniques used to subdue an aggressor.  It is important to note that thus far, not one of the students or school employees who have successfully subdued an active shooter has been a graduate of any of the training programs which teach people to attack an active shooter.   We also feel it is critical to remind people that while some active shooters have been stopped by students and staff who attacked an active shooter, a number of school employees have been shot and killed unsuccessfully attempting to disarm people with guns in schools.

While we agree that new and improved concepts can and should be developed, we feel it is critical that theoretical high-stakes changes this controversial, should be carefully tested and validated before thousands of people are trained in their use.  If the concepts are valid, they will withstand independent evaluation.   If assertions used to sell such concepts are accurate, verifiable statements should be used to convince people who are reluctant to embrace and implement them.

School Security Expert News – Man Brandishing gun shot by Columbus State University Police Officers


Police Chief Rus Drew from the Columbus State University Police Department in Columbus, Georgia confirmed that a suspect had been shot and killed by Columbus State Police.  Chief Drew told reporters that the man was shot and killed after a foot chase.  According to reports, Columbus State Police responded to a report of a man with a gun and the man fled when officers arrived.  Initial reports indicate the man may have pointed a gun at officers before he was shot.  The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is conducting an independent investigation of the incident as is a common practice for officer involved shootings in Georgia.

School Safety Expert Tip – Carefully Consider Traffic Hazards as Part of the School Safety Assessment Process


Steve Satterly has been working on a study contrasting the relative risk of death for fatal school-related traffic incidents and other types of safety incidents in relation to deaths from active shooter incidents in K12 schools.  The results of the data analysis are clear, far more people are killed in school-related traffic incidents than in K12 active shooter situations. In fact, even when counting acts of violence in all categories, the fatality rate for school-related transportation incidents is still higher. 

While school and public safety officials in every community should take the risk of active shooter incidents seriously, they should not do so to the exclusion of more common causes of death in American schools.

Though media coverage may intently center on mass casualty acts of violence, it is important to expend time, energy, and resources to address all forms of risk rather than only those that receive intensive media coverage.   One opportunity to reduce the risk of serious injury and death for students involves a careful evaluation of pedestrian safety as students arrive and depart from school each day.  Take the time to consider this very real type of school safety hazard.

School Safety Expert Tip – Consider GIS Mapping Studies to Improve Student Supervision and to Reduce Risk


During a recent meeting with clients, Bill Miller who is one of our adjunct analysts, explained to district personnel how one large urban school district had reduced incidents, out of school suspensions, and expulsions by as much as 50% using GIS mapping surveys of students to identify hotspots combined with improved student supervision at those locations.  In this instance, the school district worked with local law enforcement to utilize a GIS mapping software the police department had to conduct GIS mapping studies of high schools.  Bill related that this process had provided an invaluable tool for building and district administrators.  This approach can dramatically improve school safety, security, climate and culture.



School Safety Architecture


I had the great pleasure to work with an extremely talented group of school safety experts recently.  I had an opportunity to work with a nationally recognized Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) expert Tod Schneider along with a group of architects and engineers from Parkhill, Smith and Cooper (PSC).   PSC staff included Allan Wolf, Ken Johnson and Miles Hardaway who is both an engineer and an architect.  PSC has more than 350 staff with about 60 of them assigned on school construction projects full-time.  Ken Johnson has worked on approximately 150 Department of Defense projects around the globe and has an extraordinary base of experience in school safety architecture. 

Our team was evaluating the school safety architecture design approaches being used by large school district as part of a larger school safety assessment project.  I also had the opportunity to work with engineer Jonathan Zeigner for a week to evaluate traffic flow in relation to school safety a few weeks before for the same project. 

I have been blessed to have had the opportunity to work with a number of really sharp architects and engineers on these types of projects and always learn new things.  I have found these professionals are very good at taking the time to explain building design concepts to me in terms I can understand.  I have also had the privilege to work with Tod on a number of occasions and have learned new things from him on each occasion.  A quiet, bright, and thoughtful man, Tod is always a true joy to work with on school safety architecture projects.

Visiting an array of prototype schools, reviewing blueprints, and talking with a number of exceptional building administrators, security personnel, school resource officers, and district facilities personnel, our team was able to identify a number of opportunities for improvement for a school district that is already well above average in the area of school safety architecture.  These types of projects are truly fascinating and it has always impressed me how a good architect or engineer can break down fairly complex design concepts so building administrators, school resource officers, and folks like me who lack their technical background so we can understand them.

I am really looking forward to my next opportunity to work with another team of architects and engineers in a different school system next month to evaluate school safety architecture once again.

Free School Safety Guide Near Completion


Safe Havens International recently completed its sixth statewide school safety assessment project for the Maine Department of Education.  As we have done with previous state school safety assessment projects, our team agreed to work on a pro-bono project to supplement our work on the project.  We are nearing completion of a free web-delivered guide which outlines twenty no-cost and low-cost school safety strategies based on our findings from school safety assessment projects around the nation.  Drawing on their experiences in assisting with school safety assessments for more than 6,000 K12 schools, our analysts have seen specific patterns of school safety issues.  The authoring team attempted to focus on twenty topics that are practical for the average school or district to address without a major budget impact.

We will post a blog with link to the guide once it is published. 


School Security Assessments – Integrity is Critical


I had an unpleasant experience a while back.  Safe Havens was selected to conduct a school security assessment for a large urban school district through a competitive bid process.  As we conducted the assessment, we found repeated indications that building administrators were being pressured not to report some types of criminal incidents.  When the preliminary report of findings was provided to the district, the superintendent expressed distress that this was included in the report.  He tried to pressure us to modify the verbal report to the board so it would not reflect badly on his administration.  While we provide a draft report so the client can give us feedback to help make sure our reports are accurate and understandable, we make it clear to our clients up front that our reports will have to accurately reflect what we find and we will not deviate from the truth. 

In this case, the superintendent made it clear to me that he was not happy that the report did not reflect well on him in this regard and that he was paying us for the work.  As we have had to do in the past, we stood on our principles and refused to modify this finding.  Later, the school district bought out the superintendent’s contract and began conducting an intensive audit of the district.  The report was recently released and the report has been forwarded to prosecutors who are reviewing the case for possible criminal prosecution.  The audit found that the superintendent had tried to apply intensive pressure to a number of his employees in a similar manner to what we experienced.

We have worked with many school districts and non-public schools, and have only experienced this type of intensive pressure to change our findings on a couple of occasions.  In a previous instance, we were directly told by a client that we would lose an upcoming $500,000 contract if we did not delete one of our findings.  We refused to change the finding and have no regrets.  Like police officers, educators, and other professionals who are tasked with protecting students and school staff, integrity is important.  Our integrity is one reason Safe Havens conducts more school security assessment than any organization in the field.  Skill absent credibility has limited value.  Reading about this investigation reminded me of why it is so important for school safety professionals of all types to stand firm when they are pressured to participate in a cover up or other unethical endeavor.      

School Security Assessment News – Safe Havens Selected to Perform School Security Assessments in Ketchikan, Alaska


Safe Havens International has been selected to perform school security assessments for the public schools in Ketchikan, Alaska.  Safe Havens was selected through a competitive bid process and our analysts are looking forward to returning to Alaska to work with area schools.  Because of highly competitive pricing, an unparalleled reputation for quality service, and a depth of K12 school security assessment experience unmatched in the field, Safe Havens International has won more than 90% of all competitive bid processes submitted for school security assessment processes during the past year.

We consider it an honor to be entrusted to perform the school security assessments for this district.

School Security Assessment News – Safe Havens International Completes Site Visits for Capitol City Schools


Three Safe Havens analysts completed site visits for school security assessments for 19 schools in the Capitol City School District in North Carolina in late February.   Safe Havens was recommended to the district by personnel from the Orange County, North Carolina Public Schools after a team of seven analysts completed a school security assessment for that district last year.

As with our work with the Orange County School System, we had excellent cooperation from the various public safety disciplines.  We were pleased to have the opportunity to work with some of the same public safety officials during both projects.  The law enforcement, fire service, emergency management, and emergency medical services personnel we worked with have been highly motivated and mission-focused in their efforts to help the districts prevent, prepare for, respond to, and recover from school crisis events.  Safe Havens analysts are proud to have had the opportunity to conduct school security assessments for both of these school districts.  

School Lockdowns – Using Research-based Approaches Instead of Focusing Intently on Active Shooter Incidents


Our analysts utilize a variety of research-based techniques to evaluate school crisis plans, staff development approaches, and drill processes.  For example, while drills for school lockdowns are conducted in the traditional top-down manner and go off without a hitch, we have worked a number of school shootings where there were long delays between shots being fired and a school lockdown being announced.  Even more commonly, school there have been lengthy delays between the time a potentially dangerous person is spotted on campus and when school lockdowns have been announced on the public address system. 

Unfortunately, many school lockdown approaches are so heavily based on active shooter incidents, they are prone to failure when far more common situations arise.  In addition, research on how people make decisions under life and death stress indicates that practicing for a wider array of emergency situations better prepares the brain than focusing intently on only one scenario such as active shooter.  After working seven K12 school active shooter incidents and far more school shootings, stabbings, and other weapons incidents, my experience has been that the more school officials focus intently on active shooter incidents, the less prepared they will be for them and for the types of weapons incidents that happen most of the time.  Every active shooter incident I have worked has been dramatically different from the other six I have evaluated.  A pronounced tendency for people to focus on the last horrific incident so much that they become less prepared for a wider array of active shooter incidents.

I think it is fair to say that every client who has observed our one-on-one crisis simulations has made changes in how they prepare for school lockdowns.  This is because the reactions they observe are far different from what they anticipate.  This is especially true for school organizations that have focused intently on active shooter situations.   As Lt. Col. Dave Grossman so well states it, the human mind is the most powerful survival mechanism known to mankind.  But, as the extensive research of Grossman, Dr. Gary Klein and a number of other experts shows us, we can accidently program people to except certain outcomes to the point they become far less effective under actual field conditions when they could face an almost limitless array of specific situations. 

There is considerable research to show that exposing people to a wider array of scenarios in training and drills can improve their chances of survival in an actual event.   Learning from this extensive base of knowledge can improve survivability while also reducing fear among school employees and the students under their care.

Life and Death Decision Making in Mozambique


I will be returning to the Zambezi Delta Region this summer to conduct research for the Sequel to Staying Alive – How to Act Fast and Survive Deadly Encounters.  The research for this book will require extensive travel to conduct interviews with people who face life and death encounters.  For Staying Alive, we interviewed survivors of mass casualty shootings, other weapons assaults and military combatThe next book will be based on interviews with a variety of practitioners who make life and death decisions on a regular and sometimes, daily basis. 

On this trip, I will have the opportunity to interview a fascinating individual, Poen Van Zyl.  Poen works as a guide in one of the most heavily populated wild game preserves in the world.  A South African citizen, Poen is fluent in English, Afrikaans, Portuguese and several tribal languages.  The vast and unfenced property Poen and a group of anti-poaching game scouts protect is home to astounding numbers of wildlife in comparison to a zoo or fenced national park.  The wildlife I saw visiting the National Park in Nairobi last month was depressingly paltry compared to the Zambezi Delta region, one of the last truly wild places in Africa.   While meat poaching rages out of control in most parts of the continent today, the thousands of square miles of the undeveloped Zambeze Delta region are home to bewildering numbers of wild and free animals whose numbers are steadily increasing through privately funded anti-poaching efforts.

Like the Africa of old, this means that someone taking a simple stroll in the woods can easily have a deadly encounter with a lion, elephant, cape buffalo, hippopotamus, or one of the regions innumerable crocodiles.  As but one example of the potential danger, a university study revealed that statistically, one person is eaten every other day in one fifty mile stretch of the Zambezi River. 

Poen and his masterful bush trackers know how to spot a mamba in the forest, the tiniest sign of an unexploded landmine left over from the bush war, a carefully concealed triggering device for a leg-hold hold trap made from a rusty car door spring, the faint sign of a lion is concealed in the bush or the body language of an elephant that indicates an impending charge.  Poen kindly agreed to share with me how they and the clients they guide into this remote wilderness region can travel such danger-filled territory in relative safety.  I will see how these brave men use situational awareness and pattern matching and recognition to detect and react to danger.  Like the public safety officials, members of elite military units, and emergency medical professionals I will interview, Poen and his game scouts will explain life-saving skills that can impact who lives and who dies.

I am excited to be able to interview the amazing men who make it their life’s mission to face death in the long grass with anticipation and respect for nature rather than fear.  I feel truly blessed and fortunate to be able to meet and interact with such fascinating people.  


Safe Havens Conducts School Security Assessments in Lagos and Ekiti, Nigeria


The recent horrific terrorist attack at a college in Damaturu, Nigeria shows how mass casualty acts of violence are not unique to the United States. One of our analysts recently returned from a trip where she assessed a number of schools in Nigeria.

For 10 days in December, Dr. Sonayia Shepherd had the distinct pleasure of visiting Lagos and Ekiti States, Nigeria to study the school system.   She particularly assessed security and safety aspects.  Given recent terrorist attacks on schools and places of worship in Nigeria, school security is just as important there as it would be in New York, Texas or Oregon.  Unfortunately, most Nigerian schools must operate in facilities that would not come close to passing building codes in the United States.  Having worked in more than a dozen countries, Dr. Shepherd has considerable experience in understanding these types of challenges and adapting school safety concepts for school security assessments in developing countries like Nigeria. 

It is important to understand that education is given high regard in Nigeria. According to Nigeria’s National Policy on Education, basic education covers instruction provided  to children 3-15 years of age, which includes pre-primary programs (ages three to five), and nine years of formal (compulsory) schooling consisting of six years of primary and three years of junior secondary.  A recent study (2012) uncovered that Nigerian immigrants have the highest levels of education in the nation (United States), surpassing whites and Asians, according to Census data bolstered by an independent analysis of 13 annual Houston-area surveys conducted by Rice University and commissioned by the Houston Chronicle. So how is safety integrated into a system of a people in a developing country so committed to education?

Though extreme budget constraints pose significant facilities challenges, many aspects of student safety are considered as important as education. During the school security assessments, it was evident in Lagos that every school Dr. Shepherd visited was gated with a guard at the entrance. The campus conditions were basic at best and would have been considered unfit by Western building codes.  For the students and staff, positive attitudes are used to help offset building inadequacies.  Most schools were housed in a tattered building with no air conditioning (the temperature remained in the upper 90s F) and some schools did not have desks or seats for students to sit; however the austere conditions did not stop the education process.  Dr. Shepherd observed students as young as 6 years old carrying desks on their heads as they walked to school in order to have a seat.  This made Dr. Shepherd painfully aware that comforts we take for granted are often lacking in Nigerian schools.    

However, as in most developing countries, building conditions were not viewed as hazards in the same way as they would be here in the United States.  When questioned about the conditions, Dr. Shepherd was told by teachers and students alike that the exposure to potential risks was a small price to pay in order to become educated. When she consulted with an administrator about the hazards of unsafe physical conditions, he simply smiled and said, “We are limited in our ability to affect the building. Unless parents and community officials help then we must work with what we have and take care of ourselves and each other”.  He relayed the countless hours he spends fixing things (they do not have custodial services) and cleaning in order to provide a little bit of comfort. He also told Dr. Shepherd that it is the culture of everyone in the school to pick up after themselves and keep the environment clean. This concept is universal and it validates the importance of a positive school climate and culture

Dr. Shepherd watched the gate guards question every person that came onto the campus.  Dr. Shepherd was also questioned intently before being reluctantly allowed onto campus with an escort by a staff member.  It was evident that the safety of students was important even in a school operating in such basic facilities.  Dr. Shepherd learned a few things from this trip but reports that one major nugget given to her by a dean in Nigeria really stood out.  He told her that safety can be achieved even in the bleakest of conditions if the right people with the right attitudes occupy the building.  We could not have said it better.

Trying to address even basic school security issues can be extremely challenging in developing nations.  Deadly terrorist attacks pose even greater challenges for schools in Nigeria.  As the recent attack demonstrates, basic fire safety and security concerns can become major issues when a coordinated attack is carried out on an educational facility. 

Ado EkitiChristianSchool zpsdb2fd8cb Safe Havens Conducts School Security Assessments in Lagos and Ekiti, Nigeria

A teacher leaving the Christian Primary School in Ado-Ekiti

Ikere IkitiStLouisSchool zps44aeb9e9 Safe Havens Conducts School Security Assessments in Lagos and Ekiti, Nigeria

GateGuard zps88cd934f Safe Havens Conducts School Security Assessments in Lagos and Ekiti, Nigeria

A typical school building with a wall around it and the Gate Guard resting underneath a tree (far right corner)

EkitiPrimarySchool zps53f6c551 Safe Havens Conducts School Security Assessments in Lagos and Ekiti, Nigeria

A primary school in Ekiti State

TeachingHospital zps4deb9ee3 Safe Havens Conducts School Security Assessments in Lagos and Ekiti, Nigeria

Teaching Hospital/School in Ekiti State(for graduate students)

School Lockdowns – Preventing Application Failure with Simple Practices


Properly implemented school lockdowns have been successfully used to protect students and staff for more than 100 years.  From a teacher preventing an armed aggressor from entering a Danbury, Connecticut in 1900 to more recent events, school lockdowns have successfully protected people from danger for many years.   Our clients often relate successful application of school lockdowns such as a case where an apparently dangerously mentally ill man opened fire in a high school parking lot in Henderson North Carolina in the mid-1970’s.  This instance occurred just two weeks after the school conducted a lockdown drill.  The man was killed in a gunfight with responding law enforcement officers but was unable to gain access to the school.

While properly implemented school lockdowns have been preventing tragedy for more than a century, many school staff are still not being properly trained and practiced.  In addition, school lockdown protocols are often poorly developed.  For more information on lockdown concepts that can be unreliable, we have developed a free web seminar.  This blog will focus on a few simple steps that can dramatically improve the reliability of school lockdowns

  • Regular staff and substitutes must be issued a key to be able to implement a lockdown.

  • Teaching with the classroom door locked is a practice we have been recommending to our clients for more than a decade.  This concept dates back at least to the early 1990’s and not only enhances security but can reduce lost time on task because teachers become less prone to give out hall passes.

  • Requiring staff to keep their room keys on their person can dramatically reduce the time it takes for staff to implement a lockdown.  While it can be helpful to have classroom doors that can be locked from the inside, long delays from staff trying to find their keys can dramatically reduce the benefits of such improvements.

  • Staff should be practiced in making the decision to lockdown their own work area and advising the office to secure the rest of the school independently.  Drills requiring individual staff to make these types of decision can dramatically improve decision-making and reduce fear. 

  • Training and drills should emphasize the need for appropriate types of lockdowns (preventive or “soft” lockdowns) when signs of danger are detected.  Focusing only on scenarios where shots have been fired or where someone is brandishing a gun can easily result in missed opportunities to implement a lockdown before an aggressor produces a weapon.  Our experience has been that the vast majority of situations where lockdown is appropriate at a school do not start out with shots being fired or someone brandishing a gun. 

We have now run more than 5,000 one-on-one controlled crisis simulations and have found these to be highly important aspects for more reliable school lockdowns.  Though not intended to be an all-inclusive list, addressing these key points can significantly improve reliability of school lockdowns.


Safe Havens International Performs School Safety Assessment at Phoenix Country Day School


It was an absolute joy to work with the staff from the Phoenix Country Day School and the Phoenix Police Department last week.  The school is a truly first-class independent school and the Phoenix Police Officers who work at the school each day were consummate and dedicated professionals.  The school has been staffed by Phoenix Police Officers for more than two decades and has worked diligently to provide a warm, caring, and safe environment over the years.   While we were able to offer a number of suggestions to further enhance school safety, security and emergency preparedness, the current safety efforts of school staff and the Phoenix Police Department were already truly impressive.

I have had the pleasure to work with a number of the nation’s finest independent schools and was deeply impressed with the thoughtful long-term approach to safety at this school.  I am also grateful that both school and police personnel were so eager to learn new ways to improve upon the many successful safety strategies they have implemented over the years.  It was truly an honor and a pleasure to visit this beautiful school and to work with a team of true professionals. 

School Lockdowns – The Submarine Door Analogy


A while back, I came up with an analogy that a number of folks have told me has been helpful to them. I thought it might be useful to share it here.  It can be easy for people who have not had the experience of being threatened or attacked with a weapon to have unrealistic expectations.  For example, for more than a decade, we have been posing scenarios for school employees and asking them to either verbally walk us through what they would do to address the scenarios or to physically demonstrate for us in real time what they would do. 

We have found that it is quite common for school staff to be unable to secure their work area rapidly when we do this with a scenario that would require a lockdown.  For example, just in the past few months, I have encountered many school office staff and classroom teachers who were not able to properly implement a lockdown in less than 30 seconds when posed with scenario where it is clearly appropriate for them do implement a lockdown.  In a number of instances, I have timed school staff who took more than 90 seconds to secure their work area.  These same school employees have typically participated in several or more lockdown drills in the current school year but are unable to perform the basic steps to accomplish a lockdown fast enough to protect themselves and others if an armed person were in close proximity.

When I keynote or work with clients, I have had good success with the submarine door analogy to help explain how dangerous these delayed reactions can be.  I simply ask what would happen if the crew of a submarine did not close the door to the sub until they had submerged to a depth of 100 feet.  The obvious answer is that the submarine would sink.  In the same manner, school staff who are not prepared to make, communicate, and implement the decision to lockdown in the first critical seconds of an act of violence will be more prone to implement protective actions too late to protect people.  While the analogy resonates best with most people for lockdown situations, it is equally applicable for medical emergencies, fires, tornadoes and other potentially life-threatening situations.

This simple analogy has helped many people better understand how fast staff must be able to react in a life-threatening situation.  I have had excellent feedback on this analogy.  As soon as we get a chance, we will be developing a free online video using the submarine analogy in concert with our new book Staying Alive – How to Act Fast and Survive Deadly Encounters.  I will post a blog to announce this free resource once we have it on the web site.  In the meantime, this analogy may be helpful in your efforts to improve school safety.

This is a Lockdown Drill – Potentially Deadly Habits during School Drills


During our school security assessments, we often run a variety of school crisis simulations in a one-on-one fashion.  Over the past decade we have noticed a variety of patterns of concern.  Most consistently observed with administrators and front office staff who have made announcements in concert with drills in the past, this is a type of stress reaction that can easily occur under field conditions because of the manner in which drills are conducted. 

When a school administrator has made announcements for drills multiple times, which include references to the announcement being part of a drill, it is easy for this to occur.  A simple strategy to reduce the chances that this will occur is to have a second person come on the intercom once the instruction to implement the protocol has been announced and state that the event is only a drill.  For example, one staff member might announce “All students and staff, implement severe weather sheltering procedures now, I repeat, all students and staff, implement severe weather sheltering procedures now” followed by a separate announcement made by a different staff member stating “all students and staff, this is a drill, I repeat, all students and staff, this is a drill.”  This simple approach can help reduce the chances that staff will announce that a drill is being conducted during a real emergency.  This can be important because staff may become panicked if they are told an event is a drill when they learn that they are experiencing an actual event.

School Safety Experts – Chief Alan Bragg – A Dedicated Public Servant


I had a “Thought Leader” session at the Texas School Administrators Winter Conference in Austin the week before last.  I was impressed, however, with the caliber of people who attended the session.

I was particularly glad to see Chief Alan Bragg from the Cypress-Fairbanks Police Department in attendance.  Chief Bragg had brought me in to present about 15 years ago when he was the Chief of Police in another school district.  As with his current assignment, Chief Bragg was brought in to build a new school district police department from the ground up.  Chief Bragg is particularly skilled at blending excellent security technologies with great human practices.

It was great to have the opportunity to shake the hand of a dedicated advocate for the children who has built not just one, but two stellar school district police departments from the ground up.

Safe Havens International Selected to Perform School Security Assessments for Washington D.C. Public Schools


Safe Havens International has been selected to perform comprehensive school security assessments for the Washington D.C. Public School System after through a competitive bid process. Our diverse team of experienced school safety experts will conduct a comprehensive school safety, security, climate, culture and emergency preparedness for the District through the U.S. General Services Administration.  Safe Havens has been selected for five school security assessment projects in the past week and our more than thirty analysts have been working tirelessly to keep the more than fifty school security assessment projects we have been working on time and within budget while consistently exceeding client expectations.  We feel blessed to have been able to attract so many talented subject matter experts to perform robust school security assessments for two of the nation’s top ten largest school districts, the Maine Department of Education, many of the nation’s finest independent schools as well as several schools in Nigeria and Kenya this year.  While conducting school security assessments for clients with more than 1,000 schools in one year has been a real challenge, the hard work and dedication of the world’s largest school safety center has made such a formidable task possible.

Our staff feels truly honored to be selected to perform the security assessments to protect staff and students in our nation’s capital.   We feel truly blessed to have so many tireless advocates for the children on our team. 

Attacking the Active Shooter – Vet New Techniques for Active Shooter Response Properly before Adopting them


Two highly trained FBI agents were killed and five more wounded by two bank robbery suspects in a shootout in Miami in 1986.  During the post-mortem investigation, investigators learned that some agents lost their service pistols during a crash which resulted from a car chase.  The investigation revealed that a concept that had sounded like a solid idea in the theoretical realm, had not fared so well when tested by a high-stakes and dynamic event. 

Agents had been trained to draw their service weapons and put them under their thigh during car chases so they could bring them into play faster should a gunfight occur.  This seemed like a logical idea at the time.  However, under the chaotic conditions of a high speed chase followed by a multi-vehicle crash, two agents found themselves without service pistols because they were lost during the crash.  The horrific gunfight with two highly trained and practiced criminals armed with semi-automatic rifles was a disaster even though the agents outnumbered the suspects four-to-one.  The consequences of this reliance on an improperly tested theoretical tactical concept were nothing short of catastrophic.  While a number of other factors contributed to seven of the eight agents being shot by two perpetrators, loss of primary service weapons at the start of a devastating gunfight was far from helpful.  Though the concept sounded like a good idea to a number of bright and competent FBI personnel, it was not properly tested before being implemented in the field. 

In recent years, a number of experts have been asserting that lockdown is a failed concept for active shooter incidents and that new approaches are needed.  The new approaches often rely on techniques that have proven to be effective when applied by highly trained military special operators and law enforcement tactical personnel.  While based on concepts like distraction technique which have often worked well for experienced tactical personnel who typically apply them after careful planning and repetitious training simulations, a valid question to ask is whether or not the average person can apply these same concepts without the benefit of the extensive training, mental conditioning and practice that elite law enforcement and military personnel get.  To my knowledge, none of these has yet been validated with controlled testing.   

In an interview for Staying Alive – how to act Fast and Survive Deadly Encounters, former Delta Force Special Operator and tactical instructor Tom Satterly was highly skeptical that the average person can learn and apply such techniques by watching a ten minute video or attending a two-day training session.  Satterly was awarded six Bronze Stars for his service to our country and has seen extensive combat.  Having actually applied unarmed combat skills in the field, Satterly feels that most people who are capable of applying these types of advanced and complex techniques under life and death conditions would likely be able to do so without training.  Several instances of unarmed students and staff disarming active shooters lend support to this.  Satterly also feels that most people would need much more intensive and realistic training to be able to reliably do so under the toxic conditions of a life and death struggle. 

We feel that people can and should be taught proven and easy to apply strategies before covering highly advanced concepts that require considerable practice to apply under the actual stress of a life and death encounter.  We also feel that such concepts should be carefully tested before being taught to millions of people.  If highly trained FBI personnel can encounter difficulty applying theoretical concepts, how much difficulty can the average person who lacks such a highly developed professional background encounter when faced with a dire situation?

School Security Expert Tip – Involve Law Enforcement, Fire Service and Emergency Management Personnel in Planning New School Designs


Working with architects, engineers, and school facilities personnel on hundreds of school construction projects, our school security experts have often find that local public safety officials are often not asked to assist with the design phase for new school construction and renovation projects.  Our school security experts feel this is a missed opportunity to improve the safety, security and emergency preparedness for schools and support facilities.

About fifteen years ago, I conducted a school security assessment that included an eight story school district office building in a high crime urban environment.  A municipal police sergeant was assigned to show me around the facilities we assessed.  Over the course of the assessment, I learned that this particular officer had a truly astounding base of knowledge of physical security systems, crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) and other areas relevant to school security.  When I asked the sergeant how he knew so much about these topics, I learned that he had been assigned to lead the protective detail for the mayor of the city which has a population above one million people.  The officer had completed months of intensive training on physical security technologies, CPTED as well as advanced training on dignitary protection by the United States Secret Service.  It turns out that this officer had far more formal training and field experience than many full-time school security experts who serve as school safety consultants on a full-time basis.

I asked the sergeant if they had allowed him to assist in the design of the building.  He told me that the response from the school district’s facility director was that there was nothing a police officer could teach an architect.  As a result of this poor decision, the district would now have to spend more than $500,000 in corrective construction and security technology upgrades because of serious design flaws.  In each case, this sergeant had tried to tell school officials would be problematic when he was finally allowed look at the final building plan.  They brushed his suggestions aside, built the facility, and then brought me in after a series of security incidents took place at the facility.  Had they allowed this sergeant in to assist the architects and listed to him, they would likely have not needed to bring me in to help them identify and fix the problems he could have helped them prevent.

I have seen many examples of schools that are superbly designed because local police, fire and emergency managers have been brought to the table early in the design process.  This approach not only results in safer and more effective schools, but can reduce exposure to civil liability as well.  While our school security experts love this type of work, we always ask our clients to involve their local public safety experts in the design process.  This is a typical topic in our school safety design conference keynote presentations.

Consider taking advantage of the dedicated and talented school safety experts in your community for school construction projects.

Safe Havens International begins work on comprehensive school security assessments for 199 schools for Orange County Public Schools, Florida


Safe Havens International (SHI) recently began a comprehensive school safety, security, climate, culture and emergency preparedness assessment project for 199 schools in the Orange County Public Schools (OCPS) in Florida. 

A global non-profit school safety center, SHI analysts have now assisted in school security assessments for more than 6,000 K12 schools across the nation and have assisted with six statewide school security assessment projects.

SHI is serving as the lead organization for the project with more than 30 analysts on the ground in Orlando.  Three other firms have partnered with SHI for the four month project.  Like SHI, Human Technology (HT) is an internationally experienced firm.  HT personnel have developed more than seventy web courses for the United States Department of Homeland Security, more than seventy FEMA live training programs and a variety of security training programs for the United States Department of State.  HT personnel have worked in every U.S. embassy world-wide and recently developed the U.S.D.H.S. IS 360 Active Shooter Training Program as part of the 2013 White House School Safety Initiative.  SHI was honored to have the opportunity to collaborate with HT on that project. 

Parkhill, Smith & Cooper (PSC) is another internationally experienced project partner.  A Texas-based architecture firm, PSC employs more than 300 architects and engineers with more than sixty of them engaged full-time in school renovation and construction.  PSC hosted a school security design conference at Texas Tech University last year which featured SHI Executive Director Michael Dorn as the keynote presenter.  PSC has conducted assessment projects for more than 150 United States Department of Defense schools including a K12 school at the United States Marine Base at Guantanamo Bay.  Evansville, Indiana-based school security consulting firm Integrity Security Protection (ISP) is also a partner organization on this project. 

In all, more than forty personnel will help conduct a wide array of assessment processes at each of the 199 schools in the district.  The assessment will cover school design, security technologies, student supervision, mental health services, law enforcement and security support, student discipline, school climate, school culture and emergency preparedness, and mass casualty event planning.  The assessment processes are focused on evidence-based, assessment-based and research-backed approaches to school safety, security, and emergency preparedness. The project also includes the development of a web-based software evaluation and training program which will allow district personnel to conduct school safety, security, climate, culture and emergency preparedness assessments annually.

The Safe Havens team includes five school security directors, three school district police chiefs, two analysts with state level emergency management and homeland security experience, a school transportation director, a team of architects, an electrical engineer, an attorney, and two highly experienced school mass casualty incident mental health recovery planners.   

School Lockdown – Application Failure in Contrast to Concept Failure


Claims have been made that school lockdown is a failed concept; but there is considerable evidence to the contrary.  For an effective analysis of this discussion, it is critical to understand the difference between application failure and concept failure.  Concept failure involves failure because the concept itself is flawed.  This is what has been claimed. For example, medical research proved that the practice of routinely bloodletting patients was unsound.  This would be an example of concept failure.  In contrast, application failure involves problems that are encountered because the concept has not been properly implemented.  For example, if a school purchases a metal detector but does not properly staff the machine, train personnel how to use it, protect the checkpoint with an armed officer, or fails to secure all potential entry points to the facility, the screening approach may be easily defeated.  

While some may deduce that the concept of school lockdown has failed simply because victims are killed, the reality is that this conclusion is only accurate if deaths occurred when:

  1.  The school had properly developed school lockdown protocols. 

  2. Staff and students had been properly trained in the school lockdown protocols.

  3. Staff had the physical ability to implement the school lockdown protocols.

  4. Staff had been properly trained to implement the school lockdown protocols using independent judgment.

  5. Staff had physically practiced implementing a school lockdown in a real-time fashion.

As one example, if a substitute teacher has not been issued a key, cannot lock the door to their room, and a gunman enters the room, this would be a case of application failure rather than concept failure. While a number of people have concluded that school lockdown is a failed concept because people have died in school shootings, no one has been able to identify for us a single person who has been killed in a school shooting where the above five criteria have been met.  One of the main goals of a school lockdown is not to provide absolute protection, but to deter and delay the attacker until law enforcement arrives to neutralize the attacker.

Concept failure occurs when the concept itself fails even though it has been properly implemented. Thus far, the examples cited as “proof” that school lockdown is a failed concept have all involved schools where there were significant gaps including:

  • Classroom doors did not have a lock

  • Employees had not been issued a key

  • No written school lockdown protocol existed

  • Poor quality school lockdown protocols were utilized

  • Staff had never been trained in school lockdown protocols

  • School lockdown drills had not been conducted

  • Staff had not been timed to see that they could lockdown rapidly

  • Staff did not have their keys readily available

  • School lockdown drills had been conducted in a “top down” fashion and did not require staff to practice making the decision themselves to lockdown.

  • Appropriate alternatives such as evacuation should a breach occur have not been provided to staff and students.

In some of the cases that are frequently cited as examples that school lockdown is a failed approach, two or more of these gaps were present.  In addition, statistics based solely on individual spaces in schools rather than survival rates for the schools as a whole have often been used to provide “proof” that lockdown does not work.  For example, while statistics purporting that school lockdown resulted in a 92% fatality rate at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the reality is that 96% of the school’s occupants survived the terrible attack.  The 92% figure refers only to specific rooms and does not reflect the actual building occupant survival rate. 

Instead of abandoning an approach that has repeatedly saved lives as far back as the attempted attack at a school house in Danbury, Connecticut in 1900, a more productive approach would be to focus on improving the implementation of the school lockdown concept.

Replacing a concept that has worked repeatedly in the past with concepts that are theoretical does not make sense.  If schools have faced challenges implementing a comparatively simple concept, how reliable will it be to ask them to implement a dramatically more complex approach such as running from or attacking an armed aggressor?  As a number of students and educators have been killed and wounded confronting armed subjects in U.S. schools, citing the few incidents where school shootings have been stopped by students and staff does not support the notion that this is the most reliable approach for most school weapons incidents.  While I agree that there are some situations where some people may find it to the best course of action to attack an active shooter as a last resort, there are tangible indications that people may misapply this type of training with deadly results.  We have seen numerous instances where people who have been trained in these concepts have misapplied them in controlled simulations as well as in the field.  We continue to urge that these concepts be thoughtfully tested and validated before they are implemented. 

As I have maintained many times, while we can and must seek ways to improve the survivability of students and staff in school violence incidents, we should focus on what we know works before we adopt measures that we hope will work.  Properly implemented school lockdowns have been successfully protecting students and staff for more than a century.  Does it really make sense to abandon rather than improve a strategy that has saved many lives?

Is there really a “School shooting every other day in America”?


I finally had time to read a news article that Steve Satterly sent me a few days ago.  The headline asserted that there had been “A school shooting every other school day in America so far this school year.”  As I read the article I quickly discovered a common scare tactic, the article counted a shooting of an armed suspect by a police officer as a school shooting.  Sadly, we routinely see such incredibly inaccurate statistical data. Sometimes, the data manipulation is the result of sloppy research but in other instances, it seems more likely that the usage is unethical.  In this case, the data is also based on an apples and oranges comparison because the data set includes both K12 school incidents and incidents at institutions of higher learning.  Changing the data set in such a dramatic manner will definitely skew the results when we look at decades of data collection that is specific to K12 schools. 

Peer review research by trained researchers like Dr. Dewey Cornell provides a significant contrast to the numerous alarmist statistics that are bandied about as facts in America and abroad.  While some people may feel that the ends justifies the means, school safety professionals should stick to reputable data and avoid reliance upon the many forms of inaccurate school shooting data that is so prolific in our country. 

School Security Assessment Expert – School Security Assessment in Warren Township New Jersey


I had the distinct pleasure last week to conduct a school safety, security, climate, culture, and emergency preparedness assessment for the Warren Township Board of Education in New Jersey.   The district’s Facilities Manager, Tyler Tribelhorn, worked long days with me to assess the district’s five schools.  Mr. Triblehorn was a real joy to work with. 

A Certified Educational Facilities Manager, Mr. Tribelhorn grew up in Warren and has dedicated his life to serving his community working in the district.  Mr. Triblehorn and the many district employees and elected board members I interacted with were professional, caring people who are clearly dedicated to the well-being of students and staff.  The district has implemented several truly cutting-edge practices over the past fifteen years.  Just as importantly, district personnel from principals, teachers, custodians, front office staff, the superintendent, and cabinet officials were eager to learn new and better ways to make their schools even safer.

Working in 1 to 20 degree weather with much snow on the ground in a community with a low crime rate was quite a stark contrast to assessing school security in eighty degree weather in Nairobi last week.  However, the similarities between Mr. Triblehorn and his counterpart in Kenya last week were striking.  Both of these men are intelligent, innovative, caring, and consummate professionals deeply committed to the safe and effective education of children and youth.  I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to work with Mr. Triblehorn and the Warren Township team and feel honored to have made their acquaintance.  

School Security Assessment in Kenya – A Unique and Rewarding Experience


I just returned from a weeklong trip to conduct a school security assessment at a Christian school in Kenya.  Two parents who have children at the school were killed in the terrorist attack at Westgate Mall.   One student was trapped in a car with his father’s body for an extended period of time before being rescued.  Another student was badly burned in the explosion that claimed his mother’s life.  A group of students and a teacher were trapped in the mall during the attack and were thankfully rescued through the efforts of the school and a courageous U.S. government official.  Naturally, school leaders wanted to revisit school security in light of the increased risk of terrorism evidenced by the bold and deadly attack.  It is important to understand that the mall was frequented by the ex-patriot community.

Sharon Fisher from Human Technology (HT) assisted with the assessment.  We worked with Mrs. Fisher on the White House school safety initiative and she has worked with U.S. embassies across the globe.  Mrs. Fisher has also authored 140 courses for FEMA.  Her assistance on this high-stakes assessment was invaluable. 

I have always found it to be extremely insightful to conduct site visits at schools in other countries.  Whether the school is located in South America, Europe, Asia or Africa, site visits in other countries are always incredibly revealing.  The school has already had site visits by security officials from a number of foreign government agencies and had extensive security measures in place.  For example, the school is protected by a number of highly visible Kenyan Diplomatic police officers armed with selective fire rifles while security officers with K-9s secure perimeter posts.    

In spite of the previous work, we were able to develop dozens of new recommendations to enhance school safety, security and emergency preparedness.  While a number of these would rarely be considered in American K12 schools, a number of them were very similar to the types of opportunities for improvement that we find in the U.S.  The school began to immediately implement quite a few of our recommendations while we were onsite and will be implementing others shortly.

During the assessment, we visited the still closed Westgate Mall to gain a deeper understanding of the attack and how it impacts the appropriate security posture of the school.  A reported attempted terrorist attack on the airport on the morning of my departing flight enhanced my understanding of these dynamics.

Sharon and I, and the SHI team who provided offsite assistance, all feel truly honored to be able to participate in this project.  I am also grateful to the kindness and generosity shown to me by the citizens of Kenya that I had the chance to interact with.    


School Security Expert Tip – Build Better Support for School Security Bond Referendums through Open and Honest Communications


From time to time, we work with school districts and independent schools that must raise significant revenues for major capital projects with safety implications.  Often, improvements in safety, security, climate, culture, and emergency preparedness are key issues and occasionally, primary issues for these projects. We recently worked with a school district that wanted us to review their plans to upgrade every school in their district from a school safety, security, and emergency preparedness standpoint.  They also wanted our assistance in communicating the rationale behind the proposed upgrades. 

I had worked with the district on multiple previous occasions and knew they had incorporated many of the upgrades after we had advised them of the opportunities for improvement.  Just as importantly, I knew that local law enforcement, fire service, and emergency management officials had been intensively involved with shaping the approaches being used to plan the renovations.  We planned an intensive 14-hour day which included meetings to review the proposed renovations and upgrades, no-cost and low-cost improvements that have and could be made to complement improvements that are proposed in the bond referendum, and videotaped interviews between me and a variety of district and public safety officials to explain specific critical concepts to the public.

We had a truly productive day and I was extremely impressed with the work of the superintendent, public information officer, facilities and business personnel, and public safety personnel.  The district will be producing a series of online video spots and working in a variety of other ways to clearly and openly communicate why the project is so critical and why so much of the overall project is focused on improving school safety, security, climate, culture, and emergency preparedness.

Having been involved with many efforts to try to acquire funding to address school safety issues, I have always felt that even in tough economic times, the average citizen is more likely to vote yes when a clear, honest and demonstrably well-thought out approach has been effectively communicated to them.  In my experience, most people do care about school safety and are more likely to put their “money where their mouth is” if we take the time to properly educate them and to prove that money is being spent logically and effectively.  Though challenging to achieve, the opportunities to improve funding are often there if we evaluate, document, and communicate the need to prevent tragedies in our schools.


School Security Assessment Tip – Watch for Fatalistic Views When Conducting School Security Assessments


A dangerous message has been repeated numerous times since the Sandy Hook School shooting occurred last year.   In story after story, it has been reported that the school did “everything right” but 26 people died at the school anyway.  Our analysts have noticed a dangerous pattern with some school employees that likely derive from this narrative.  While conducting controlled school crisis simulations with school employees in a one-on-one setting, we have had a number of test subjects make comments along the lines of – “it is my job to die, the Sandy Hook shooting taught me that even if we do everything right, a lot of people will die if an attacker picks our school.” 

Law enforcement administrators, fire commanders, and military leaders would be quite alarmed to hear their personnel make these types of statements.  Professionals in all of these fields are taught that while some personnel in their field will surely be killed in their service to others, there are numerous things that can be done to dramatically reduce the risks of death in these high stakes arenas.  When we interviewed former Delta Force Special Operator Tom Satterly for Staying Alive – How to Act Fast and Survive Deadly Encounters, he emphasized that he survived many long hours of intensive combat as part of Task Force Ranger in Mogadishu by believing that he would survive if he did his part and that his fellow soldiers would do their part.  Having earned six Bronze Stars in service to the United States Army, Tom speaks with authority when he tells us that an important point to survival in desperate situations is confidence.  Satterly carefully points out that while arrogance can kill, confidence is instrumental in surviving tough situations.

I am distressed that a sometimes pervasive message is sometimes being disseminated in the media, at professional conferences, in school safety training programs, drills and exercises, and in school security assessments where physical features are purported to be the primary means to protect people from violence.  While dangers must be identified and addressed, preaching gloom is in direct conflict with what considerable research teaches us about preparing people and organizations to survive deadly encounters.


School Safety Authors Asked to Collaborate on Sequel to Staying Alive – How to Act Fast and Survive Deadly Encounters for Barron’s Publishing


Barron’s, one of the nation’s most respected book publishers, has requested that Safe Havens develop a concept for a sequel to Staying Alive – How to Act Fast and Survive Deadly Encounters.  Designated as a top four publisher’s pick from the 160 titles to be published by Barron’s this year, Staying Alive is a heavily researched book.  The seven subject matter expert reviews of Staying Alive have been positive and the editorial and project management teams at Barron’s have expressed that to us that they have been extremely impressed with the quality of our research, authoring, editing ,and project management.  The five person team that has worked on Staying Alive has met every deadline during the project.  Staying Alive will be released in bookstores this April.  A powerful free web viewable companion video will be released on the Safe Havens website in March.

We feel honored that this distinguished publisher has expressed interest in a sequel when for a book that is not yet been published.  I have been published by a number of other reputable publishers including Jane’s and Prentice Hall and feel truly blessed to be able to work with such high caliber publishers.

School Access Control Tips – Ten Ways to Improve School Access Control


During a series of interviews with the producer for the Today Show, I was asked to provide a list of high end school access control practices.  While truly effective school access control can be a bit more complicated than a bullet list of concepts, I thought the observations we have had from thousands of school security assessments we have assisted with might prove to be helpful to many readers. 

While it is critical to note that school access control concepts should be tailored to fit local conditions, the following concepts can often help to improve school access control.  Our analysts also hasten to point out that school access control is often only as reliable as the weakest link.  For example, superb front entryway design, technologies and staffing can become often easily be defeated if staff prop side doors open with rocks and other objects.  This aspect of school access control also makes it even more important to use a layered approach to school security. 

With these cautions in mind, the following practices can improve the reliability of access control in most K12 schools:

1.  A thoughtfully developed and properly communicated policy on school access control

2.  Keeping all exterior doors locked during the school day

3.  Providing quality staff development on school access control, visitor screening and visitor management practices

4.  Providing effective training in pattern matching and recognition techniques to help school employees quickly spot and react to potentially dangerous people

5.  100% wear of photo identification cards by all staff and time sensitive visitor badges for all visitors

6.  Remote buzzer access with camera and audio to screen visitors before they are admitted

7.  Security film on perimeter doors and windows

8.  Requiring visitors who staff do not know by full name on sight to show photo identification or be personally identified by another staff member before being admitted beyond the office area

9.  Any visitor who will be in proximity to students or who is going to be allowed to leave with a child must be checked against sexual predator database and outstanding court orders

10.  Teaching students to report any adult in the building who is now wearing a staff identification card or visitor badge

While this list is not intended to be a comprehensive approach to school access control, the concepts listed above can make it less likely that school access control will be defeated while increasing the chances that someone who is able to breach perimeter security is quickly detected and reported.


School Bullying Expert Tip – Ninth Printing of Weakfish – Bullying Through the Eyes of a Child Ordered


Safe Havens is pleased to announce that we have just ordered the ninth printing of Weakfish – Bullying Through the Eyes of a Child.  This book has been helpful to many school safety practitioners over the years because it helps them see the connection between what research says and the story of an actual child.

 We are excited that demand for the book is still strong after more than a decade.  There are many excellent books on bullying out there and as an author I am thankful that so many people still read Weakfish.   Though my first book to be stocked by bookstores Staying Alive – How to Act Fast and Survive Deadly Encounters is expected to sell far more copies, Weakfish is a very personal book to me. 

As a child who struggled to be able to read, I dreamed of writing a book someday.  Being able to publish multiple books is beyond my wildest childhood dreams.   Being a diagnosed Dyslexic, I can vividly recall not being able to read.  Thanks to a dedicated teacher and an amazing program for Dyslexic children, I am able to read and write today.  Each time a new printing of Weakfish comes out, I feel blessed that I received this critical assistance.


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.

Click here to read the article at Campus Safety Magazine.

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:

  1. Spend time revising their plans five times in two years.
  2. Spend money reprinting 1,800 emergency plans for teachers.
  3. Dedicate time to issue the 1,800 plan components to the teachers.
  4. Dedicate precious and extremely limited staff time to re-train 1,800 teachers.
  5. 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:

  1. Asking if the suggested approach has been properly evaluated to provide evidence that it will actually work.
  2. Carefully vetting new procedures with fire service, emergency management, and law enforcement officials rather than with law enforcement officials alone.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

View two of the video segments featuring Satterly’s interview here:

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 SealThe 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 ShepherdChris, 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.

View the trailer for Staying Alive:

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

TAGS:Gerald Summers school child custody school violence expert stephen brown Sue Ann Hartig teacher murdered

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.

Including assessment processes to evaluate culture, climate and emergency preparedness in school security assessments can significantly improve these valuable efforts.

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


Our award-winning school safety video crew has released another free school safety video podcast on the room clear protocol.

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.

SHI Whistle Web watermarked School Safety Expert Tip – Consider Whistles for Life for Life Saving Low Tech Emergency Communications

Low-Tech Emergency Communications: Whistles for Life

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

TAGS:arming teachers attacking a gunman Gun control prevent 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

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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

TAGS:School security School security audit school security experts school security policies

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 projectsSchool 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

TAGS:michael dorn school lockdown school security assessment experts school security expert tips

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

TAGS:school crisis planning school security assessments school security experts

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 WarThough 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

TAGS:School security School security assessment school security experts

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 offer a free video that explores the potential for mass casualty loss of life with the lockout/lockdown approach to lockdowns.

-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

TAGS:school active shooter school security assessments school security expert school shootings

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

TAGS:Chris Dorn lockdown lockout school lockdown school security expert school shooting

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 lockdowns9 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

TAGS:school crisis plans school security assessments school security expert

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

TAGS:deaths in schools gun detection intruders red team assessments school safety School safety assessment School security school security assessments school security cameras school security expert school security technology visual weapons screening

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

TAGS:Amanda Ripley Dave Grossman Gary Klein Gavin DeBecker michael dorn Preventing school shootings school shootings school violence

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

TAGS:michael dorn Safe Havens School safety assessment School safety audit School security school security audits school security experts security assessments for independent schools

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

TAGS:attacking a gunman Sandy Hook school safety school security assessments school security audits school security experts school shootings school shootings expert

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

School security assessments

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

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

TAGS:active shooter Sandy Hook school crisis planning school safety assessments School security school shooting expert

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

TAGS:Safe Havens school crisis plans school safety training school security experts school security seminars school shooting experts school shootings

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

TAGS:active shooter Connecticut mass casaulty Sandy Hook Elementary School school shooting school shootings in the united states targeted act of violence

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.

TAGS:active shooter active shooters in schools Adam Lanza Connecticut Illinois Principal's Association Sandy Hook Elementary School school crisis plans school safety expert school security expert school shooters school shootings weapons in schools

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

TAGS:Dr. Bernie James Dr. Gary Avery expert witness consultant federal civil action Georgia Police Academy Justin Cox North Carolina Sampson County school search and seizure school searches Teresa Holmes union elementary school

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?

TAGS:functional protocols incident specific protocols school crisis planning experts school safety experts school safety training videos school safety videos school security experts

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.

Functional protocols (Ask Safe Havens) from Safe Havens International on Vimeo.

Incident Specific Protocols (Ask Safe Havens) from Safe Havens International on Vimeo.

Texas Student Shoots Himself While Handcuffed and Being Transported from School in Police Car

TAGS:Chris Dorn concealed weapons Galena Park Independent School District handcuff students handcuffed student shoots himself Harris County search of students student shoots himself during transport student shoots self student weapons violations Texas student shoots himself weapons demonstration

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

TAGS:Election Day attacks Election Day Terrorist Attacks at schools free resources for schools school metal detection school polling site security school safety resources school terrorist attacks student supervision terrorism and schools

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

TAGS:Casey Schulman dominica field trip study abroad University of Virginia

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

TAGS:elementarty school children Lion cub Russia

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)

TAGS:Architect Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design criminologist Dr. Randy Atlas Safe school design

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

TAGS:cdc fema FEMA school safety Free school safety School safety assessment checklist school safety center school safety expert resources school safety resources

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

TAGS:Gerald Summers Indiana School Safety Specialists Academy planning for disabilities qualified school safety consultant qualified school safety expert school safety consultant school safety court cases school safety specialists academy school security director students with special needs Sue Hartig

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 EmergencyGerald 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

TAGS:Miami Metro Dade Police Palm Glades Preparatory Academy School bus driver training school bus safety school bus security experts School bus security training videos School bus shooting School bus shooting Miami

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.

Police said the 15-year-old boy faces charges including manslaughter and carrying a concealed firearm.

Wishing a Happy Thanksgiving

TAGS:Happy Thanksgiving Safe Havens

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?

TAGS:Ask Safe Havens Chris Dorn free school safety resources free school safety staff development videos school crisis plan terminology school crisis planning school crisis situations School safety practitioners school staff development videos

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.

Chris and his award-winning video crew have done a great job on this series and we are grateful for their work.

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

TAGS:Dr. Michael Roberto fire Fire on the Mountain Fire on the Mountain - The True Story of the South Canyon Fire how people make decisions in life and death situations John N. Maclean Smoke Jumpers South Canyon fire Storm King Mountain Teaching Company

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

TAGS:Dave Woodward Indiana Indiana Department of Education Indiana School Safety Specialists Academy risk managers School safety specialist school security directors

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

TAGS:active shooter free school safety course Permission to live school crisis planning school safety experts school safety keynote student supervision

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

TAGS:michael dorn plain view vehicle check school safety training school security expert weapons on school property

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

TAGS:free research papers free resources for schools Illinois Principal's Association safety training videos School safety expert team school safety resource training videos

The school safety expert team at Safe Havens works hard to offer many high quality free resources for schools.

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

TAGS:Kenneth R. Murray Lt. Col. Dave Grossman school emergency practitioners Training at the Speed of Life

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

TAGS:bullying bullying prevention bullying prevention video free school safety videos Meet Mackenzie Safe Havens school bullying expert school safety experts school safety resources school safety videos 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

TAGS:Ask Safe Havens emergency situations Lt. Col. Dave Grossman school safety experts school safety training

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

TAGS:angel perry Chris Dorn Gary Klein Henryville Henryville tornado Indiana Lt. Col. Dave Grossman mental simulation michael dorn school bus drivers school bus safety school bus security school bus security cameras school bus security experts security cameras

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

TAGS:Bullying involving female students Jodee Blanco Please Stop Laughing at Me school bullying who experience bullying

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

TAGS:Daycare Center Safety Expert school safety conference school safety keynote presenters School security assessment

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

TAGS:Chris Dorn michael dorn school bus safety school bus safety experts school bus safety video school bus security school bus security expert witness school bus security experts

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

TAGS:Dr. Shepherd Dr. Sonayia Shepherd fatal school safety events mass casualty mental health recovery school safety school safety experts school safety videos

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

TAGS:bullied bullying and suicide bullying experts bullying situations Felicia Garcia free resources litigation against school district New York peer mediation respond to bullying school bullying experts Staten Island stop bullying now Tottenville High School

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

TAGS:bullying bullying expert bullying prevention bullying prevention keynote bullying prevention presentation cyberbullying Oliver North School security school security expert South Dakota South Dakota Department of Education South Dakota Parent Engagement Conference student supervision

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

TAGS:Chris Dorn crisis situations evaluating school safety experts Planning for Disabilities and Other Special Needs During and Emergency Safe Havens Video Safe Topics school crisis planning school safety expert witness school safety experts Special needs special needs safety special needs student safety expert students with special needs United States Department of Education

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

TAGS:Chemical and biological attacks Jane's Chemical-Biological Defense Guidebook jane's safe schools planning guide for all hazards

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

TAGS:abductions of students school security expert school security measures sexual predators

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

TAGS:school crisis preparedness experts school safety experts school safety resources School security School security assessment 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

TAGS:free video Russell Bentley school security expert school security technology security cameras training videos

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

TAGS:Bullying Beyond the Schoolyard - Preventing and Responding to Cyberbullying cyberbullying Justin W. Patchin Sameer Hinduju

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

TAGS:combat soldiers Dr. Robert Friedmann Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange Georgia State University GILEE Israel School security in Israel security officers Soldiers guarding Israeli schools

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

TAGS:child supervision expert witness improving student supervision school safety expert school supervision expert supervising students supervision of children

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

TAGS:disguised knife disguised weapons Disguised weapons expert disguised weapons presentation Free school safety resource Safe Havens International school safety expert resource

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?

TAGS:community partners crisis management educators emergency management incident response safe and positive learning environments Safe learning environment safety practices school climate school climate and culture school culture school officials school safety school safety terminology security and emergency preparedness sign in procedures Sony Shepherd target hardening transportation security visitor policies

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:

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 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 sony@weakfish.org



When School Metal Detection Makes Sense

TAGS:access control entry point metal detection expert witness metal detection metal detection checkpoint metal detectors michael dorn random surprise metal detection school metal detection school metal detection expert weapons in schools weapons on school property weapons violations

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

TAGS:duress button Greg Thomas head of safety and security Jeff Anderson medical emergencies New York City Public School safety technologies school safety technologies school security technologies weapons situations

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

TAGS:A Framework for Understanding Poverty Dr. Ruby Payne

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

TAGS:attorney bullying cases involving school safety criminal cases defense counsel evaluate expert witnesses evaluating qualified expert witnesses expert witness litigation plaintiff's counsel prosecutors Qualified school safety expert witness risk managers school bus security school child custody school crisis planning school safety expert witness school safety experts school safety subject matter experts School security school violence student supervision Sue Ann Hartig Testifying school safety experts

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

TAGS:grant sources Improved school safety 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

TAGS:Ask Safe Havens athletic events lightning meters Russell Bentley school athletic events school safety video

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.


Lightning meters for school athletic events (Ask Safe Havens) from Safe Havens International on Vimeo.

Free School Safety E-Book

TAGS:Boys and Girls Clubs of America Les Nichols Let None Learn in Fear Safe Havens School Planning and Management Magazine 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

TAGS:access control systems Bradley Mrazek breach the security of a school California George Washington Elementary School Mrazek Parkside Elementary School prevention measures San Mateo school safety assessments security of a school sign in policies simulated abductions visitor badge

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

TAGS:Amish Grace - How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy b. Kraybill David L. Weaver - Zercher Donald innocent school children our nation's most horrific school shootings Steven M. Nolt

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

TAGS:Frederick Flowers Nassau University Medical Center school bus school bus driver School bus driver arrested for driving while intoxicated

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?

TAGS:crisis situations at sporting events Russell Bentley school athletic activities security and emergency preparedness

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

TAGS:bullying cyberbullying definitions for school safety definitions for school safety terms school safety terms

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?

TAGS:Ask Safe Havens Video catastrophic events Dr. Sonayia Shepherd free staff development tool school safety training video video podcast

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

TAGS:largest severe weather incidents severe weather section severe weather spotter Shywarn tornado outbreak tornado procedures Veterans day 2002 November Tornado outbreak

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 jacob.terrell@ymail.com

China Inc. by Ted Fishman Helps us Understand Many of the Dramatic Changes in Society

TAGS:Campus officials China Inc. Ted Fishman

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

TAGS:evaluating school safety school safety expert witness school safety training videos Student supervision training

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:

  • Bullying
  • Weapons assaults
  • Fights
  • Sexual assault
  • Abduction of students
  • Theft
  • Vandalism
  • Substance abuse
  • Arson
  • 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?

TAGS:Ask Safe Havens free school safety video podcast providing security Russell Bentley school athletic events school safety video

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

TAGS:Oaklahoma Self-inflicted gunshot wound Sherry Fletcher Stillwater Junior High School Stillwater Junior High School in Stillwater Stillwater Oklahoma Student Dies suicides on school campuses

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

TAGS:connectivity between staff free resources positive relationships positive school climate school climate students and parents

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

TAGS:K12 school safety Ron Clark school safety and violence prevention The Essential 55 An Award-Winning Educator's Rules for Discovering the Successful Student in Every Child

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

TAGS:actual attack attack warnings communicate threats via electronic means Washington State

 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

TAGS:American school bus drivers David Crocket High School NIMS Training in the National Incident Management System transported to the hospital Twenty five students Washington County Tennessee

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

TAGS:common types of school weapons assaults deadly but rare acts of violence in schools free school safety video prevention and emergency preparedness efforts school weapons violence

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

TAGS:1941-1945 crime and discipline data relating to school safety Death Ride - Hitler VS Stalin: The Eastern Front Loyola University professor John Mosier

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

TAGS:automatically evacuate a facility when a bomb threat is received bomb threats at universities disruptive bomb threats explosive device Indiana Department of Education School Safety Specialist Academy Safety Net The Safety Net

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

TAGS:Big Walnut Schools in Ohio Improving school climate and culture prevent bullying 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

TAGS:Advanced concepts of school emergency preparedness Bruce Siddle 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

TAGS:aclu Northside Independent School District reduce truancy Spring Independent School District student identification cards track students for improved security

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

TAGS:free school video podcast school safety video two 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

TAGS:bullying prevention cdc information on bullying

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?

TAGS:free school safety training videos free video podcast can be utilized for school safety other school weapons assaults school weapons attacks 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

TAGS:Gavin DeBecker The Gift of Fear Violent People on Campus

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

TAGS:ACEF American Clearinghouse on Educational Design audio podcasts CPTED can improve school safety Designing Safer and More Effective Schools

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

TAGS:Erica DePalo Orang High School sexual victimization sexually inappropriate conduct

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

TAGS:active shooters were stopped attacking active shooters high liability School officials and students in Tuscaloosa Alabama

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.