Wolves in Sheep's Clothing

A few school safety and terrorism“experts” have been working hard to drum up business by predicting a wave of terrorism in our schools. In a United States Secret Service/United States Department of Education threat management symposium a few months ago, a participant asked a speaker about the concerns expressed by one“expert” that a certain violent scenario would be carried out by terrorists. The Secret Service agent stated that while such an occurrence was possible, it was highly unlikely. She also stressed that such predictions were not supported by any available reliable intelligence information.

Sadly, that is part of how terrorism works. Media reports exaggerate the actual individual level of danger from terrorists. We have seen a crop people who have no actual experience or professional preparation holding themselves out as experts on terrorism in schools.

Ask Questions, Listen Carefully

Sony Shepherd is a respected colleague who is one of the few people in the country who has actual full-time experience working in government units that deal with school safety and with terrorism. She served as a school safety coordinator for three years and was promoted to serve as the state anti-terrorism planner for the Georgia Emergency Management Agency. Last year, she was selected as the bioterrorism exercise coordinator for the Georgia Department of Human Resources. Shepherd suggests that before putting stock in the advice of anyone claiming to be a terrorism expert, school officials ask some basic questions. Does this individual have formal training in anti-terrorism or counter-terrorism? If so, who provided the training that makes this individual an authority? Has the expert worked in a full-time capacity in the field of terrorism, if so, in what capacity? Is their background relevant to the information being provided? Anti-terrorism involves efforts to counter, reduce and plan for acts of terrorism, while counter-terrorism focuses on military or law enforcement tactical responses to acts of terrorism.

For example, a retired military officer with experience in counter-terrorism operations may be well qualified to advise law enforcement tactical teams, but poorly prepared to help you in school emergency operations planning. A government anti-terrorism planner may be extremely helpful in reviewing your school emergency operations plans, but might not be qualified to train school resource officers in tactical responses to terrorism incidents. Very few people have solid backgrounds in both anti-terrorism and counter-terrorism.

What Are the Main Concerns?

While future events may dictate changes in areas requiring additional attention, there are certain specific points where school officials may want to focus their efforts. These are not limited to the prevention of and preparedness for terrorist events. In fact, good security and emergency preparedness measures designed to reduce risk of terrorism often have much in common with those efforts designed to reduce the risks associated with accidents, typical acts of violence, mass contamination incidents, natural disasters and other hazards of concern.

Evaluating access control, security hardware and the effectiveness of your school/law enforcement partnership can go a long way to target harden your schools. Reviewing your emergency operations plans concerning bomb threats, major acts of violence, lockdown, evacuation and shelter in place procedures is also a major step in the right direction. In short, there is no need to develop a new emergency operations plan for terrorism. The focus should be on making sure that your old plan is a good one.

Focus on the Basics First

Dr. Robert Friedmann, of Georgia State University, serves as the director of the Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange Program (GILEE). Through GILEE, hundreds of high-ranking police officials from the United States, Israel, Austria and Hungary have traveled to participating countries for intensive training focused on anti-terrorism, counter-terrorism and community policing. As a trainer for officers coming to the United States, and having spent 14 days in Israel through the program, I can easily state that it is the most intensive of the nearly 19 months of formal public safety training I received during my two decades in law enforcement. Friedmann also stresses that effective efforts to reduce and respond to terrorism are directly tied to the kinds of measures that we should have in place to address more traditional concerns. He stresses that community-based efforts like community policing are among our most effective tools to address concerns of terrorism.

While schools have been targeted by terrorists in the past, and will continue to be in the future, our response must be deliberate and practical. Beware the wolf in sheep’s clothing that may be more interested in your district’s funds than in the safety of students and employees.

MICHAEL S. DORN has been a full-time campus safety practitioner for 23 years. He can be reached at .

About the Author

Michael S. Dorn has helped conduct security assessments for more than 6,000 K-12 schools, keynotes conferences internationally and has published 27 books including Staying Alive – How to Act Fast and Survive Deadly Encounters. He can be reached at www.safehavensinternational.org.