The "All Hazards" Way

Traveling 250 days a year can be grueling, but it offers a chance for me to see how different communities face a wide range of safety issues. A transportation director from Montana told me how kids at one bus stop must walk through several miles of wilderness to their bus stop. The children carry a hunting rifle to protect themselves from mountain lions as they make their way to and from the stop. They leave the rifle in the woods when the bus arrives.

Working in Honduras last year, we quickly learned that everyone rides the school bus, not just students. Old surplus school buses with the name of various American school systems still visible on the sides and packed to several times their normal capacity with children and adults rumble along the busy streets of San Pedro and La Ceba.

British schools are fortresses compared to their American counterparts, as are school buses in parts of Israel.

Whether training school and public safety officials from Kuwait, China, Israel or Montana, I try to keep a solid perspective about the need to remain focused on“all hazards” safety and preparedness measures. School safety has been overly influenced by those who have experience only in the law enforcement or security fields. For example, when I ask 1,000 to 1,500 attendees at a conference presentation how many of their schools conducted lockdown drills in the past year, most people raise their hands. When the question concerns shelter-in-place drills, only a few dozen typically raise their hands. Since there have been only about 40 instances in our nation’s history where gunman have roamed school hallways shooting at people, but we have hundreds if not thousands of hazmat situations affecting schools each year, this may not be the best focus.

I get similar responses to questions about implementation of the National Incident Management System, written recovery plans, business continuity plans, blocked-access fire drills and other key preparedness issues.

Many dedicated and well-intentioned school officials have devoted precious limited resources on remote possibilities, such as planes being flown into school buildings or Election Day terrorist attacks on school polling sites, while ignoring the real concerns. Many school systems have still not implemented the National Incident Management System, developed interoperable communications with area public safety officials, coordinated annual all-hazards tactical site surveys, implemented a progressive exercise program, developed a written mental health recovery plan and a written business continuity plan, and other core components.

Emergency management experts will quickly point out that we should prepare for core functions rather than focusing on specific scenarios — particularly those born of sheer speculation. Having a solid all-hazards plan is the best way to try to prevent, prepare for, respond to and recover from any type of catastrophic event.

A recent visit to Pine Crest Preparatory School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., reassures me that many practitioners in the field really understand the all hazards concept. The school’s Safety Director, Joe Markham, has really tried to help the school cover safety from A-Z. Joe is a former law enforcement officer and special response team member who has also served as an emergency management director, fire chief, transportation director and EMT. More than a third of Pine Crest employees are certified in CPR, the school has automatic external defibrillators, a trained water rescue team (the campus has a lake and swimming pools), a lighting-strike detector, storm-resistant construction, emergency medical evacuation kits, a gated and secure bus loading and unloading area, a school nursing program that has become a model in the state of Florida, a staff of sharp security officers and a host of other less noticeable but equally important safety features.

Joe Markham is one of the most impressive safety professionals I have ever had the privilege to meet and, partly because of Joe, Pine Crest School is one of the most impressive K-12 schools I have ever visited. While private schools rarely meet public school preparedness levels, Pine Crest School’s safety and preparedness measures are exemplary in most regards. Both public and private schools of high quality make safety their first priority. I hope Joe and all his dedicated colleagues at our nation’s public and private schools keep that critical all-hazards focus. The people who depend on them deserve no less.

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