The Sky is Not Falling

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools recently released the latest statistics on school homicides and suicides. The government’s figures of only 15 homicides and 8 suicides on school property for the 2002 – 2003 school year, demonstrate a significant drop in school homicides during those years. While there are many sources of school violence data, the experienced and formally-trained researchers at OSDFS use consistently applied criteria year after year to ensure that we are comparing“apples to apples” when evaluating school violence trends.

One concern I have relating to school homicide data, is that school officials often get too narrowly focused on homicides, to the point that they overlook other more prolific and equally deadly hazards, such as medical emergencies. Many schools spend time significant amounts of time on lockdown drills yet have never conducted a shelter-in-place drill for hazardous materials incident preparation. This comes from a tendency for plans to be developed by individuals with a primary background in law enforcement or security. Another concern is that some safety product and service providers overstate the actual level of danger from everything from school violence to school terrorism, to drum up business. From“terrorism experts” who lack any actual experience in the field, to those who ridiculously assert that all school shootings stem from bullying, the disinformation on school safety is prolific in our society. Add to this mix the people who make alarmist statements in the media to get a little face time, and it is easy to see how many people have a sometimes pervasive and lopsided view about school safety issues.

The alarmist tactic is common at professional conferences. While an effective marketing technique, the damage caused by this misdirection of safety resources is readily apparent. The “if it bleeds it leads” media mentality so prevalent in our nation is sidetracking the safety focus in America. It is important that while we continue our efforts to reduce the number of school homicides and suicides, we remain focused on the All Hazards Approach to safety to ensure other pressing issues are addressed — which result in more deaths on school property.

Gregory Thomas from Columbia University recently released an excellent book called Freedom From Fear – A Guide to Safety, Preparedness and the Threat of Terrorism. As the former director of safety and security for the New York City Public School System at the time of the second World Trade Center attack, Greg had to coordinate the response for more than one million students in New York City’s 1,000-plus schools on September 11.

A seasoned veteran of law enforcement and the fire service, Greg takes a pragmatic approach. He avoids the “we are all going to die” mentality. In his book, Greg tries to persuade us to take a balanced and rational view of risk — there is risk to some extent everywhere, but the sky is not falling.

Another excellent book that works hard to get us passed the hype is Fear Less, written by Gavin de Becker. In his book, de Becker does a good job of bringing us back down to reality on the issue of terrorism. A former LAPD captain who is legendary in the field of stalking prevention and intervention, de Becker feels that the public perception of the likelihood of any one person being a direct victim of a terrorist attack has been exaggerated by the media hype in recent years.

I put stock in the advice of respected and calm safety experts like Greg Thomas and Gavin de Becker. As someone who can affect safety and emergency preparedness in America’s schools, please be sure to consider the wide array of safety hazards out there, rather than be misled by the “chicken little” mentality so commonplace in our media-driven society.

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