Safety & Security

Are Your Strategies Wanting?

We have been researching national and global trends regarding emerging attack methodologies used by terrorists, hate groups, and active killers while writing a university textbook on the subject. Our research thus far has indicated emerging trends relevant to the education setting. One point that jumps out at me when reviewing thousands of attacks is that behavioral training to help campus employees spot behaviors that do not fit the place, setting, and typical behavior patterns, often has greater protective value than physical security strategies that are specific to a narrow range of threats.

For example, while valuable, training people how to recognize patterns of behavior that can indicate that a person is carrying a concealed firearm is not always effective in detecting attackers using other types of weapons. Though I have trained a number of people who have subsequently used the techniques to stop campus shootings, behavioral training that can be used to spot potentially dangerous individuals regardless of the weapons they plan to use can not only help protect against a broader range of threats, but enhance training on visual weapons screening as well.

While firearms remain popular for acts of extreme violence, it is important to note that explosives, fire, and edged weapons also remain popular, and edged weapons appear to be increasingly favored by attackers for a variety of reasons, including the urging of Islamic State for those who support them to use edged weapons when carrying out attacks. During nearly 9,000 one-on-one simulations in 45 states, we have found that campus employees who have been trained with a focus on active shooter attacks score very poorly to scenarios depicting aggressors armed with pocketknives, butcher knives, swords, and other edged weapons.

Like edged weapons, the use of vehicles to ram victims has been periodically selected to carry out acts of extreme violence for several decades. I helped investigate a failed attempt by an intoxicated student to run down a group of students when I was a university police officer in the 1980s. However, the recommendations by Islamic State that attackers use vehicles as a weapon, combined with numerous highly publicized attacks, are significant cause for concern. Graphic video of attacks, like the Aug. 13 vehicle attack during a protest against racist hate groups in Virginia, and the combination vehicle and edged-weapons assault at Ohio State in 2016, we can expect other similar acts of extreme violence in the future.

Fire also remains popular as a weapon. While building codes, fire detection, and fire suppression systems reduce the risks of the types of highly lethal attacks we regularly see in developing countries, the risk of fire as a weapon are still of great concern even in modern facilities, as seen by the murder of more than 190 victims with two liters of flammable liquid in a subway system with modern fire protection systems in South Korea. This risk can involve the use of smoke to kill if attackers disable systems by sabotaging them, use hacking to disable them, or by the use of smoke to kill people who are trained to barricade doors to the point they cannot readily escape upon hearing gunfire. As there have thus far been eight combination fire- and-firearms attacks on U.S. K-12 campuses, this is not simply a theoretical threat. Similarly, there is a viable concern that mildly sophisticated attackers can utilize easily obtained chemicals to use in a similar manner.

Finally, the rapidly emerging threat of “dosing” attacks are of significant concern. While attacks using battery acid thrown on one or more victims has been relatively commonplace in Vietnam, India, Pakistan, and a number of developing countries for decades, the more than 1,800 such attacks in London in only 36 months should concern us. A simple Internet search for acid attack victim photos will provide a good illustration of how quickly one or two such attacks could alter what many people in the United States fear.

This partial listing of the emerging threats could find many education facility protection strategies wanting. However, if an institution has a viable approach incorporating the all-hazards planning model and robust behavioral prevention approaches, the chances that prevention and preparedness measures will prove to be reasonably effective will be increased significantly.

This article originally appeared in the School Planning & Management March 2019 issue of Spaces4Learning.

About the Author

Michael Dorn serves as the executive director for Safe Havens International, Inc., an IRS-approved, nonprofit safety center. He has authored and co-authored more than 20 books on campus safety. He can be reached through the Safe Havens website at