Soft Targets – Are You Vulnerable to Terrorist Attacks?

May 23rd, 2017 | Facility Security, School Security, Terrorism | 0 Comments

A Brief Analysis of U.S. Active Shooter Event FBI Data, Current Site Security Deficiencies, and Proactive Response Planning

Facility Security Photo: Hardening Soft Targets Against Terrorists and Active Shooters.

By William J. Smith & Stephanie Kent

It seems as though every time we turn on the television, there are reports of another shooting or mass casualty event, an act of terrorism perpetrated by lone or multiple actors. The media reports always highlight at least one devastating casualty to lament, and some horrific method of attack that will inspire copy cats and instill fear in our fellow citizens.

Over the past decade, news of these tragic events have become the norm. It’s time to pragmatically dismantle these incidents and analyze trends in attacks in order to identify and better protect ourselves and our facilities that are particularly vulnerable to acts of terrorism. Now more than ever, tragic events of the past must be understood as critical evidence to preclude and prevent these horrific acts. The lack of comprehensive statistics available for attacks by location category is mind-boggling. While research on the trending vulnerabilities and targets of motivated killers is scant and largely outdated, we came across an intriguing study conducted by the FBI in 2014¹ which sheds some light on the issue.

What did the FBI study?

The study involved the investigation of 160 active shooter incidents throughout the United States that resulted in annual totals of 1,043 casualties. For the purposes of the study, “active shooter” is defined as “an individual (or two individuals) actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a populated area.” Not included in the study are shootings resulting from drug or gang violence, and not all mass shootings have been included in the sample set. However, the results provide remarkable clarity in terms of trending threats and necessary preventative measures.

What were the findings?

First, the findings point to a dramatic increase in the number of annual incidents. During the first seven years of the study, it was found that an average of 6.4 incidents occurred annually. During the last seven years, however, those incidents nearly tripled to an average of 16.4 per year. More importantly, the FBI used this data to categorize the locations in which these shootings occurred. It was found that an overwhelming 45.6% of the active shootings occurred in places of commerce – more specifically, 27.59% in businesses open to pedestrian traffic, 14.49% in businesses closed to pedestrian traffic, and 3.896% in shopping malls. Educational facilities were identified as the second-largest location grouping at 24.4%. At a 10% rate of occurrence were government buildings. Open spaces were at comparable risk to government buildings, with 9.4% of active shooting incidents. The final three categories at risk were residences (4.4%), houses of worship (3.8%) and health care facilities (2.5%). The results of this study strongly indicate a necessary shift in focus toward the protection of soft targets.

What are soft targets?

Soft targets are typically defined as civilian-centric locations that are not generally “fortified.” This would be any type of vulnerable, undefended and unprotected place where civilians might gather or meet. In terms of the FBI study referenced above, nearly all of the location groupings would be considered soft targets, with the presumable exception of government institutions (which often implement high building security measures). However, security would not be considered a primary mission in the other location categories, which would make them all soft targets for terrorism and violence of all kinds. More specific soft target examples might include shopping malls, entertainment venues, nightclubs, high-density gathering areas (like 5th Avenue or Times Square in New York City), hospitals, popular hotels, amusement parks, etc.

How can we harden soft targets?

First and foremost, recognize that any soft target is vulnerable to an act of terrorism. Businesses, educational facilities, and places of mass gathering are prime targets for terrorists. While Federal and State statutes and regulations require² employers of 11 or more have Safety, Security and Emergency Plans to address site-based incidents, most lack policies and procedures that address acts of terrorism or mass casualty events. As the FBI study cited reveals an upward trend in acts of terrorism; businesses, educational facilities, places of mass gathering, such as clubs, concert halls, arenas, and shopping malls should view these as a ‘foreseeable event ‘and take all necessary steps to protect lives and harden their facilities to preclude or prevent acts of terrorism at their facilities.

Secondly, conduct a comprehensive vulnerability assessment to identify weaknesses in your current facility emergency action plan (FEAP) as well as the facilities security and life safety product inventory; perimeter and internal surveillance cameras, access control, visitor management, emergency notification systems and other products and systems that complement the overall security and safety plan. Our licensed and credentialed investigative and security firm has been conducting these assessments for more than 30 years and found that most facilities are deficient in either or both categories.

Law enforcement investigations conducted in the aftermath of terrorist attacks reveal the actor(s) pre-visualized and developed a military style attack plan by surveilling a ‘soft target’ several times before the incident. Those attacks may have been prevented by utilizing appropriately modeled and placed surveillance cameras that recorded the actor(s) activities both inside and at the perimeter of the facility.

Finally, once your facility emergency action plan has been updated and qualified security products installed, training and practice drills will familiarize your staff and create proficiency in addressing a site based emergency. By promulgating and adopting policies and procedures that address acts of violence and terrorism; coupled by deployment and use of qualified security, safety and emergency management products, you can dramatically reduce your risk profile and provide for a safer and more secure facility.

Sources:
1A Study of Active Shooter Incidents in the United States Between 2000 and 2013 U.S.; Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation
2Regulation Standards: OSHA 29 CFR 1910:38 – NFPA 1600; Occupational Safety & Health Administration, U.S. Department of Labor

About The Author
Having served as a security consultant to government, education, and industry, William J. Smith is the Managing Member of AmericanSchoolSafety.com. The firm provides instruction, training, and guidance in all matters of school safety, security, and emergency management. Mr. Smith may be reached via contact information provided at https://www.americanschoolsafety.com/or by calling 866-531-6560.

Heroin: The Python in Schools Across America

March 1st, 2017 | Drug Abuse | 0 Comments

Heroin: the python in our schools.

By William J. Smith & Stephanie Kent

Imagine finding your 8th grader collapsed on the floor of his or her bedroom… breathless, cold, and gone from the physical world. This trauma was experienced by Branden Stock’s parents in Laguna Niguel, California. Brandon was lifeless because of an overdose on Vicodin. It was also experienced by the families of 13 year-olds Grant Seaver and Ryan Ainsworth due to their synthetic drug overdoses. The same loss moved Josh Brabender’s dad to write a letter to eighth graders about the horrors of drug use. “Why would I burden you with this information [as eighth graders]? The answer is because when Josh was in 8th grade he was perfect and beautiful and innocent just like all of you. In high school he discovered drugs, and eventually he found heroin.” Heroin took Josh’s young life, and “wrapped itself around his neck like a python until it eventually strangled the life out of him. It is the devil incarnate—pure evil.”

Tragically, more than 50,000 Americans died from drug overdoses alone in 2015. Envision each state alone losing more than one thousand residents each year to drugs. Overdose statistics have soared to new heights due to heroin and prescription painkillers. Heroin deaths alone rose to 12,989 in 2015, causing even more deaths than gun homicide.¹

How does heroin abuse begin?

A jaw-dropping 75% of high school heroin users report having experimented with opiates only after initially being introduced to prescription painkillers.² In her interview with 60 Minutes, Dr. Nora Volkow of the National Institute on Drug Abuse states that we live in a country of about 312 million people and 210 million opiate prescriptions per year! However, painkillers are expensive both on and off the legal market, so what’s the cheapest alternative? HEROIN.

Why is heroin on the rise in all middle and high schools?
  1. It’s cheap! Heroin costs about $10/pill for a high that’s extremely acute and addictive.
  2. It has evolved into more “clean” and easy forms. It no longer requires needles and back alley injections. Taking heroin can be as simple as breaking open one tiny capsule and snorting the powder. This method makes both the drug and its ingestion less detectable.
  3. Children often have easy access to prescription painkillers in the cabinets, spurring their susceptibility to heroin addiction when it becomes available.
How can society help to solve the heroin epidemic in schools?
  1. Doctors: Avoid over-prescribing opiates to ALL patients.
  2. Parents: Keep all household prescription drugs inaccessible to children. Dispose of any unused or unfinished bottles of painkillers.
  3. Parents: Be mindful of the addictive consequences of painkillers when prescribed to your child, and be sure your child isn’t overusing or abusing the medication.
  4. Schools: Mandate student-counselor meetings to assess mental health of and evaluate potential drug dependency in students.
  5. Schools: Incorporate a drug education program with a large focus on opiate use and abuse for elementary-aged children and up.

For additional information on how you can maximize the safety of your students, CLICK HERE to contact American School Safety online, or call us at 1-866-531-6560 to schedule a free on-site consultation. As always, we look forward to hearing from you.

Sources

¹https://statnews.com/2016/12/09/opoid-overdose-deaths-us/
²Arlotta C (2015). Forbes.

School Security and Safety Product Expenditures: Which Security Products Merit Your Consideration?

December 20th, 2016 | School Security | 0 Comments

Recommended School Safety & Security Solutions for 2017

By William J. Smith & Stephanie Kent

Our firm is routinely contacted by schools and asked to evaluate products that enhance safety and security within their districts. The following article highlights products that we have evaluated that have advanced technology solutions in the K-12 and College markets.

We are not compensated or remunerated by any of the manufacturers of the products listed in this article.

According to the research company IHS Technology, K-12 schools and universities in the United States spent approximately $768 million in 2014 on video-surveillance equipment, access-control equipment and mass notification systems in order to address school security, safety and emergency management issues in our nation’s schools. IHS Technology expects expenditures in security products to climb to approximately $907 million in this current school year. While some may argue that such spending increases are a hyper reaction to constant reports of school violence and safety issues, these expenditures come at a time when both state and local budget cuts are potentially limiting certain educational opportunities for children. I would argue, however, that school security is not an area in which our schools should be compromising on budget, especially considering the 98+ school shootings that have been reported in the U.S. since January, 2015. Additionally, the Wall Street Journal has presented evidence of a direct negative correlation between reported security spending and school emergencies. A 2014 U.S. Education Department survey of approximately 1,400 public schools in the nation, 75% reported using at least one security camera (up from 61% in 2009-2010), and 82% of schools reported installing electronic notification systems (up from 63% in 2009-2010). Comparatively, reported incidents of school violence had dropped from 74% to 65% in the same time frame.

The seemingly large annual expense on school security only becomes excessive when schools are investing in sub-par products which ultimately require supplementary product purchases to be most effective. When investing in high-grade and reputable security products, schools are certainly not overspending, which begs the question:

What companies provide products and technologies that will enhance our district’s ability to respond and react to security and safety incidents?

Here are a few that we believe merit your consideration:

1. Avigilon
Avigilon Appearance Search video analytics technology is a state of the art advanced search engine software utilizes facial recognition that allows the end user to scan video storage devices and quickly locate a person or vehicle of interest across an entire school property. The Avigilon Appearance Search technology can assist school officials and first responders of incidents or potential security issues, by issuing mobile alerts that advise law enforcement and school safety committee members of an issue, so that they can immediately respond and thereby improve incident resolution. Other helpful features include computation of people count and movement patterns, especially important in places of mass gathering. This technology can also be used to increase the efficiencies of codified lockdown and shelter in place procedures by identifying the location of students, faculty, staff and visitors for evacuation and headcount purposes.

2. Social Sentinel
Social Sentinel uses propriety algorithm technologies to search the “digital cloud” that exists above our schools and communities. It analyses publicly available postings on social media venues like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. The information that is available in this public sphere can be analyzed and synthesized to protect schools and communities. Social Sentinel constantly scans public posts for suspicious terms and phrases, and immediately alerts the end user when those words are found that could impact the community. Words such as; kill, shoot, stab, bomb, and suicide would immediately prompt the system to identify the sender. Once the identity of the subject is verified, the data is immediately forwarded to school and public safety officials with authority to decide whether the posted message merits additional investigation or referral.

3. Mutualink
Mutualink is an award winning, multi-media communications platform that provides a direct link with Police, Fire, EMS, and other law enforcement entities in emergency situations. Mutualink K12 is a gateway for live voice, video, data and text communications, providing first responders with increased situational awareness in real time allowing them to respond much more rapidly to any facility threat. Mutualink’s advanced technology system (IRAPP) incorporates an all-in-one device to bridge radio, video, telephone and PA/intercom systems, in our schools and campuses. Another key feature of the Mutualink product is the ‘panic button’, which can be installed in the central office, , or installed onto smartphones as an application. Either method immediately connects the caller to law enforcement agencies and simultaneously launches the Mutualink system. Studies conducted by Mutualink’s client districts performing situational response drills reduced the time to incident resolution by forty (40) percent.

Why Should Schools Consider Purchasing Advanced Technology Products like These?

Spending on high-tech security products that assist schools in areas of Safety, Security and Emergency Management will unquestionably increase efficiencies by constantly monitoring their facilities and alerting staff and first responders of threats that can impact the safety and well- being of students, faculty, staff and visitors. These products can be a valuable tool for School Resource Officers in crime reduction and prevention, crowd control and vehicle identification. Schools can identify risks in public postings on social media to potentially prevent acts of violence including suicide. Using Mutualink’s K 12 system, schools can rapidly respond to address emergencies by linking first responders and the school or district emergency response team in real time to share vital information and decrease time to resolution.

It is my considered opinion that use of these products will prove to reduce risk and provide additional safeguards, by leveraging technologies to enhance safety, security and emergency response in our schools.

Next steps for School Administrators

For additional information on how your school can maximize the safety of your students, administrators, and staff, click here to contact American School Safety online, or call us at 1-866-531-6560 to schedule a free on-site consultation. As always, we look forward to hearing from you.

Sources
“5 of the Most Innovative Surveillance Cameras in 2015.” IFSEC Global.
Abramsky, Sasha. “The School-Security Industry Is Cashing In Big on Public Fears of Mass Shootings.” The Nation.
D’Ambrosio, Dan. “Start-up keeps eye on social media for threats.” USA Today.
“Mutualink K12 Links Schools, Responders Enhance Safety.” Business Wire.
Porter, Caroline. “Spending on School Security Rises.” Wall Street Journal.

About This Post
This blog post is sponsored by Security 101 New England, a recognized leader in commercial security design, engineering and integration. One of the fastest growing security system integrators in the U.S., the firm offers a complete array of state-of-the-art, enterprise-level security solutions.

Social Media: The New Playground for Bullies

October 6th, 2016 | Bullying | 0 Comments

Suicide is currently the third leading cause of death among our nation’s teenagers — and bullying is often a major contributing factor.

Suicide and cyberbullying photo.

By William J. Smith & Stephanie Kent

Imagine attending your child’s high school graduation and watching 100 students walk across the stage to receive their diplomas. Now imagine that in every row of ten graduates, one of them has made a serious attempt at suicide? If you are one of the all-too-many parents that have neglected to take the proper precautions against bullying, that child could be yours.

Bullying and suicide

Researchers have found that students are 7–9% more likely to consider suicide when they have been bullied in school. With 17% of American students reporting being bullied 2–3 times a month or more, at least 9.5 million students in America are more likely to consider ending their young lives. According to the National Education Association, bullying has become so widespread that approximately 160,000 students do not attend school on any given day in order to avoid being bullied. That is 13 million students per year!

Why has bullying become an escalating threat to our children?

In some ways the dynamics of student social lives has not changed. Those mean cliques and lunch-money bullies have always existed. So why are the bullies of today having such devastating effects on our students? One potential explanation involves the evolving social platforms through which young people communicate and express themselves. In today’s technology-driven world, even young grade school students have begun diving into social media. Unfortunately, this form of social networking often poses a much larger threat to students than the “traditional” bullies of prior generations.

Why is cyberbullying more threatening than “traditional” bullying?

Traditional bullying may certainly have traumatizing physical, psychological and emotional effects on its victims. However, it is thought to be a more temporary phenomenon, or a shorter phase, in a student’s life. It may also be more easily eliminated by changing physical proximity to the tormentor via a change in schools or locations, or avoidance of in-person encounters with the culprit. There’s is often a point in the process of traditional bullying at which situation becomes public knowledge, prompting an authority figure to intervene. The overt nature of this more familiar form of bullying provides a deterrent towards certain unacceptable behaviors that would be easier to affect if an element of anonymity existed.

Anonymity is an enormous factor — elevating cyberbullying to a significantly more aggressive form of bullying. Easily-obtained fake e-mail accounts enable fake social media accounts. These spuriously obtained resources allow cyberbullies to believe that they can say or do anything online without fear of reprisal. Potentially devastating messages and threats may be sent almost effortlessly to targets all over the internet. There is simply no reason for a cruel individual intent on inflicting pain to filter anything they say or do through their “cyber mask.”

Additionally, this type of bullying has no time frame. Victims may experience attacks via social media throughout the day and night with little or no respite from their antagonizer. The constant and merciless onslaught can result in grievous psychological damage. Every notification received has the potential to be another crude attack on their appearance, popularity, race, religion, sexual orientation, or intelligence. Due to the complete lack of boundaries in the cybersphere, psychologists theorize that cyberbullying may have much longer-term effects on students’ psyches than the traditional means of bullying. It nearly always leads to a victim’s lowered self-esteem, heightened levels of depression — and subsequently — thoughts about suicide.

Cyberbullying has become such a widespread problem that a new term has been coined

“Cyberbullicide” refers to suicide that occurs directly or indirectly through experiences of online aggression. The term was coined in 2010 during a study of 2,000 middle school students. The research found that cyberbullying is at least as detrimental to adolescents as traditional physical bullying. Alarmingly, the National Center for Education Statistics found that 71.9% of students report being cyberbullied 1–2 times during the school year.

Cyberbullying is not a high school phenomenon

We are living in an age of tech-savvy children. Even toddlers are utilizing apps on tablets and other smart devices. According to a study of 457 randomly selected students (ages 11–15), 34.4% reported that they had been cyberbullied at least once in their short lifetimes, and 15% reported having been cyberbullied within the last 30 days.

Do not wait until your child reaches puberty to look for signs of bullying

When it comes to cyberbullying, age doesn’t matter, size doesn’t matter, popularity doesn’t matter, and appearance doesn’t matter. Many cyber bullies do not even know their victims, but it is crucial that you do if it’s your child.

There was a time the when protecting students from playground bullies was largely a teacher’s responsibility. The world has changed; and it’s a parent’s responsibility to monitor their child’s use of Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and text messages. These digital platforms are the new playground; and the new bullying is more intense and potentially devastating than its predecessor. Please do not allow your child be the one in ten who makes a serious attempt at suicide because of bullying.

How to know if your child is being bullied:
  • If your child becomes angry, withdrawn, or has mood swings and behavior changes after using social media networking sites.
  • If your child becomes aggressive themselves after spending time online or after receiving an email or text messages.
  • If your child abruptly stops or limits their participation in social media networking sites.
  • If your child resists going to school or refuses to participate in after school activities.
  • If your child shuns normal social interaction with friends.
What you can do if your child is being bullied:
  • Talk with your child when you suspect they are a victim of cyber bullying or harassment.
  • Empathize with their situation and tell them you will support them and take action to stop the cyberbullying and harassment.
  • Ask your child to allow you to monitor the social media networking sites to determine the identity of the cyberbully or bullies.
  • If you discover cyberbullying, on line teasing, tormenting or any harassment, document the findings and save them for evidentiary purposes.
  • Most school districts have adopted policies and procedures to deal with cyberbullying and harassment and document them in their district’s student handbook.
  • Determine who needs to be contacted, School Administrators, and/or Law Enforcement and call them immediately to report the cyberbullying and harassment.
  • Report the cyberbullying and harassment to the social media sites that are being used to bully and harass your child. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and other popular sites have strict rules that forbid cyberbullying, harassment, and other aberrant behaviors by users.
Next steps for School Administrators

For additional information on how your school can maximize the safety of your students, administrators, and staff, click here to contact American School Safety online, or call us at 1-866-531-6560 to schedule a free on-site consultation. As always, we look forward to hearing from you.

Sources
Jerry Will and Clim Clayburn. “The Psychological Impact of Cyber Bullying.” University Business.
Valerie, Strauss. “New data on bullying: 17% report regular abuse.” The Washington Post.
“11 Facts About Bullying.” DoSomething.org
“Bullying-Suicide Link Explored in New Study by Researchers at Yale.” Yale News.
“Nation’s educators continue push for safe, bully-free environments.” National Education Association.
Kim YS, Leventhal B. “Bullying and suicide. A review.” PubMed. US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine.
“Bullying Among Middle School and High School Students — Massachusetts, 2009” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

About This Post
This blog post is sponsored by Security 101 New England, a recognized leader in commercial security design, engineering and integration. One of the fastest growing security system integrators in the U.S., the firm offers a complete array of state-of-the-art, enterprise-level security solutions.

Back to School: Are You Prepared for an Emergency?

September 20th, 2016 | School Security | 0 Comments

Outdated and Ineffective School Safety Protocols Fail to Protect Students from Gun Violence, Suicide/Bullying, and Medical Emergency Fatalities

School emergency protocol photo article.

By William J. Smith & Stephanie Kent

It’s that time of year again! School is back in session, and parents can finally sigh in relief — or was that a feeling of the past?

School Gun Violence

Since January, 2015, there have been ninety-eight school shooting events in the United States. More shockingly, there have already been four school shootings since August 25th of this year. These statistics include firearms attacks on other person(s) resulting in injury or death, guns fired unintentionally resulting in injury or death, attempted or completed suicides using firearms, and guns fired, but no injuries reported. Clearly, gun-related violence on school property is a highly-charged issue, and statistically trending in the wrong direction.

Suicide Risk and Bullying

Gun violence is not the only threat that needs to be assessed when school is back in session. According to Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, over 16% of students (ages 15-24) seriously consider committing suicide, 13% devise a plan for their suicide and 8% have made one or more serious attempts at suicide. Bullying in schools is a major contributor to this devastating epidemic. A Yale University study has shown that students are 7-9% more likely to consider suicide when they have been bullied in school.

School Medical Emergencies

In addition to bullying and gun violence, every year there are dozens of natural medical emergencies that lead to student deaths across the nation. For example, in one unnamed district alone, there were multiple student deaths within a single year largely caused by the schools’ poorly crafted emergency response plan.

  • One fatal case involved a first-grader who collapsed in his classroom and began turning blue. The boy had been complaining of a severe headache to his teacher, and he was sent to the back of the classroom to lay down. He started vomiting, so the school nurse was called into the room, and a voicemail was left for the student’s mother. By the time his mother arrived, the boy’s lips were blue and he was unresponsive. School employees waited too long (34 minutes after the severe headache was reported) to call 911, and did not attempt CPR on the child — despite their mandated training in CPR. He was taken to a hospital, and it was determined he suffered a brain hemorrhage. The child had gone too long without oxygen, resulting in his death the following day after being taken off life support
  • A second fatal case in the same school district occurred that year, which resulted in the death of a handicapped girl and an $800,000 payout to her family. In this case, the child (who had a neuromuscular disorder) had a medical issue on the school bus. Neither the driver nor the aide called 911 as she turned blue and stopped breathing in her wheelchair. Instead, they called her mother twice as she passed away.
School Fires

From 2009-2011, the USFA reported approximately 4,000 school building fires per year, and estimated 75 injuries and $66.1 million in property loss. School fire-related deaths are not common, but the financial, emotional and educational impact that school fires have is obvious. Shockingly, in only 66% of non-confined school building fires, smoke alarms were reported as present.

How Do We Minimize These Risks and Avoid Losing More Student Lives To Protocol Mistakes?

As a school district employee (Superintendent, School Safety Committee member, teacher, nurse, social worker, etc.):

  • Ensure that the district and school’s “All Hazard Safety and Security Plan” is up to date, including the most recent changes in delegated personnel as well as emergency contact information (e.g. cell phone numbers) for all members of the incident response team.
  • Maintain regular bi-annual meetings in which the “All Hazard Safety and Security Plan” that is in place at your school is thoroughly discussed and evaluated. Remember that ‘failing to plan is planning to fail.’ Having a protocol in place does not qualify as adequate planning. There is a need for constant reassessment of the efficacy of your school’s emergency response plans, especially as different types of threats continue to evolve. Each protocol and procedure needs to be reviewed regularly, and staff members must question them — even if they appear rock solid. For example, ‘Why does our policy say, “call the parent and notify the front desk immediately when a child is ill?”‘ If anyone had raised that question while reviewing policy, the children from the aforementioned school district might still be alive because 911 would have been the first call made.
  • Implement/update policies and training on student bullying. Bullying can be kept under control within school walls if the staff are trained to first recognize it, and then to respond to it effectively without exacerbating the issue. Bullying should not be considered a “normal” part of growing up, and school staff can undoubtedly minimize the consequences if properly trained.
  • While many states have regulations and requirements for conducting emergency response drills during the first month of the school year, schools should at minimum mandate monthly fire and lockdown drills. These practices are crucial in developing procedural proficiency for all site-based or regional emergencies, whether human caused, environmental, or weather-related.
  • Training of all students, faculty, staff, and other school personnel (including food service and maintenance staff) is essential. Emergency response drills and regular policy tests should be mandatory among all school staff. As changes are made in policy, all personnel should be immediately informed and then tested on the revised protocols. CPR must also be included in teacher training, and practiced on dummies frequently. Had anyone attempted to administer CPR in the cases outlined above, there is a good chance that those children would have survived.
  • Most importantly, coordinate your district’s All Hazard Safety and Security training activities with resident school resource officers (SROs) as well as representatives from designated responding emergency agencies, including, but not limited to local police officers, fire department personnel, emergency medical technicians (EMT). By doing so, administration, faculty and staff will become more proficient in their response and handling of any school emergency.

About This Post
This blog post is sponsored by Security 101 New England, a recognized leader in commercial security design, engineering and integration. One of the fastest growing security system integrators in the U.S., the firm offers a complete array of state-of-the-art, enterprise-level security solutions.

Soft Targets: Are You Vulnerable to Terrorist Attacks?

August 24th, 2016 | Terrorism | 0 Comments

A Brief Analysis of U.S. Active Shooter Event FBI Data, Current Site Security Deficiencies, and Proactive Response Planning

Facility Security Photo: Hardening Soft Targets Against Terrorists and Active Shooters.

By William J. Smith & Stephanie Kent

It seems as though every time we turn on the television, there are reports of another shooting or mass casualty event, an act of terrorism perpetrated by lone or multiple actors. The media reports always highlight at least one devastating casualty to lament, and some horrific method of attack that will inspire copy cats and instill fear in our fellow citizens.

Over the past decade, news of these tragic events have become the norm. It’s time to pragmatically dismantle these incidents and analyze trends in attacks in order to identify and better protect ourselves and our facilities that are particularly vulnerable to acts of terrorism. Now more than ever, tragic events of the past must be understood as critical evidence to preclude and prevent these horrific acts. The lack of comprehensive statistics available for attacks by location category is mind-boggling. While research on the trending vulnerabilities and targets of motivated killers is scant and largely outdated, we came across an intriguing study conducted by the FBI in 2014¹ which sheds some light on the issue.

What did the FBI study?

The study involved the investigation of 160 active shooter incidents throughout the United States that resulted in annual totals of 1,043 casualties. For the purposes of the study, “active shooter” is defined as “an individual (or two individuals) actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a populated area.” Not included in the study are shootings resulting from drug or gang violence, and not all mass shootings have been included in the sample set. However, the results provide remarkable clarity in terms of trending threats and necessary preventative measures.

What were the findings?

First, the findings point to a dramatic increase in the number of annual incidents. During the first seven years of the study, it was found that an average of 6.4 incidents occurred annually. During the last seven years, however, those incidents nearly tripled to an average of 16.4 per year. More importantly, the FBI used this data to categorize the locations in which these shootings occurred. It was found that an overwhelming 45.6% of the active shootings occurred in places of commerce – more specifically, 27.59% in businesses open to pedestrian traffic, 14.49% in businesses closed to pedestrian traffic, and 3.896% in shopping malls. Educational facilities were identified as the second-largest location grouping at 24.4%. At a 10% rate of occurrence were government buildings. Open spaces were at comparable risk to government buildings, with 9.4% of active shooting incidents. The final three categories at risk were residences (4.4%), houses of worship (3.8%) and health care facilities (2.5%). The results of this study strongly indicate a necessary shift in focus toward the protection of soft targets.

What are soft targets?

Soft targets are typically defined as civilian-centric locations that are not generally “fortified.” This would be any type of vulnerable, undefended and unprotected place where civilians might gather or meet. In terms of the FBI study referenced above, nearly all of the location groupings would be considered soft targets, with the presumable exception of government institutions (which often implement high building security measures). However, security would not be considered a primary mission in the other location categories, which would make them all soft targets for terrorism and violence of all kinds. More specific soft target examples might include shopping malls, entertainment venues, nightclubs, high-density gathering areas (like 5th Avenue or Times Square in New York City), hospitals, popular hotels, amusement parks, etc.

How can we harden soft targets?

First and foremost, recognize that any soft target is vulnerable to an act of terrorism. Businesses, educational facilities, and places of mass gathering are prime targets for terrorists. While Federal and State statutes and regulations require² employers of 11 or more have Safety, Security and Emergency Plans to address site-based incidents, most lack policies and procedures that address acts of terrorism or mass casualty events. As the FBI study cited reveals an upward trend in acts of terrorism; businesses, educational facilities, places of mass gathering, such as clubs, concert halls, arenas, and shopping malls should view these as a ‘foreseeable event ‘and take all necessary steps to protect lives and harden their facilities to preclude or prevent acts of terrorism at their facilities.

Secondly, conduct a comprehensive vulnerability assessment to identify weaknesses in your current facility emergency action plan (FEAP) as well as the facilities security and life safety product inventory; perimeter and internal surveillance cameras, access control, visitor management, emergency notification systems and other products and systems that complement the overall security and safety plan. Our licensed and credentialed investigative and security firm has been conducting these assessments for more than 30 years and found that most facilities are deficient in either or both categories.

Law enforcement investigations conducted in the aftermath of terrorist attacks reveal the actor(s) pre-visualized and developed a military style attack plan by surveilling a ‘soft target’ several times before the incident. Those attacks may have been prevented by utilizing appropriately modeled and placed surveillance cameras that recorded the actor(s) activities both inside and at the perimeter of the facility.

Finally, once your facility emergency action plan has been updated and qualified security products installed, training and practice drills will familiarize your staff and create proficiency in addressing a site based emergency. By promulgating and adopting policies and procedures that address acts of violence and terrorism; coupled by deployment and use of qualified security, safety and emergency management products, you can dramatically reduce your risk profile and provide for a safer and more secure facility.

Sources:
1A Study of Active Shooter Incidents in the United States Between 2000 and 2013 U.S.; Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation
2Regulation Standards: OSHA 29 CFR 1910:38 – NFPA 1600; Occupational Safety & Health Administration, U.S. Department of Labor

About This Post
This blog post is sponsored by Security 101 New England, a recognized leader in commercial security design, engineering and integration. One of the fastest growing security system integrators in the U.S., the firm offers a complete array of state-of-the-art, enterprise-level security solutions.

Sexual Misconduct in Our Schools: A Cue for Reform

March 30th, 2016 | Teacher Sexual Misconduct | 0 Comments

Ineffective Background Investigations of Teachers and Staff Have Led to Increased Incidents of Sexual Assaults in U.S. Schools

In the past year, there has been an astounding increase in news stories of teachers and school staff members engaging in unlawful sexual misconduct with students under the age of 18 years. Even more shocking is the fact that we now notice this increase on a merely local level! These tragic cases are becoming so common today that they rarely even make national news.

Photo illustrates the epidemic of sexual misconduct by teachers and staff in U.S. schools.

Given this seemingly obvious increase in sexual victimization of students by educators and faculty, one would expect statistical research abound from the last decade. However, the lack of recent reported findings and comprehensive research on the topic is evident, and reflects the lack of serious attention to, and regulation of, the sexual misconduct epidemic that we see in schools across our country nearly every day.

The most accurate data available to this day was presented in 2004 by the AAUW, because of this study’s “carefully drawn sample and survey methodology,” according to the Government Accountability Office. After conducting the study, it was found that 9.6% of students are targets of educator sexual misconduct at some point during their school career.

To translate this statistic into more relatable terms, imagine one of ten little boys and girls in your child’s class at risk of sexual victimization by an educationally credentialed adult in that school — and that was over a decade ago.

Despite the scant national studies of the increasing trend over the past decade, there are shocking present-day statistical facts available based on the surge in media reports of these incidents. Below are just a few of a vast array of examples of the recent increase in this troublesome and widespread problem we face as a nation:

  • Every week has brought news of 15 young people, on average, who were sexually victimized by educators entrusted with protecting them (Terry Abbott, Former Chief of Staff at U.S. Dept. of Education).
  • There were 781 reported cases of teachers and other school employees accused or convicted of sexual relationships with students in 2014 alone (Washington Post).
  • The 2014-2015 academic year marked the seventh consecutive year in which Texas teacher-student sexual impropriety increased.
  • Investigations into educator-student relations by the Texas Education Agency in Texas alone jumped from 141 (’09-’10) to 179 (’13-’14) to 188 (’14-’15). That’s a 33.3% increase in educator sexual abuse allegations from 2009 to 2015 in Texas.
  • Kentucky schools reported 45+ sexual relationships between teachers and students in 2011, up from 25 in 2010 (Terry Abbott).
  • Alabama’s investigations into teacher-student sexual misconduct nearly tripled from 2009 to 2013; 31 cases reported for the year in 2013 (Terry Abbott).

Why does this devastating increase in sexual misconduct cases involving teachers, administrators and staff in our nation’s schools continue? Clearly, thorough background investigations are not being routinely or properly conducted. A legitimate in-depth investigation could uncover an arrest or prior litigation that would evidence the applicant’s past history and forewarn prospective employers of sexual tendencies that may threaten our schools’ children. Most alarming, however, is the number of documented incidents reported to administrators who fail to take appropriate action and immediately notify law enforcement agencies of these types of incidents.

Our investigation reveals that most school districts conduct “Background Checks” primarily focused on “Credentialing” to determine if the prospective employee possessed the educational certifications and experience to qualify for the position. While fingerprinting is required of applicants in most school districts, the responding agencies including the F.B.I. do not provide arrest information, only records of convictions reported to those agencies. In many instances, State Bureaus of Identification do not update criminal conviction information in a timely fashion and may, as a matter of routine, purge criminal conviction information after ten years from the date of arrest.

The safety and security of our children is the foremost responsibility of our educators. School districts should examine their current Background Investigation processes to insure they are comprehensive and thorough; comply and comport with Federal Law as it regards hiring practices; and, implement investigations and sexual abuse prevention training not only at hire, but at set intervals during each employee’s term of employment.

About the Author

Having served as a security consultant to government, education, and industry, William J. Smith is the Managing Member of AmericanSchoolSafety.com. The firm provides instruction, training, and guidance in all matters of school safety, security, and emergency management. Mr. Smith may be reached via contact information provided at https://www.americanschoolsafety.com/or by calling 866-531-6560.

What You Can Do

If you believe that schools in your district would benefit from mandatory comprehensive background checks for teachers, administrators, and staff:

  1. Share this article with school staff members, faculty, administrators, and superintendents.
  2. Link to this article from your correspondence, newsletter, blog, website, or any social media site.
  3. Send this article to your state and local elected representatives.

Please note that this article may be re-posted provided that it presented in its entirety and it includes the author information and contact details.

© AmericanSchoolSafety.com. LLC 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Schools Train for Fires – Why Not Train for Shootings?

February 23rd, 2016 | School Security | 0 Comments

By William J. Smith

Anyone who attended grade school within the last fifty years will certainly recall time spent on the school lawn or in the parking lot waiting for the fire alarm to be reset. Semester after semester, year after year, fire drills were simply another aspect of our lives as students. While we all remember fire drills, how many of us could cite the number of casualties caused by fires at U.S. educational institutions for any year?

Active shooter training for schools and colleges.

Between the years of 2007 and 2011, NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) reports only one civilian death resulting from a school fire, and approximately 82 injuries. These statistics include nursery, elementary, middle and high schools as well as daycare properties, college classroom buildings and adult education centers.

As Stephen C. Satterly, Jr. states in his Report of Relative Risks of Death in U.S. K-12 Schools (2014), “The U.S. Fire Administration data shows no fatalities for the years of 1992-1998, 2002, and 2003-2005 … School-related fatalities by fire are rare, and no documented instances have been found from 1998-2012.” One might think that such uplifting fire casualty data would inspire schools to address other lethal risk factors encountered on school properties.

When comparing fire-related casualties to firearm-related casualties in educational settings, the latter have far outnumbered the former. Between 2010 and 2015, there were 101 fatalities and 145 injuries recorded as the result of school shootings. That’s 246 physically-affected individuals, and thousands more who have been deeply traumatized and emotionally scarred. Mass school shootings like Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook and Umpqua Community College — among many others — evidence the necessity of a shift in risk-factor focus.

Yes, generally schools are becoming more attuned to the real threat of active shooter incidents, but few are actually adopting related policies and procedures, or allocating greater resources toward addressing this pressing safety risk. In any case, neither the quality nor quantity of new emergency strategies will help to improve mortality rates if the procedures are not well practiced. The only way for any new safety plan to become fully effective is to train under its conditions. Just as schools fine-tune fire emergency practices through frequent fire drills, so too must they train students and faculty in the execution of safety strategies under simulated shooting scenarios.

Consider the following baseball analogy. One could study every book ever written on throwing a curve ball, but does that mean that the reader would be able to step onto a pitching mound and throw a curveball? Of course not. Having knowledge of how to do something rarely translates directly into the ability to perform the action on cue. Further, if the pressure of winning or losing the game is introduced, it is almost certain that the individual would be unable to produce the desired pitch when it is most required.

As exemplified in the above analogy, knowing what to do during an active shooter emergency is not nearly the same as the ability to execute the plan with certain proficiency — especially under life-threatening circumstances.

Further, a lack of resources should not be blamed for the dangerous neglect of situational response training in our schools and colleges. Schools and colleges spend billions annually on security products and services. While these purchases certainly play a role in the prevention of certain safety and security issues, it is the lack of situational response training that creates a potentially dangerous environment for students and staff. Devoting adequate time to both instruction and practice is crucial for any plan to be successful.

While some might argue that such training could traumatize younger students — this need not be the case. Experienced school safety professionals understand that situational response drills must be made sensitive to the potential anxiety that can occur in students, especially in elementary grade classes. Using sound instructional techniques such as the ‘Stranger Danger’ model to explain the process for ‘keeping us all safe’ in advance of the training drills is recommended.

Below you will find a list of recommended action steps to implement — and most importantly — practice in your school or college.

Action Plan for Active Shooter Training at Schools and Colleges
  1. First and foremost, schools and colleges must promulgate and adopt policies and procedures for active shooter incidents and incorporate them within their district’s “All Hazard Safety, Security and Emergency Plan.”
  2. Once adopted, districts and their schools — working in coordination with law enforcement and emergency responders — should simulate active shooter scenarios and practice the adopted procedures at least once per year.
  3. Every active shooter drill should be overseen by trained and credentialed monitors who would observe first-hand and report on the effectiveness of the drill.
  4. Schools should consider providing administrators, faculty, and staff with CRASE (Civilian Response to Active Shooter Events) training, or similar instructional programs. Such training could prove highly beneficial in the development of response protocols for your district.

Finally, know that the adoption of an active shooter plan at your school or college is a largely futile enterprise unless the procedures are practiced until they become second nature to students, faculty, administrators, and staff.

About the Author

Having served as a security consultant to government, education, and industry, William J. Smith is the Managing Member of AmericanSchoolSafety.com. The firm provides instruction, training, and guidance in all matters of school safety, security, and emergency management. Mr. Smith may be reached via contact information provided at https://www.americanschoolsafety.com/or by calling 866-531-6560.

What You Can Do

If you believe that schools in your district would benefit from active shooter plans, procedures and drills:

  1. Share this article with school staff members, faculty, administrators, and superintendents.
  2. Link to this article from your correspondence, newsletter, blog, website, or any social media site.
  3. Send this article to your state and local elected representatives.

Please note that this article may be re-posted provided that it presented in its entirety and it includes the author information and contact details.

© AmericanSchoolSafety.com. LLC 2016. All Rights Reserved.

The Shoe Waiting to Drop — Terrorism Trends and Implications for American Security

December 14th, 2015 | Terrorism | 0 Comments

By Joseph Mazzarella
S.V.P. & Chief Legal Counsel, Mutualink, Inc.

On the heels of the Paris attacks in November this year, the NY Times published an Op-ed piece “Could Paris Happen Here?” written by Steven Simon and Daniel Benjamin. Simon and Benjamin, international affairs scholars and counter terrorism experts from Dartmouth College, posited the assessment that the US need not overly worry about a similar attack. This turned out to be gravely erroneous, as the San Bernardino attack confirmed. In their piece, they state that anxiety or worry over a Paris-type attack on US soil was:

…unwarranted. In fact, it is a mistake to assume that America’s security from terrorism is comparable to Europe’s. For many reasons, the United States is a significantly safer place. While vigilance remains essential, no one should panic.”

"Candlelight vigil in London for the victims of the Peshawar school siege." Photo by Kashif Haque — Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Commons.

“Candlelight vigil in London for the victims of the Peshawar school siege.”
Photo by Kashif Haque — Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Commons.

They confidently go on to make the case that the US is different in four essential ways, ranging from its protected geographic access, the lack of a Euro-jihadist culture within our borders, the lack of access to a weapons pipeline, and superior monitoring and intelligence capabilities.

What Simon and Benjamin and many other experts fail to appreciate is that terrorism is a form of asymmetric warfare. Traditional factors often used to assess risks in classic state-sponsored conflicts do not apply. Remarkably, after a large scale attack like Paris, you will hear many media pundits and experts assert that the plot, based on its scale and impact, must have required great sophistication, expertise, planning and outside assistance. This is simply untrue. I would argue quite the opposite.

Terror attacks using conventional high capacity weapons directed at soft civilian targets require very little sophistication or outside assistance. The more open a society is, the more vulnerable it is to low cost, high impact terror events. In the case of America, access to sufficiently high capacity semi-automatic weapons is easy, movement is easy, access to public places of mass gathering is easy, and access to materials and secure communications is easy. Any group of motivated individuals with a few thousand dollars of cash, firearms, smartphones, vehicles, and some hotel reservations can inflict untold civilian casualties with relatively modest planning and coordination.

The 2008 Mumbai terror attacks were in many ways a watershed moment in the evolution of terrorism. It marked the first adaption of a major commando-style urban assault on a civilian target since the Dubrovka Theater siege in Moscow on October 23, 2002. Rather than 30 or 40 commandos, Mumbai involved a smaller group of 10 well-armed attackers who were able to inflict massive casualties and generate mayhem by attacking unprepared, publicly accessible civilian targets. At that time, some experts recognized that Mumbai heralded in a new mode of terror — namely that large-scale urban assaults could be carried out by small teams of well-armed terrorists with devastating consequences.

In the years that followed, several terror plots were uncovered in Europe and reported as being successfully thwarted. Around that time, in late 2010, I revisited the significance of Mumbai writing that:

The significance of the Mumbai attacks should not be lost in that it represented a continuing departure from the historically favored terror targets of air and rail transportation, and a move towards commando style coordinated attacks. The Mumbai attacks were immensely”successful” from a terrorist perspective, causing large scale carnage and disruption across a major metropolitan region and”success” breeds emulation.”

In the years since, a series of terrorist attacks across the world have served to provide insight into evolving terror tactics and tendencies. In particular, I recount the following major attacks, among others:

  • The Muna Hotel attack in Somalia in August 24, 2010 was military commando style attack on a hotel resulting in the death of 31 people
  • Spozhmai Hotel attack in Kabul in April 2012 was an assault and suicide bombing killing 20;
  • The Boston Marathon bombing in April 2013 was a planted bombing killing 3 and injuring 264 others.
  • The Westgate Mall Massacre in September 2013, was a commando style attack on a mall resulting in 62 dead, and another 175 injured.
  • The Nigerian School attack and kidnapping of 250 school children by Boko Haram.
  • Volograd, Russia attacks in December 2013 were multi-site suicide bombing attacks killing 34 and injuring 80.
  • The Peshawar School Massacre in December, 2014 was a commando style attack on a school resulting in over 400 children and personnel dead.
  • The Charlie Hebdo terror attack in January 2015 was a commando style attack on a newspaper office building and subsequent kosher supermarket resulting in 17 killed and 22 others injured.
  • The Paris terror attack in November, 2015 was a multi-site, commando style attack on a stadium, theater, restaurant and mall with suicide bombers.
  • The San Bernardino terror attack in December, 2015 was a two-person commando style attack on an office building resulting in 14 killed and 21 injured.

As can be quickly observed, commando-style attacks on soft civilian targets are the current preferred mode of terror attack. As I previously discussed in an article (Kenya Mall Terror Attack Reinforces a Disturbing Pattern, Sep. 23, 2013), it is my view that modern terror movements and organizations like ISIL, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Ansar al-Shari’a, al-Shabaab and others are not merely loosely affiliated groups of cells that are disconnected from each other. They are distributed thinking entities that are self-aware, share a common gestalt, and are highly adaptive. Emulation, adaptation and iteration in tactics and techniques can be observed over the course of time across among ostensibly distinct, geographically separated organizations. These changes are notable because as they evolve they are optimizing towards exploitation of minimal security presence, ease of execution, reduced operational complexity, less resource dependencies or need for command and control, and greater terror impact.

There is no question in my mind that the Pakistan school massacre by Taliban terrorists on December 16, 2014 was inspired, in part, by the Sandy Hook massacre on December 14, 2012, almost exactly two years prior. Just as what followed with the Boko Haram attack and massacre in Nigeria a month later on January 12, 2015 resulting in 2,000 dead and 350 school children being taken, was no coincidence. These are convergences of thought facilitated by access to freely available real time news sources and scores of social networking sites. The biggest mistake made by many terror analysts is the assumption that all of these organizations, large or small, even down to the lone wolf, are not connected to each other by conscious awareness of what others are doing or have done. Stated simply, they learn from one another, copy one another, inspire one another and obtain tacit ideological approval from one another which propels successive incidents.

I will repeat my concern again. The US needs to vastly improve school security. A commando style attack on a school is a major risk. School targets house many potential victims, they are not generally secure, and the psychological terror impact of such an attack would be devastating. The Beslan School siege in 2004 looms like an ever-present shadow over ongoing events. The Peshawar school massacre and Nigerian school attacks which sent shock waves of horror around the globe, are demonstrable examples that terrorists have learned there is great value in attacking schools. Recent revelations that the San Bernardino terrorists had access to and information on local schools should serve as notice. Other targets of concern should be malls, large hotels and theater performance spaces. We all have a natural desire to be reassured by experts that we should not worry, but as we can see, many so-called experts just get it wrong, and getting it wrong has deadly consequences. It’s time to get about the business of better protecting against and preparing for the next shoe — which will surely drop.

This article originally appeared at Emergency Preparedness Today on Friday, December 11, 2015. It has been republished with permission.

Mutualink Partners with School Safety Expert to Improve Emergency Preparedness

October 31st, 2015 | School Security | 0 Comments

schoolSafetyPlanning2
By: Amanda Vicinanzo
Senior Editor, HomelandSecurityToday.us
10/29/2015 (6:46pm)

Two 15 year old boys from Lincoln Way East High School located in a suburb of Chicago, Illinois, were charged Wednesday after allegedly posting threats about a school shooting to social media. The boys were taken into custody and the police said the teens issued statements indicating they did not intend to harm anyone.

Although the boys’ posting was likely a hoax intended to get another student in trouble, threats to school safety like this one immediately call to mind tragic school shootings that weren’t stopped, from Columbine to the 2013 Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.

Dedicated to improving school safety in the wake of incidents like these, Mutualink Inc., an interoperable communications provider, announced a new partnership with school safety expert Bill Smith to collaborate on ways to improve schools’ preparedness and response in emergency situations through advanced communications technology.

Smith, a founding member of AmericanSchoolSafety.com and principal of Jennings Smith Associates, brings over 30 years of experience in school safety and security issues to the new partnership. Smith’s licensed security consulting firm, Jennings Smith Associates, Inc., provides comprehensive safety and security audits, training and instructional modules for implementing all hazards safety, security and emergency management plans in school districts.

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