Schools Train for Fires – Why Not Train for Shootings?

February 23rd, 2016 | School Security | Comments Off on Schools Train for Fires – Why Not Train for Shootings?

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 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 by calling 866-200-4545.

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.

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

December 14th, 2015 | Terrorism | Comments Off on The Shoe Waiting to Drop — Terrorism Trends and Implications for American Security

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 | Comments Off on Mutualink Partners with School Safety Expert to Improve Emergency Preparedness

By: Amanda Vicinanzo
Senior Editor,
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 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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Emergency Response Training in our Schools: Failing to Train Means Planning to Fail

June 24th, 2015 | School Security | Comments Off on Emergency Response Training in our Schools: Failing to Train Means Planning to Fail

As the White House in June formally underscored the need for schools to align their emergency planning practices with those in place at the national, state and local levels, it delivered a sobering statistic: A recent survey has indicated that that only 52% of schools nationwide with a written response plan in the event of a shooting had drilled their students on the plan during the previous year.

For nearly half of our nation’s schools, this survey said there had been no drill about what to do if faced with an active shooter. With no drill, there is no communication about what works and what can be improved. That translates into no conversation about “what if”, a vital component of risk management and crisis prevention.

classroomWho is prepared to explain to grieving parents that their children had not drilled emergency measures or, worse, that the “written response plan” was actually a piece of paper taped to the teacher’s desk?

I fear that, in the rush to purchase the latest protective hardware, perhaps school administrators are inadvertently slighting the development and practice of the ever-important emergency response plan? And are we canting our emergency response plan perilously toward only the school shooter – at the expense of developing an all-inclusive emergency plan for the myriad other natural disasters, accidents and crises to which our school children may fall victim?

It is true that since the earliest U.S. school shooting on July 26, 1764, when four men entered a Pennsylvania schoolhouse and killed the schoolmaster and nine students, few crimes have inspired more impassioned outrage and grief.

But as Sir Winston Churchill so simply stated, “Let our advance worrying become advance thinking and planning.” Churchill understood that preparation and planning – which includes practicing our response plans – for all hazards are the keys to not only mitigating worry, but also to ensuring safety and success.