INDIANAPOLIS — Internationally-renowned school security expert and author Chris Dorn delivered what could have been a depressing STN EXPO keynote presentation on school and bus violence. But instead, it turned out to be a strong review of the many positive steps that schools can take to prevent “something really bad from happening.”
Schools “want to be sure we are prepared for all these ranges of things,” he stressed. By preparing to respond to medical emergencies on a school bus, such as a student having an acute asthma attack, that can help schools also prepare for active shooter situations, which is what the best-prepared schools have carried out, he said.
“In many cases, we are going to be asked to help respond to something that is really bad,” he commented.
The smallest incident—something relatively minor like a student carrying a knife—needs to generate the same response as a more dangerous incident involving a gun, Dorn said. In the first few minutes of any incident, the school needs to be able to immediately implement a campus-wide evacuation, no matter what size the incident is.
The history of school safety shows that the first U.S. attack occurred in the 1700s, Dorn reported. “Our schools seem to be so prone to violence,” he said. In recent years, he relayed that three-fourths of active shooter fatalities were caused by only three incidents during the 14-year period of 1998 through 2012.
He observed that “there is a lot of nuance” and differences between these incidents, according to his research. Are there any chances of having been able to prevent one of these incidents from happening? he asked.
There were likely warning signs for many or all such incidents, Dorn commented, such as bullying.
In a hostage scenario on a school bus, for instance, every incident is going to be different.
The threat that schools have to worry about most is an incident similar to last year’s Parkland, Florida shooting. The shooter used a fire-alarm strategy, along with detonating explosives and firearms, to draw students out of classrooms.
“When we are planning to respond to all of these horrible what-ifs, we need our [bus] drivers to be able to adapt and respond, just like they are able to respond to an angry parent who is trying to get on the bus,” Dorn noted. “They are not quite a threat … but they shouldn’t be on the bus.”
Dorn complained that school districts and bus companies are instructing drivers to “use their own judgment,” in a field where security experts have traditionally been trying to get rid of as much individual judgment as possible.
Teachers joke that you don’t want us to make minor decisions, but “you want me to attack an active shooter,” he said. Or “go outside the lines when we shouldn’t.”
One of the bigger emerging threat trends is ramming attacks or vehicle-borne, improvised devices. “Transportation is a very popular target among terrorists,” he reported, because of the mobility aspect of the vehicle. And the vehicle itself can magnify the sound and devastation of the attack, Dorn said.
A significant concern is the security of our equipment, Dorn stressed. “Could our vehicles be stolen? How secure is the bus garage?”
Dorn’s scenario-based training at schools stressed how quickly time disappears in a crisis. “We really don’t think about how those seconds tick by,” he concluded. “Think about that timing aspect. In a school, it’s how fast we can lock that door. But on a bus, it’s so much more complex. … How do we think about that dynamically and on the fly? How do we improve that ability to respond effectively,” he said.