Safety & Security (Protecting Campus Resources)

Where Is Your Training Focus?

Campus officials and administrators have once again been considering the possibility of terrorist events on their campuses. There are indications that some institutions of higher learning are less prepared for these low-probability but high-impact types of events than in the past. Of primary concern are instances where institutions of higher learning focus inordinate amounts of time, funding and energy on the response to active shooter events while reducing their efforts to prepare for other types of catastrophic incidents.

Less Diversity of Drills Reduces Survivability

Extensive research by five of our analysts found that the ability of people to survive critical incidents could be enhanced through a wider variety of types of emergency drills. This is especially important where terrorism is concerned. Terrorists utilize an array of attack methodologies. Our analysts have noted that the number of campus organizations performing shelter-in-place drills for hazardous materials incidents as well as other important types of drills has decreased in recent years.

Although active shooter incidents are one very real potential terrorist attack methodology, it is not the only mass-casualty attack methodology employed by terrorists in the United States and globally to date. Fire, explosives and chemicals — either as alternative attack methodologies or in combination with attacks using firearms — have all taken place. Therefore, the intensive focus on active shooter incidents has in many instances reduced the ability of students and campus employees to respond to more common types of emergencies that actually cause more deaths, as well as for less likely but potentially more catastrophic types of terrorist events.

Widen the Focus

When I had the chance to travel to Israel for 14 days to learn advanced anti-terrorism concepts, senior Israeli officials urged us not to get into the habit of focusing on the last major attack. They cautioned us that focusing intently on any single attack methodology could make it easier for terrorists to successfully carry out attacks. Just as it is dangerous to focus on fire, tornado or hostage situations to the exclusion of active shooter incidents and school terrorism, focusing primarily on active shooter incidents is an unsound approach.

Insurance Concerns

Millions of dollars are being spent on staff injuries from active shooter training. One insurance carrier has confirmed that they have paid more than $300,000 in emergency room medical bills for Iowa school employees who have been injured in active shooter training accidents. These claims are for a 20-month time period, are the result of just one company that offers this type of training and does not count pending surgeries, physical therapy or lawsuits. Millions of dollars are now being spent for medical care and worker’s compensation as a direct result of active shooter training programs.

As insurance premiums continue to rise due to these now common types of claims, less funding will be available for schools to address other statistically more common and deadly hazards. The serious flaws in current training methodologies will also likely require extensive retraining once the expected civil actions make their way through the courts in the next few years.

Making matters worse, no “options-based” active-shooter training program has ever been validated to work during properly conducted validation testing, let alone under field conditions. Also, none of these programs are being conducted in a manner consistent with similar close-quarters combat training programs offered to law enforcement and military personnel.

A Workable Approach

School terrorism risk is more effectively addressed with an all-hazards approach. Only an all-hazards approach can provide a reasonable level of protection against a practical spectrum of school terrorism events. While I make no specific predictions relating to terrorist attacks on campus facilities, special events or transportation modes, the possibility is very real.

A careful evaluation of campus terrorist attacks demonstrates that focusing more than 10 to 20 percent of our time, energy and fiscal resources on active shooter incidents is severely out of balance with actual risk levels from terrorism, as well as from overall causes of death on campus. Ignoring this and other deadly threats by focusing an inordinate amount of training time, fiscal resources and energy on active shooter events may result in an otherwise preventable mass casualty loss of life.

This article originally appeared in the November 2014 issue of College Planning & Management.

About the Author

Michael S. Dorn has helped conduct security assessments for more than 6,000 K-12 schools, keynotes conferences internationally and has published 27 books including Staying Alive – How to Act Fast and Survive Deadly Encounters. He can be reached at www.safehavensinternational.org.

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