On September 1, 2004, several dozen heavily-armed, Islamic-nationalists stormed the Beslan schoolhouse and took over 1,100 people hostage, including mostly small children. The terror attack lasted three days as terrorists forced all of the hostages in the gymnasium and set up explosive booby traps.
The Terror Attack
Throughout the three days of the terror attack, hostage-takers terrorized the police and parents outside of the school by throwing dead bodies of children out the windows. Any person who attempted to rush the school would be killed by strategically positioned snipers. Over the course of the incident, the Spetsnaz (Russian Special Forces) did not have an immediate plan of action, and instead began to train at a local school, preparing for a counter-attack and hostage rescue mission. During the course of the next couple hours, the Russian troops would fight their way through the school and gain control of the structure, while extracting hostages along the way. The end result left a total of 336 people dead, including 186 children.
Just one month after the Beslan school attack, the U.S. military in Baghdad uncovered computer discs with downloaded school floor plans and safety and security information about elementary and high schools in six U.S. states. This information was seized by an Iraqi insurgent. The six states consisted of Florida, Georgia, California, Oregon, Michigan and New Jersey. Reports indicated that the Beslan School Massacre was a test for what was to come to western civilization.
Do any of us wonder when and where the next 9/11 will occur? Who will be responsible for the next terror attack? What tactics will the terrorists use? As much as we hate to admit it, 9/11 was a successful attack for people who hate our country and everything we stand for. Look at what is happening internationally since 9/11- schoolhouses, universities, malls and other public places are getting viciously attacked. Are our schools and local authorities prepared for an attack on our soil like the ones occurring internationally?
What Motivates these Attacks?
The motivations for these terrorist attacks are the same as when the planes plowed into the World Trade Center towers almost 14 years ago. Since that time, there has been a steady increase of mass casualty attacks within our country by single gunmen; most people know these attacks as an “active shooter” incident. It is petrifying how much damage just one assailant can do at a school, mall, movie theatre or military base within just the average 10-15 minute time frame that these incidents do occur.
How An Attack Could Affect Our Country
Imagine if our country was faced with seven or several dozen heavily armed and trained individuals storming one of our schools. This type of event would destroy our morale, cripple our economy and completely change the way Americans operate for quite some time. Parents may not send their children to school, possibly leading to one parent sacrificing their job to stay at home and educate their children. There would be an influx of teachers, school administrators and potential teachers changing their career path. Chaos may ensue as all different professions and areas of expertise scramble to find a solution to this problem. There would have to be a strong movement in rebuilding security plans and training schools throughout the country.
What Are We Doing About This?
With good intentions, most schools and/or businesses have some sort of safety plan on paper or may present something along the lines of a short training module on the active shooter topic. Employers may issue a presentation to be viewed online, or distribute safety tips in employee mailboxes. Schools and businesses invest money in all sorts of safety features- security gates, security officers, school resource officers, video cameras, alarms, impact glass, window film, door locks, door barricades, and the list can go on. Some schools are conducting drills several times a year for active shooters, whereas some schools have never once practiced for one. Each school and school board is operating independently and not one entity can truly give us the answer on how to properly prepare our schools.
So Now What?
Although it is a start, watching a short presentation on the computer cannot prepare you physically and mentally for an active shooter or terrorist attack. Hiring a team of security officers cannot stop a group of trained terrorists from entering the school. What we must understand is that if somebody wants to get in your school and attack, they will.
Recently, I held a school safety seminar for school administrators and security team leaders. I posed the question, “Which of these are the most important safety measures for your school: (1) Security enhancers such as video cameras, gated entrances, alarms, etc.., (2) Training for employees, or (3) Drills and Scenarios. Most of the audience chose training for teachers, while some chose security enhancers. All of the answers were good, but if I had to choose the single most important thing you can do for your staff, it would be to train them. While security enhancers are very important and can be credited to preventing some crimes, each feature exhibits limitations.
How Do We Train Our Schools?
Individuals should experience a training that highlights the following:
- Escape and evasion, evacuation,
- How they should move while trying to evade with an attacker nearby
- Barricading doors effectively.
- If the individual decides to hide they need to understand how to effectively hide.
- If teachers decide to stay where they are they need to understand the proper ways to barricade their room, put up layers of resistance and know how to defend the room while protecting the children for whom they are responsible.
The Importance of Practice
After understanding these concepts and tactics, we now put them into practice and conduct active shooter drills. After numerous drills and tweaking of any mishaps, a training schedule must be implemented and followed, otherwise these skills will diminish. Drills can start simple and then become more elaborate as staff gain confidence. All schools and businesses should have a positive and working relationship with their local first responders. Invite them in for a walk through of your facility and ask about organizing future training together.
The Importance Of Security
Although I mention security enhancers last in my “order of importance” in safeguarding our schools, they are still important. Having effective locks on front doors and classroom doors can be an added layer of resistance. However, please know, that simply having strong security measures is not enough. If security enhancers are the only method that your school has in place, you must start now. You must seek training for your staff and you must conduct safety drills.
- We need to be aware of these incidents so that we can protect all schools and businesses.
- There is still a lack of preparation on how to react in most schools, businesses and public places.
- Training and drills are crucial in protecting our community.
- These trainings and drills should coincide with current security measures to make a well-rounded safety plan.
- We have to be vigilant and proactive, never allowing an incident like Beslan.
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Stay Safe, Stay Prepared
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