Focusing Only on Active Shooters Leaves Schools Less Prepared for Terrorists

An all-hazards approach to safety and security training will enable schools to better respond to a terrorist attack.

Recent events have caused many school and public safety officials to re-consider the potential for school terrorism.  Many are wondering if an emphasis on active shooter events could leave them ill-prepared for terrorist attacks on or near schools. While active shooter incidents are one method of attack we have seen in school terrorist attacks globally, we have also seen the use of fire, explosives and chemicals either as alternative attack methodologies or in combination with attacks using firearms. Therefore, the intensive focus on active shooter incidents could reduce the amount of time, energy and fiscal support for other types of school safety incidents and terrorism attacks.

School Terrorism and Fighting the Last War
My colleague, Rod Ellis, and I both have had the opportunity to travel to Israel to learn advanced antiterrorism concepts from the Israel Police, Israeli Defense Forces and Israeli Security services.  The Israelis we interacted with impressed upon us just how dangerous it can be to assume that the next event will resemble the last terrible attack on a school.  Just as it can be very dangerous to focus on fire, tornado, or hostage situations to the exclusion of active shooter incidents, focusing primarily on active shooter incidents is an unsound approach.  A narrow approach could be an especially costly error for school terrorism events where mass casualty loss of life can be a primary goal of well-prepared, equipped and experienced individuals or groups.

School Terrorism Preparedness Requires an All-hazards Approach
Preparedness approaches that focus on one type of security incident such as gang activity or active shooter incidents typically offer little or no protection against school terrorist attacks, which often utilize fire, explosives, chemical or biological weapons.  In addition, there are legitimate concerns relating to cyber attacks, radiological incidents, electromagnetic pulse devices and other technological attack methodologies. School terrorism preparedness should be addressed by a proper all-hazards school crisis plan.

While I am not making any predictions relating to terrorist attacks on campus facilities or transportation modes, the possibility is quite real.  Whether the concern involves terrorism, gang violence or violence overall, focusing the majority of time, energy and fiscal resources on any one type of security incident can be extremely dangerous.

Note: The views expressed by guest bloggers and contributors are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Campus Safety magazine.

Photo by Rachel Wilson, Safe Havens International

If you appreciated this article and want to receive more valuable industry content like this, click here to sign up for our FREE digital newsletters!

About the Author


Michael Dorn serves as the Executive Director of Safe Havens International, a global non profit campus safety center. During his 30 year campus safety career, Michael has served as a university police officer, corporal, sergeant and lieutenant. He served as a school system police chief for ten years before being appointed the lead expert for the nation's largest state government K-20 school safety center. The author of 25 books on school safety, his work has taken him to Central America, Mexico, Canada, Europe, Asia, South Africa and the Middle East. Michael welcomes comments, questions or requests for clarification at Note: The views expressed by guest bloggers and contributors are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Campus Safety magazine.

Leading in Turbulent Times: Effective Campus Public Safety Leadership for the 21st Century

This new webcast will discuss how campus public safety leaders can effectively incorporate Clery Act, Title IX, customer service, “helicopter” parents, emergency notification, town-gown relationships, brand management, Greek Life, student recruitment, faculty, and more into their roles and develop the necessary skills to successfully lead their departments. Register today to attend this free webcast!

Get Our Newsletters
Campus Safety HQ