Preparing for the Terrorist Threat to Schools

Opinion: Campuses must move beyond a simple lockdown-only plan and integrate the survival options of Run-Hide-Fight into their plans and training.

Attacks on schools and institutions of higher education, such as those in Russia (Beslan, 2004), Pakistan (Army School, 2014) and Kenya (Garrissa University, 2015) confirm that schools are not simply soft targets. They are high value. Just as it was appropriate for Russia to reconsider airline security after the 9-11 attacks, it is necessary for the United States to re-evaluate school security.

An all-hazards emergency preparedness program for schools must include consideration of a terrorist attack. A properly implemented program should build upon and integrate with active shooter preparedness best practices. This unified approach will better prepare schools and response agencies for all human-based threats.

RELATED: Is ‘Run, Hide, Fight’ Applicable in the K-12 Setting?

One key to countering an assault is to keep the attackers off balance and not allow them to fortify their positions. A typical lockdown response will only aid the terrorists in implementing target hardening tactics to defend against hostage rescue. Once these tactics are in place, a locked classroom door will be all that remains between terrorists and students. A locked door will not be enough.

Lessons learned from previous active shooter attacks have led the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the U.S. Department of Education to recommend schools move beyond a simple lockdown only plan and integrate the survival options of Run-Hide-Fight into their plans and training.

RELATED: Protection Professionals Debate Campus Active Shooter Response

As with all emergency plans, Run-Hide-Fight options require training to help staff understand when and how they should be implemented. These options are not only an active shooter response best practice, they’re also a terrorist attack response best practice.

‘Run’ Is Not Always the First Option

Run-Hide-Fight is not a linear progression. One common misperception of Run-Hide-Fight is that Run is always your first option. Response is determined by two key factors: your proximity to the threat (contact) and your location. 


  • Direct Contact: There are no barriers between your location and the attacker, and the attacker is close enough to pose an immediate danger.
  • Indirect Contact:  The attacker is inside or near your facility/general area, but distance or barriers delay the attacker’s ability to harm you.

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