Tought Leader

Behavioral Approaches to Prevent School Shootings, Bombings and Other Acts of Extreme Violence


ullet-resistant backpacks for students. Portable ballis- tic classroom shelters costing $23,000 each. A school superintendent announcing that he was stocking each classroom with a bucket of rocks. A bizarre system that

allows police to remotely fire smoke bombs in hallways to distract an attacker. Tese are the byproducts of an emotive response to school safety that does not reflect many of the real challenges facing schools today. Having provided post-incident assistance for more than a dozen planned K-12 school shootings, we know that these types of measures can actually increase risk rather than decrease danger. As we have learned while working in Israel and in developing countries with high-risk levels for violence and terrorism, intensive target hardening measures can result in attackers simply bypassing them with alternative attack methods. For example, if a school has reinforced ballistic glass at the front entry but leaves a rear door unlocked, the system can be easily defeated. If a school is heavily fortified but does not have adequate support measures, an aggressor can simply attack students gathered outside waiting to go through metal detectors, attack students during field trips or attack one or more school bus routes. School buses are mobile, very difficult to protect and are highly vulnerable to a variety of attack methods we have seen repeatedly used around the world. Tese include hostage situations, active shooter events, vehicle ramming attacks and bombings. Tere have been dozens of deadly commuter bus arson attacks with as many as 47 fatalities in a single attack in China. In fact, the MTI Database on Serious Criminal Attacks Against Public Surface Transportation reveals that 55 percent of the 3,159 people who were killed in attacks on public surface transportation worldwide between 1970 and 2012 died on buses, at bus stations and bus stops. In U.S. schools, there have been at least five attacks using both

18 School Transportation News • MAY 2018

guns and arson since 1974 and at least two shootings where the attackers used bombs as well. Tere are numerous other attack methods that have been used in other countries. Public transit buses in Israel have been targeted so frequently by suicide bombers that drivers receive extensive training on behavioral and technical screening procedures. For example, drivers are taught to stop 50 to 100 feet from each bus stop to observe passengers before they board for abnormal behavior, dress, and signs that they may be wearing a suicide bomb or carrying an explosive device. Tis means that while physical security measures are extremely

important, the people using these measures must also be trained to leverage their training, equipment and expertise. Far more planned K-12 school and school bus shootings and bombings have been avert- ed through behavioral approaches than have been successfully carried out in the U.S. Behavioral approaches are even more important for soft targets with a strong symbolic value. It is not uncommon to find that $25,000 spent on behavioral approaches to augment existing equipment can sometimes have more effect than several million dollars spent on target hardening measures by themselves.

THREAT ASSESSMENT One of the most effective tools to prevent planned school attacks

involves a process commonly known as multi-disciplinary threat assessment and management. To oversimplify things, this approach involves the use of a formal process with a written assessment tool, training of team members and the involvement of a school ad- ministrator, a mental health professional and either a well-trained and experienced security professional or a law enforcement officer. Tis team conducts interviews and an investigation with a focus not only to determine whether someone has made a threat but, far more importantly, whether or not they pose a threat to themselves

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