I recently read one of the most apt metaphors for why we should prepare for the possibility of terrorist threats in our nation’s school. Written in the Foreword to Innocent Targets: When Terrorism Comes to School, Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, U.S. Army (Ret.) compares preparing for a fire with preparing for a terrorist attack at a school. It’s worth repeating a few paragraphs verbatim:
“Our children are dozens of times more likely to be killed by violence than fire, and thousands of times more likely to be seriously injured by violence as compared to fire. And yet, in any school you can look around and see fire sprinklers, smoke alarms, fire exits, and fire extinguishers. If we can spend all that money and time preparing for fire (and we should, since every life is precious), shouldn’t we spend time and money preparing for the thing that is far more likely to kill or injure a child?
The most negligent, unprofessional, obscene words anyone can ever say are, ‘It will never happen here.’ Imagine the firefighter saying, ‘There will never be a fire in this building, and we don’t need those fire extinguishers.’
When someone says, ‘Do you really think there will be a terrorist act or a school shooting here?’ I just point to the fire exit and say, ‘Do you really think there will be a fire here? Statistically speaking, it is very unlikely that there would ever be a fire here. But we would be morally, criminally negligent if we did not prepare for the possibility. And the same is far, far more true of school violence.'” (pp.xviii-xix)
I really like this analogy because it speaks so clearly to the do-nothing strategy so many schools employ about a terrorist attack – school administrators often have the mindset that a terrorist attack or school shooting could never possibly happen on their campus. It’s a problem for other people in other countries. Or at least other cities. “I don’t have to worry about this problem in my community” is a mindset we find in far too many schools.
We need to break ourselves of this mindset. The methods to mitigate the threat of a terror attack are the same methods to mitigate the threat of an active shooter, and it starts with admitting that the school needs to have a risk assessment done and put a plan in place for various types of emergencies, not just fire emergencies.