When it comes to fighting terrorism, rely on the experts. That’s the advice of extraordinary authors Michael and Chris Dorn, a father and son team who are themselves well-respected experts when it comes to school safety issues. They warn that in the wake of tragedies such as September 11, 2001, there inevitably follow unscrupulous “consultants” who claim to be experts in school safety, antiterrorism and counterterrorism, but in reality are trying to capitalize on fear without real expertise or valid experience. Reliance on such unqualified candidates leads to more tragedy, loss of life and depletion of precious school funds. It is extremely important that school administrators perform background checks, ask for references and specific examples of previous school safety planning before hiring.
Innocent Targets is an invaluable book written with the intent of putting into perspective the probability and possibility of terrorist attacks in our schools. The authors cite actual case studies to examine historical mistakes and successful tactics from which we can learn. For example, after an attack by Chechen terrorists on a school in Beslan, Russia, hundreds were left dead in part because of the failure of police to enforce a perimeter to keep anyone from entering or exiting the school. This allowed a fearful mob of parents to enter the school, some armed. Some of the terrorists escaped by blending in with the mob. It is thought that the weapons used by the terrorists were hidden in the school months before under the pretense of being part of a Chechen construction company that was doing work in the school. A well thought out school safety plan prepared well in advance of the attack may have prevented this tragedy.
In contrast to the situation at Beslan, highly trained Royal Dutch Marines thwarted an attack by Moluccan terrorists on an elementary school in Holland in 1977. Attempts by police to negotiate with the terrorists were failing, and it seemed that hostages would be executed. Marines were called in, and they proceeded with a daring and precise tactical operation, first driving an armored vehicle through a wall of the school to gain entry. Marines captured all of the terrorists without injury to any of the hostages. This well-executed plan was accomplished using the latest thermal imaging technology and practiced procedures which resulted in a positive outcome. The importance of preparation, planning and action without panic is clear.
The authors do not wish to panic their readers. Their intent is the opposite. Fear and panic cause chaos and disruption impacting governmental structure and the economy. As much as we grieve for loved ones lost, our response must be “business as usual” to the extent humanly possible. This is not to say we should ignore the suffering of survivors afflicted with the emotional trauma of terrorist acts against them. Crisis counseling and support for children especially is an integral part of any school safety plan.
This book is a must-read for school personnel and parents alike. The text outlines the four important aspects of emergency management that should be incorporated into a school safety plan – prevention, preparedness, response and recovery. We must save the children.