Thursday, December 29, 2016

Dorn delivers eye-opening security keynote

At times sobering, alarming, and hopeful, Michael Dorn, one of the nation’s foremost experts on school safety, presented the keynote address at the third General Session of the 2016 Joint Annual Conference.

Combining personal anecdotes, data, and practical illustrations, Dorn championed an “all hazards” approach to safety in a presentation entitled “Active Shooters, Active Killers, and Terrorism in the School Setting – Accurate, Practical, and Actionable Information.” Dorn discussed his work in training school personnel, and in doing so determining what types of approaches work and what do not.

Michael Dorn
Dorn is executive director of Safe Havens International, a non-profit campus safety organization that offers planning and training for a wide range of school crisis situations.

While stating, “we can still improve,” he shared statistics that showed that schools are safer from most dangers now than they were in the 1970s. Dorn noted that the public perception of school safety is “out of whack” from where we really are. Despite increased risks in some areas, school leaders and law enforcement have made enormous progress in keeping students and staff safe.

“School has to be a harmonious balance between the data that we give you, and the heartfelt passion that you bring to your work,” Dorn said.

“It is extremely important that we focus much broader than on catastrophic, frightening, but extraordinarily rare events,” Dorn advised. “Be mindful of events that are more likely to happen on your campus. … If you focus your efforts largely on active shooter … you are more likely to have an active shooter event. And if you have one, your response will probably be worse than if you focus more broadly.”

Dorn illustrated the importance of an all-hazards approach by showing a photograph of children skateboarding on the roof of a school building. “We don’t want to overlook safety measures that would have prevented this because we are only focused on events that are more frightening because of their scale.”

His data also shows that more people are killed in school parking lot accidents than active shooter incidents, and that any safety and security assessment that does not include a traffic assessment was “deep trouble in terms of standard of care.”

Dorn explained that medical emergencies, not criminal or terrorist acts, are responsible for more injuries and deaths on school property. He noted that school districts are making progress in dealing with those emergencies as well.

“The biggest thing to worry about with active shooter, active killer and terrorist events, is not the statistical likelihood that one of your buildings will be hit, but the traumatic impact if a school anywhere is hit. Our emotive reaction to the Sandy Hook incident has done a lot of harm, because we have thrown programs at the situation in desperation. And often these programs are based on false assumptions.”

“We’ve got to get very thoughtful. We’ve got to not get focused on any one type of attack or weapons methodology,” Dorn said, as he showed a graphic video that illustrated how weapons can be hidden under a person’s clothing.

Dorn recommends training that includes behavioral approaches, such as suicide assessment and prevention, student threat evaluation, and pattern matching and recognition and pre-attack indicators.

He also related that many recent approaches to securing schools from the more dangerous events are not working, and offered research-based solutions for successful preparation and spoke of the dangers of fear-based programs. He reviewed common gaps in planning and strategies, and how to overcome them.

“What’s surprising to us is in the field of school safety we are seeing a degradation in the ability of school staff to make life-or-death decisions, since the Sandy Hook shooting,” Dorn said. “This is after we’ve spent billions of dollars trying to make schools safer.

“We’ll tell you what to do about these events, but we also give you context for them, so we can help you deal with the more logically and less emotively. These are frightening events. These are terrifying events. These are very real events, but they don’t represent the bulk of the danger in American schools.”

The Third General Session was opened by Derek Hutchins, president of the Illinois Association of School Administrators and superintendent of Crab Orchard CUSD 3 in Marion. Hutchins presented the Superintendent of the Year award to Jason Henry of Sesser-Valier CUSD 196. Doug Floski, of Byron CUSD 226, received the Thomas Lay Burroughs Award as the state’s outstanding school board president from Lula Ford of the Illinois State Board of Education. Additionally, IASB president Phil Pritzker presented the Holly Jack Outstanding Service Award for school secretaries to Karen Vota of Coal City CUSD 1.

The Third General Session concluded the 84th Joint Annual Conference of the Illinois Association of School Boards, Illinois Association of School Administrators, and Illinois Association of School Business Officials. This year’s Conference drew more than 9,600 registrants and featured panel sessions, pre-conference workshops, general sessions, exhibits, and other leadership development opportunities for public school leaders in Illinois.