Since the shooting in Newtown, CT, on December 14th, I’ve spent a lot of time talking to school administrators, concerned parents, and security staff, about ways that schools can protect the children in their charge.  I’ve found myself answering many questions about specific steps schools can immediately take, and I have come to realize that many of these questions are getting asked without a common understanding of the goals and intent of securing a school building.  Without this understanding, any step taken would be reactionary and not necessarily along the path of progress in securing our schools.

Because of the attack at Sandy Hook Elementary, there is a great deal of emotional drive right now to take immediate steps and do whatever it takes to protect students and teachers, but without an objective and logical understanding of what is needed, changes in security measures could fail to accomplish the goals parents and school boards are after.  Everything I have been talking about concerning preventing school violence stems from the fact that a school is an Anchor Point and needs to be treated that way.

Keep The Outsiders Out

An Anchor Point is a place used as a base of operations, where not just anyone can come or go as they please, without any restriction.  An Anchor Point is a place where people have to meet pre-established criteria to gain access.  Because of this, the first requirement for defending an anchor point means being able to keep the people that don’t belong out, so that those who are allowed in are free to do what they came there for.

There are two main goals when developing the security plan when it comes to keeping outsiders out:

1 – Force the attacker to reveal his intentions.  By making him draw his weapon or attempt to break in, the school will have advance warning and the information needed to call first responders or initiate their emergency response plans.  This also will disrupt his plans and force him to react to you instead of the school being reactive to the attacker.

2 – Be seen as a hard target so the attacker decides that it is not worth the effort to breach that degree of security.  While violence deterred is often violence prevented, please remember that it could simply force the attacker to choose a location that isn’t as well defended.

The strengths and weaknesses of this barrier plan need to be understood to make sure they provide the degree of security the school is after.  Locking the doors doesn’t matter if windows are left open.  Keeping windows closed doesn’t matter if the attacker can shoot through them.  The physical security measures put in place need to be thorough enough to keep outsiders out.  However, keeping people who are not allowed into the school from entering is only the first threat that schools need to be prepared to defend themselves against.

People Who Belong Are Just As Dangerous

For a school, the students, teachers, staff and parents, who are normally allowed access are just as likely to commit an attack as someone who would be granted access inside.  On top of that, these attacks can be even more dangerous because these attackers can attempt to conceal their intentions until they reach the location where they want to begin their assault.  The shooter at Virginia Tech concealed his weapons under his clothes and in a backpack to enter the school, waiting to reveal his intentions until he reached the classrooms.  The shooter at Northern Illinois University hid a shotgun in a guitar case until he reached the auditorium.  The attackers at Columbine High School hid bombs in duffel bags to enter the school, and only brought them out once they reached the cafeteria.  All of these attackers belonged at their schools.  They weren’t one of the outsiders that locked doors and bulletproof glass could have stopped. The only way to find people who are seeking to conceal their violent intentions is to read their nonverbal behavior.

The reason these are called insider attackers is because merely the presence of the person at that location would not raise suspicions.  Whether we are talking about school violence prevention, workplace violence, or the Green-on-Blue threat our Marines and Soldiers are facing in Afghanistan, the people responsible for defending an anchor point cannot forget to watch and observe those who belong inside.

Unfortunately, many schools are taught to look for inaccurate indicators to find dangerous individuals such as substance abuse issues, psychological issues and a number of other variables that constantly change from attack to attack.  Even if attackers maintain some of the same characteristics or fit a certain profile, not everyone with those characteristics will become violent.

Assessing the nonverbal communication and behavior of a violent individual is a proven method to reveal these individuals. Understanding how to identify and quantify the baseline for the area and the people that normally belong inside is the first step.  Learning how to quickly read the behavior of people who stand out from this baseline is the second.  Being able to execute this observation and decision making process quickly and accurately is what can give security providers and schools the ability to stop the insider threat as well.

Comprehensive Security Planning

Focusing solely on either the external threat or insider threat, without considering the other will leave vulnerability that attackers will identify and exploit.  This will not allow school administrators to provide a secure learning environment.  Understanding how to defend an anchor point requires that outsiders and insiders are being assessed.

To learn more about the behavioral analysis and school violence training programs offered by The CP Journal, click here.