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    October 2016

    Preventing and Preparing for School Shootings

    Preventing and Preparing for School Shootings

    All acts of gun violence are tragic, but few events shock the nation like school shootings. Educational institutions are understandably seeking ways to prevent these attacks. While school shootings are difficult to predict, seven promising practices for prevention emerge from national studies.

    Implement a threat assessment team. Studies show attackers often engage in behaviors that concern others prior to a shooting. Threat assessment teams seek to gather and assess information about these actions from sources across campus and intervene to manage a threat or connect the person of interest with helpful resources. The training and composition of an institution’s threat assessment team is critical to its effectiveness. Schools should hire a threat assessment expert—often a mental health or law enforcement professional—to train and advise its team.

    Develop an emergency management plan. The plan should address critical response practices, such as lockdowns, evacuations, parent-student reunification, and how to mobilize mental health services. Institutions should tailor their plans for different districts, campuses, and buildings instead of a one-size-fits-all approach. Regularly review and update emergency management plans to help correct deficiencies.

    Create a crisis communications plan. Honest and timely communication when a school shooting occurs can improve public trust, protect the institution’s reputation, and maintain financial stability. A crisis communications team should include personnel with expertise in communications and influential administrators who may be spokespersons in a crisis. Ensure the team receives media training and meets before a crisis to prepare a coordinated response.

    Train staff. The first line of defense against school shootings is a vigilant staff trained to recognize and report potential indicators of violence and assist law enforcement or other first responders. The Department of Homeland Security offers free courses, materials, and workshops—many written for educational institutions—to prepare employees for an active shooter situation.

    Conduct site assessment. Examine campus facilities and grounds to identify security weaknesses, such as:

    • Unlocked doors
    • Ineffective communications systems
    • Line-of-sight issues for surveillance cameras
    • Broken fences or gates
    • Traffic patterns that impede access by emergency responders

    Form community partnerships. Strong relationships with community service providers, such as police, fire departments, emergency management, and local mental health experts, can help institutions craft and practice emergency plans, build a threat assessment team, and train staff. Experts recommend that educational institutions meet with their community partners at least two times a year. For example, many schools meet annually with local police and fire departments to provide blueprints of each campus building.

    Conduct drills and tabletop exercises. A campuswide active shooter drill should be conducted periodically; many institutions do it annually. While full-scale drills are time and labor intensive, institutions should consider tabletop exercises as an alternative or supplement to live drills. The FBI recently published a set of tabletop exercises that address school shootings.


    1. Department of Education: Campus Attacks – Targeted Violence Affecting Institutions of Higher Education
    2. Department of Education: Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools – Active Shooter Situations  
    3. Department of Homeland Security: Active Shooter Preparedness Free Resources
    4. Department of Homeland Security: Primer to Design Safe School Projects in Case of Terrorist Attacks and School Shootings
    5. FBI: Mass Victimization – Promising Avenues for Prevention (Tabletop exercises on page 55)
    6. Guide for Developing High-Quality Emergency Operations Plans for Institutions of Higher Education
    7. K-12 Comprehensive School Safety Guide – Self Assessment Checklist (Appendix page 135)
    8. National Association of School Resource Officers: Best Practice Considerations for K-12 Schools in Active Shooter and Other Armed Assailant Drills
    9. National School Safety and Security Services – Best Practices for School Security and Emergency Preparedness Planning
    10. School Security Design – Planning to Mitigate Risk and Avoid Liability

    By Joe Vossen, risk management counsel


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