Protecting Soft Targets – My Thoughts about the 2005 Study of Chula Vista High School (San Diego)

“Establishing a containment perimeter while a SWAT team is assembled to conduct a slow methodical building to building search is an obsolete procedure.”

Crockett, et. al., 2005.

On December 7, 2005, researchers conducted a safety analysis of a high school in San Diego.  The study team, which included a Microsoft employee, offered many practical sense crisis planning and response suggestions along with a few reaches, including what I judge to be a overvaluing of surveillance systems relative to preventing and responding to school safety situation.

As we approach 11 years post, I want to examine some of the primary themes found in the Crockett, et. al. (2005) and denote segments of their research while continue to inform school safety and also those segments that were never, or no longer are, relevant to school safety.  This intriquing article can be read in full via Google Scholar.

(1) “In cases of Erfut, Germany in 2002 and Columbine in 1999, attackers disclosed their plans on the Internet.  These prior claims of intent are often lost in general disbelief of the noise of the daily routine.  To filter the noise, school officials must learn to differentiate between a mere threat of violence from the ability and commitment to perform it” p. 5.

Leakage continues to be an important aspect of school safety.  Yet, little is done to teach students, staff or parents how to identify leakage.  For example, a social media post expressing intent to harm self or others should be recognized as threat and subseguently elicit a reporting response. 

The study centers school administrators as the leakage gatekeepers.  This statement was incomplete in 2005 and remains incomplete today – leakage is typically first presented to students or staff.  When humans see a problem from far away, such as the pending oil shortage, the problem is likely to be solved – the surprise innovations will drive society.  Leakage detection is way to address a slow-moving disaster. 

(2) “Although homeland security spending levels, fear, uncertainty, and doubt, have spread after the September 11, 2001, attacks, school attacks related to international terrorism have not increased” p. 7.

This statement remains 100% accurate to 2016.  School attacks are typically carried out by a lone, domestic intruder.  The threat for American Schools to be focused as international terror targets remains intact.  However, international terrorists have not brought forward attacks on American schools.

(3) “If the attacker enters an occupied classroom the teacher would be better prepared if trained in hostage situation psychology dos and donts and critical decision making under stress conditions” p. 9.

A brilliant statement in 2005.  An under-prioritized component of modern school safety plans.  Conflict communication has been a documented facet of several de-escalations of school safety situations.  Author Rory Miller has taken the concept of “Verbal Judo” to a level where everyone will agree on the personal relevance of verbal reasoning in stressed contexts and situations.

(4) “Establishing a containment perimeter while a SWAT team is assembled to conduct a slow methodical building to building search is an obsolete procedure” p. 11.

Schools have evolved beyond the SWAT approach.  However, contemporary multi-agency active-shooter-in-a-school simulations have bypassed reason for realism.  Such simulations endear bloody “actors”, often students and school staff, and lead to various stress disorders coupled to being both incomplete (such drills don’t include 50 parents racing the school and abandoning their vehicles at the point in which the paved arteries block).  We need to dial back such drills and dial up tabletop exercises which consume fewer resources, allow for more injects and offer opportunities to more carefully study heuristics.

(5) “We advise that deterrent methods should focus on apprehending and pre-empting the potential attacker, rather than hardening the subject” p. 15.

I agree.  Following the December, 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, 450 states-level bills were put forward to promote school safety.  Most of these bills included hardening targets or arming staff.  Neither measures have been proven to be viable means to deter or respond to a school safety situation. 

“Deterrence should be focused on identifying and stopping potential attackers, not on rendering the target impenetrable, as the latter principle diverts attacks to other targets without making society as a whole much safer” p. 16.

(6) “Although targeted surveillance of key areas may form part of an overall detection and response strategy, we conclude that schools should avoid investing too much or relying too heavily on broad, pervasive surveillance” p. 16.

Surveillance is a forensic tool. 

(7) Appendix A – Chula Vista HS Map.

Do not publicly post maps of schools.  Such maps will become planning tools for potential attackers.  Police, Fire, and EMS should be provided maps of schools.

Crockett, S., Huang, S. B., Lee, K., & Liebling, D. (2005). Protecting Soft Targets: A Case Study and Evaluation of High School Security.