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Lessons Learned from Terrorist Attacks on Schools

A couple of years ago I heard that an terrorist attack on the Belsan School in Russia on 1 September 2004 was a “dress rehearsal” for terrorist attacks on American schools. I started searching for the quote and found a book review (SOURCE) by Frank Borelli about a book entitled “Terror at Belsan: A Russian Tragedy with Lessons for America's Schools ” written by John Giduck, published in 2005. The short version is the terrorists held the school for 3 days and Russian military attacked, resulting in a death toll of 385 (186 children, parents, 35 terrorists and 11 Special Ops soldiers). I bought the book, read it and have a few observations about the book’s predictions in light of the recent attack in Manchester, England on 22 May 2017.

First, we live in the environment now where “an active shooter in a school” is the most unthinkable event and rightfully garners major attention from news networks and public servants in positions of authority. The terrorist has seen this and now knows to strike fear into Americans. The attack in Belsan were Chechen terrorists (as the same ethnicity of the Boston Bombers) and , at that time, were considered to be the most ruthless. More recently, it appears that ISIS has “one upped” the ruthlessness but both organizations have brutal terrorist acts as their modus operati.

Second, on page 375 of the paperback edition of John Giduck wrote: “A direct and causal connection exists between terrorists’ rage at the West and the war they are today waging in Southern Russia. Most of us are incapable of realistically appreciating that Belsan was little more than a dry run of operations they intend to soon be running on American soil, against American targets, American children.” Of course, we hope and pray that this does not happen, but how many times do we hear of warnings like this, do little to nothing and then a major terrorist attack happens and the warning is brought back up with reflection that we could have done more to prepare.

John Giduck has a detailed outline of the actions all schools need to address and most will come to the realization that both passive and active physical security and planned/practiced responses will be very costly and time consuming to be successful. The multiple layers of protection and reaction plans takes into consideration that one or two or maybe more of the layers of protection will fail or be overcome by events while other layers will work to detect, deter, and delay the threats while friendly forces are amassing and planning for the actions to rescue children and defeat the terrorists.

Another question about this type of event: Will the terrorist attack consists of 30-35 terrorists at one location will a large amount of children present or more like smaller groups of 5-8 terrorists striking at 3 to 5 locations at the same time? The margin for success from the terrorists’ point of view is the latter. The latter means 1 or 2 of the attacks could be interrupted by great intelligence, great anti- and counter-terrorist work, great police work and hopefully a bunch of luck. But, that also means that 3 or 4 attacks could occur. Attacks like these means the terrorists intend to die on-site to inflict as much damage as they can. These terrorists have also demonstrated patience in planning and remaining focused as the first attempt at the World Trade Center was in 1993 and second successful effort in 2001.

The most common excuse we hear when discussing an active shooter event with school boards, superintendents, principals and even teachers is: “That will not happen here.”

The foreword in John Giduck’s book, Terror at Belsan by LTC Dave Grossman. His most poignant comment is:

“The most negligent, unprofessional, obscene words anyone can ever say are: “It will never happen here.” Imagine the firefighter saying, “There will never be a fire in this building, and we don’t need those fire extinguishers.” When someone asks, “Do you really think there will be a terrorist act or a school shooting here?” I just point to the fire exit and say, “Do you really think there will be a fire here?” No, I don’t think there will ever be a fire here. But we would be morally, criminally negligent if we did not prepare for the possibility. And the same is far, far truer of school violence.”

Our Vault for Active Shooters and Tornados (VAST6) is the final passive protective physical security equipment for the safety and security of the children and teachers. The VAST6 is located inside the classroom, only taking up 2% of the floor space when not in use and can be opened within 20 seconds. The entire class can be protected/secured inside in less than 90 seconds. Hopefully, some of the other physical security features (including Tactics, Techniques and Procedures) intended to deter and delay will work well enough to provide each classroom the 90 seconds. VAST6 can provide the required ballistic protection from Level 8 weapons (FEMA 453) and other physical security features needed during an active shooter event.


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