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School safety expert stresses importance of perspective

The man conducting safety assessments for the Franklin Special School District and Williamson County Schools cautioned administrators not to lose sight of on-campus threats that are more likely to occur than an attack by an armed assailant.

“There are some very real dangers and concerns,” said Michael Dorn, executive director of Safe Havens, International, a non-profit consulting firm specializing in school safety. “But they are not the things most people are concerned about."

Speaking to about 300 parents, teachers and administrators at Poplar Grove Elementary School in Franklin Thursday night, the former anti-terrorism planner for the state of Georgia said a madman-with-a-gun scenario is relatively low on the list of threats facing U.S. school children, despite high-profile school shootings such as those in Columbine, Colo., and Newtown, Conn.

“This is not a new phenomenon,” Dorn said. “Bumble bees kill more people in this country than all other animals combined.”

Williamson County Schools and the Franklin Special School District moved quickly to hire a safety consultant in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting that left 20 children under 8 and six adults dead in December. The school systems also entered into an inter-local agreement to install 32 armed school resource officers in their respective elementary schools at an initial cost of $2.6 million. Like the SROs already in place in area middle and high schools, the new SROs will be administered through the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office.

“Sandy Hook is not the reason to put SROs in your schools; situations such as these are,” he said referring to child-custody disputes that might escalate into emotionally charged fits of violence on campus. He also discussed the need for all adults in schools to be on the constant lookout for threatening weather, dangerous animals on the grounds, strangers on campus and signs of bullying. Proper training of administrators, faculty and staff can help minimize the threats of such situations. Dorn emphasized the importance of empowering all school employees to enact a lockdown or sound an alarm as a proven way to reduce negative outcomes.

“There are success stories every day that you never hear about because they never make the news,” he said.
He said that the homicide rate in the U.S. has dropped since the 1980s, and that there are threats far greater to the safety of schoolchildren.

“I am more concerned about my child being run over by a school bus (than being involved in a school shooting),” he said. “Will a parent talking on a cell phone accidentally back over a child?”

Other emergencies Dorn and his staff train school personnel to respond to include fires and tornadoes.
FSSD Superintendent Dr. David Snowden said he is happy with the counsel Safe Havens International has provided to date.

“They have been very thorough,” he said. “They are trained to see things that we are not.”
Snowden said that Dorn stressed the need to empower all faculty and staff to improvise solutions when necessary.

“In many cases, some employees haven’t been empowered,” he said. “That’s going to change; they will be empowered to make critical decisions in emergency situations.”

Posted on: 2/8/2013


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