by Dave Nuttle
3 October 2006

There is nothing new about schools being attacked. A few months back, a horrific terrorist attack, on the Beslan School, in Russia, 155 young schoolchildren were killed and over 500 hospitalized. Schools have long been a tempting target for terrorists since they generally have poor security, and killing large numbers of children produces the kind of psychological shock most terrorists seek. When I was in Viet-Nam, the Viet-Cong (communist terrorists) attacked two schools, in 1962, near where I was working. The communists held over 100 children as hostages, and later used them as “human” shields. In early October 2004, our U.S. military forces, in Iraq, captured a computer used by terrorists there --and the computer contained detailed information on several schools throughout the U.S. (These are but a few examples of attacks, and planned attacks.)

The schools being targeted were in places attractive to the terrorists because they were in areas having little other obvious interest to terrorists. I am also sure the terrorists realize that schools generally lack the funds needed to add really effective security. With careful planning --plus advance positioning of weapons, explosives, and terrorists-- a dramatic, surprise attack, against a U.S. school, is quite possible. We have no alternative but to prepare to defend against this type of terrorist attack. Added to this threat, disaffected and/or mentally deranged individuals attack schools because they provide easy targets that can be hit to inflict the maximum pain on a community. In the early part of the 2006-2007 school year, there have already been several assaults on schools and school children in the U.S. as well as elsewhere. The fear is that attacks by deranged individuals will encourage massive terrorist attacks on one or more U.S. schools.

During my career with the CIA, 1961-1976, I received extensive training and experience in homeland security and counterterror operations. Using this background, I have developed a checklist of actions that schools could take to help defend against terrorist attack. As time and budgets allow, most of these security procedures (or some variations thereof) could be employed to achieve optimal security means. To wit:

1. Conduct frequent security “sweeps” during any construction and/or renovation. (Act to prevent the terrorists from pre-positioning weapons & explosives.)

2. Undertake background checks on all personnel to include contractors, and the persons employed by contractors.

3. Restrict (prevent) open public access to building plans, architectural drawings, structural information, and bus routes.

4. Require and use I.D. badges for students, teachers, and staff.

5. Modify entry doors to freely open from the inside while being locked from the outside--- with entry requiring an access code or key. (Since students have entry codes/ keys, separate locks are used to secure schools after school hours.)

6. Provide all teachers and staff with “panic-buttons” to alert a security force having an immediate capability to respond.

7. Not less than one well-trained and armed security guard should be present at the school at all times.

8. Equip the guards with Lexan-type bullet-proof shields to provide protection from an armed assault. (The Lexan is clear like glass, and the shield should have a weapons port to allow return fire with little exposure.)

9. Develop coordinated rapid response plans with fire, police, medical, and bomb disposal personnel. Plans should include nuclear, radiological, chemical, and biological attack options as well as conventional types of assault.

10. Install security cameras at strategic indoor and outdoor locations, and provide for live monitoring of these cameras.

11. Keep all classrooms, closets, gyms, and cafeterias locked when not in use.

12. Restrict near-school vehicle access to prevent unidentified and/or unsupervised vehicles from parking in areas adjoining a school building.

13. Provide extra security for outdoor events, and restrict notice of these events.

14. Develop an emergency validation procedure to confirm that any fire alarm is real, prior to students exiting the school building(s). (The objective is to keep students from running outside into an ambush.)

15. Ask fathers of students to volunteer for security-oriented duties at the school. (Organizations such as “Watch D.O.G.S. Across America” are already promoting this type of effort in support of schools.)

16. Organize neighbors around the school to form a “Watch Program” to observe and report strangers or suspect “targeting activities” such as photographing of the school.

17. Hold monthly security exercises so that all procedures are tested and practiced.

18. Restrict the number of entries into a school, and provide metal detectors with automatic alarms for restricted entry areas. (An armed guard is needed at these locations.)

19. Use secure doors on classrooms, and keep them locked during class.

20. Most schools should have an armed guard in the cafeteria, auditorium, or gym when students are present.

21. Students should receive immediate response drills so they can perfect various self-defense options that are best undertaken in the first three minutes after an attack is initiated.

The terrorists have all the advantages since we must act to protect every school, whereas the terrorists only need to succeed in attacking one school to create higher levels of panic for all Americans. Mentally deranged persons exist in every community, and they may target any school simply because it is nearby and/or familiar. Adequate security is expensive, but not having security may cost the lives of many children. To any parent, the loss of a child to a terrorist attack, or attack by others, is unacceptable. I would suggest that we begin now to prepare for prevention of such loss.

As stated above, we now know that there have been several attacks on schools, and schools have become targets of opportunity. The need for school security is obvious, and my list of security measures may be modified to meet each schools needs. In the case of small rural schools ---like the Amish school recently attacked in Pennsylvania--- all they may be able to do is have secure windows, doors and locks (locked at all times), as well as a secure “bunker.” In the event of an attack, students and teachers would quickly retreat and lock themselves inside such a bunker ---and then call for help using secure communications means. (The bonus of having a school security program, for all schools, is to help students become more prepared to fully implement other homeland security projects in later years.)

The charity I direct, NPI, will post this and other school safety information on our website ( We will also be posting a safety and survival-type handbook that will help individuals provide for their own protection in a variety of very hazardous situations. Safety preparation takes time and effort, and always requires some expenditure of funds to support. Failure to prepare will risk the loss of more students.

# # #