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Terror in America's Schools


Americais a nation at war. That’s a reality, not political rhetoric. And some of the battles in that war are going to be fought on American soil—in our communities, among our homes and loved ones. Our enemy has promised us that some of those battles will be fought in our schools as our children are captured, tortured and even killed.

Yet for all the courage and desire of our brave men and women in military uniform to be at the forefront of every battle, they won’t fight such battles exclusively. As I explained in my book, Terror at Beslan, most, if not all, of these battles on American soil will be fought by our law enforcement officers in conjunction with fire/rescue and EMS personnel.1

There are countless terror targets in America. For this reason, we must understand the targets terrorists are most likely to strike and develop plans to respond to those attacks. Terror targets can be categorized in a number of ways. There are high-, medium- and low-value strategic targets; high-, medium- and low-value tactical targets; critical infrastructure targets; government, law enforcement and military targets; psychological and emotional targets; financial and economic targets; and even symbolic targets. Example: Although they had tremendous psychological and economic side effects, the Twin Towers were primarily symbolic targets to the enemy, representing American economic hegemony throughout the Muslim world.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), after a lengthy study, recently compiled a list of 7,000 of the most “at risk” sites for terror attack.2 But even that does not begin to acknowledge the many thousands more that are not only predictably attractive to terrorists, but are the very types of targets that have been attacked by this same enemy countless times around the world.

Indeed, in developing its 7,000-site terror target list, the DHS included merely 100 of the nation’s 3,400 drinking-water facilities that store large amounts of chlorine gas; if any of these facilities were attacked, the gas stored could result in harm to, or the deaths of, 1,000 or more people.2

Worse still: There isn’t a single elementary, middle or high school on the list.

Why Schools?
When anyone with a terrorist mindset is deciding what type of attack to launch, they have two essential options: decimation assault or mass-hostage siege. Decimation assaults are much more frequent, easier to plan and execute, and can usually yield all the results the terrorists seek with the majority of targets. That is, they need only send suicide bombers into a site, or plant explosives in advance of actual detonation. By simply bombing most physical targets, they accomplish this objective; however, because the attacks are usually cleaned up quickly and the body count is generally low, these attacks rarely have long-lasting impact.

However, when seeking to cause the greatest psychological, emotional and lifestyle impact on an entire nation, through the deaths of large numbers of the most innocent, no target offers terrorists as much impact as the killing of children.

Terrorists have learned that when you take and hold large numbers of children hostage, you, in fact, hold an entire nation hostage. Should terrorists come to America and take more than 1,000 of our children and women hostage as they did in September 2004 at Beslan Middle School No.1 in southern Russia, all of America would hold its collective breath through the days of that siege, terrified of the end result. Holding innocents hostage over long periods of time exponentially increases the terror impact on not only the target government and the citizens of that country, but of that nation’s allies.

Prolific Terror Targets
Whether decimation assaults or mass-hostage sieges, children and schools rate high among the most prolific terror targets in the world. Israel experienced its own Beslan on May 4, 1974, when terrorists took and held 105 children in a school in the town of Ma’a lot, near the Syrian border. When the battle to retake the school was over, 22 children were dead and 56 others wounded. Another school was taken in Bovennsmilde, Holland, in May 1977. Between 1984 and 1993, more than 300 schools were attacked in Turkey, ultimately resulting in the closing down of more than 3,000 schools in that country.

In the first six months of 2006 alone, 204 schools were attacked in Afghanistan, at a time when U.S. and NATO troops held their peak control of that country. Many more have been attacked since then. The number of schools being attacked in Pakistan is rising, as well as in Indonesia and Iraq. All of the schools in the southern zone of Thailand have been closed due to Syrian planned and executed attacks on them in recent years. The list goes on.

Famed military and law enforcement trainer Lt. Col. Dave Grossman stresses repeatedly that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. From its own past behavior, our enemy has not only learned the great value of children in schools as an optimal terror target, but has told us what they may yet do to an America that has gone back to sleep since 9/11.

Usama bin Laden has stated on prior occasions that before this jihad is over he will see to the deaths of millions of American citizens, and that children are viable targets. Having been assured that the Koran and the Hadith give him the right to exact such a toll, his statement has been repeated by al Qaeda spokesmen and exists on Web sites to this day, including the following by bin Laden spokesman Suleiman Abu Ghaith in May 2002: “We have the right to kill 4 million Americans—2 million of them children—and to exile twice as many, and wound and cripple hundreds of thousands.”

For this reason, there’s much to be derived from studying previous attacks. Whether dealing with a strategic-level attack by al Qaeda or similar international terrorist groups, or our own terror-minded citizens who crave revenge on an uncaring society for all the wrongs done to them in their lives—real or imagined—they all come to recognize the value of attacking children.

When terrorists desire to hold and control an exponentially greater number of hostages, no population is easier to control than children. And when terrorists ultimately seek to kill a large number of hostages, no one is easier to kill than children.

And schools are the only place in America where large numbers of children can be found, relatively unprotected, through long periods of the year and where schedules are easy to obtain through even rudimentary intelligence-gathering efforts (most are on school Web sites).

Learning from the Past
In examining even the most recent significant school attacks in America, we can glean valuable lessons. Although the attack on the elementary school in Beslan may well be the worst situation imaginable, right now our enemy is imagining an attack quite a bit worse than even that.

Attacks on schools can and will take place on a variety of levels for both our tactical operators and medic/rescuers. For instance, lower-level school attacks by U.S. children and adults in recent years may well approximate the homegrown, individually motivated terrorist attacks al Qaeda is seeking to inspire in every one of the 2 million Muslims in America. Therefore, it’s important to look at some of the more significant recent attacks that our enemy is even now studying, and looking to outdo.

I’ve encountered many school administrators who say they don’t have to worry about Beslan happening at their schools. They point out that there were more than 100 bombs in that attack and that was possible only because Beslan sat on the edge of a war zone. In reaching such a conclusion, however, they’re ignoring the intel on one of the more devastating attacks America has already experienced.

Most people in our country are familiar with some aspects of the attack on Columbine High School in Colorado, committed by Dylan Kleibold and Eric Harris on April 20, 1999. What many do not know: In that attack, two untrained teenage assaulters manufactured and transported more than 90 explosive devices to the school. The majority of the bombs did not explode, due to an error they made in the use of a certain type of clock as a timed detonator.

And while most school administrators and teachers don’t know what that mistake was, they must recognize that students who contemplate launching a Columbine-style attack—and terrorists considering the same thing—do know what Kleibold and Harris did wrong. Each of them will ensure the same mistake is not repeated.

The body count at Columbine resulted in modifications in law enforcement response tactics throughout the country. “Active Shooter” responses by police since that time (immediately attacking the threat) have resulted in many school attacks being quickly stopped before the shooters could amass a Columbine-level toll in human life. But nothing about the Active Shooter response addresses the holding of children hostage.

In two of the more recent attacks in America, we’ve seen adults entering schools, intent on holding hostages, sexually assaulting young girls and ultimately killing students in buildings that should be sanctuaries from harm. On Sept. 27, 2006, Duane Morrison entered Room 206 in Platte Canyon High School in bucolic Bailey, Colo. He held hostage seven young ladies, brutally sexually assaulting all of them over a four-hour period, before his threats to blow up the building forced a law enforcement entry that resulted in the death of 16-year-old Emily Keyes and himself.

One week later, on Oct. 2, 2006, Charles Carl Roberts walked into a one-room Amish school building in tiny Nickel Mines, Pa. He drove everyone out of the building but 10 young girls, all of whom were bound by their feet and made to lie shoulder to shoulder beneath the blackboard. He, too, sexually abused children before killing them.

Shortly after the arrival of the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP), he began shooting. At the sound of the first shot, PSP troopers raced to the building and attempted immediate entry, where they encountered lumber barricades Roberts had nailed over the doors and windows. The police fought desperately to gain entry; one state trooper tore out all his fingernails trying to rip wood away. Breaching the building took a little more than two minutes—rapid entry in light of the fortifications encountered. But Roberts needed merely eight seconds to discharge 13 rounds into the 10 girls, killing five and leaving one in a vegetative state.

Seung-Hui Cho had the advantage of seeing all of this in the half-year prior to his attack on the Virginia Tech campus. And in each attack, the tactics and fortifications of the assailant were better than the ones that had come before. At the Bailey, Colo., school attack, Morrison had packed the space between the door and himself—30 feet across the room—with all of the desks and chairs. He held Emily Keyes in front of him as a human shield while police fought their way through the jumbled furniture, not daring to take a thin-margin shot from such a distance. One week later, Roberts’ fortifications in the small schoolhouse were even better.

Cho improved on them both during his attack at Virginia Tech. He selected Norris Hall in part because it was one of the few remaining buildings whose doors had the old-style hinged swing bars, rather than the solid push bars found in buildings today. This enabled him to simply loop chain through the bars and secure them with inexpensive locks, thereby easily trapping his prey in the building, as well as fortifying it against law enforcement entry.

As with the two prior school incidents, law enforcement fought to gain entry, ultimately blowing the deadbolt lock out of another door with a shotgun slug. Contrary to news reports, from the moment of the breaching round, it took the entry teams merely 38 seconds to maneuver through a large and complex machine shop, race around a corner, down a short hall and into a recessed staircase (while a second team raced all the way down a 40-yard corridor to the next set of stairs) and reach the second floor, forcing Cho to take his own life.

Even then, the carnage was so great the police would not initially accept there had been only one shooter. While attempting to secure the students against further attack, police and two tactical medics began providing medical care to the dozens of affected students and teachers. In all, 30 innocent people perished, with another 25 suffering wounds and injuries; this, in addition to the two lives Cho took earlier that morning in a distant dormitory.

Beslan Stands Alone
My own experience with school attacks is greater than I would like it to be. Two of our organization’s founding directors led the investigation into Columbine; I know dozens of the police and SWAT team members and leaders who responded to that attack.

I was asked to conduct an assessment of the law enforcement response immediately after the siege ended at the Bailey, Colo., school. I know two of the Pennsylvania State Police SRT team members and leaders at Nickel Mines, and had coincidentally been nearby training the York City SWAT Team when the shooting took place, enabling me to contact the operators to understand what they had confronted. And when Virginia Tech happened, I was asked to travel there immediately with a small team of top law enforcement professionals to begin an in-depth assessment.

But as bad as Norris Hall was, it was not the worst either I, or the world, had ever seen, for the tragic title of “the worst school attack” belongs to Beslan, Russia. The time I had spent working and studying in Russia every year for almost two decades—including annual time spent over 13 years with Russian Airborne and Special Forces units—proved invaluable to helping me gain entry into the school immediately after the battle ended. I debriefed dozens of soldiers, government officials and townspeople.

Beslan Facts
At Beslan, 49 terrorists took more than 1,200 people, mostly women and children, hostage at approximately 9 a.m. on Sept. 1, 2004 (the first day of school in Russia, when families typically accompany schoolchildren to school). Hostages were brutalized in ways almost unspeakable. Children were beaten savagely; older teenage girls were raped, some repeatedly, through the days of the siege. Two fathers were murdered immediately in the gym where the hostages were originally massed, and another 21 of the largest adult males and older teenage boys were shot to death.

The Beslan terrorists brought upward of 200 explosives into the school. Many were placed in the gym where the majority of hostages were held throughout the siege. Others were spread throughout the school, with numerous booby traps set in the hallways. Other groups of children were held in separate rooms amidst bombs designed to kill them when a rescue attempt ultimately came.

Three PKM belt-fed machine guns were set up in the 80-yard-long main corridors on the first and second floors. These corridors were barely 8 feet wide, similar to the tight confines of the hallway in Norris Hall at Virginia Tech.

When exploding bombs in the gym forced a rescue attempt two-and-a-half days later, terrorists stood children up in windows as human shields while they fired indiscriminately at both fleeing hostages and rescuers racing toward the school. The Russian Special Forces couldn’t return fire at the terrorists for fear of hitting the children. This was repeated inside the building throughout the 10-plus-hour gun battle to retake the school.

In the northern courtyard, the military moved up two BTR 80s (wheeled armored personnel carriers) to provide cover for advancing teams, and to protect wounded and rescued hostages while being evacuated. Avenues into the southern courtyard were too narrow to permit vehicles that would have provided any benefit at all, leaving hostages and soldiers alike to fend for themselves out in the open.

Inside the building, the Special Forces had to contend with several series of fighting positions staggered throughout the long corridors, tripwires and booby traps, and the three belt-fed machine guns in hard fighting positions with children stood up before them to slow down the attack of the soldiers.

Even as the battle raged in different parts of the school, many of the more than 700 wounded hostages were evacuated under fire. With more than 300 additional hostages ultimately dying, the stress and demands were overwhelming on the soldiers, medics and even townspeople to provide critical lifesaving care to all of those affected by bullets, bombs, ceiling collapses in several places (including the entire gym roof caving in) and fire. In addition, 21 elite Special Forces soldiers were killed and more than 60 wounded.

Preparing for the Worst
The recent attacks on U.S. schools provide important realizations about the need to prepare for such attacks. The mass chaos and tactical needs presented by these major incidents yields a valuable model for our preparedness and training. If studied and applied, the lessons learned should ultimately ensure those lives were not lost in vain.

The one consistency with all people possessed of a terror mindset is the desire for attention, the need to be made famous as a result of the horror they perpetrate. To garner that level of devotion by the news media, they need accomplish only one thing: outdo the last, biggest body count of innocent victims.

That means that the next Kleibold and Harris are putting together a plan to kill more people than died at Columbine. To achieve that, they need better fortifications to slow the police response and entry into the building. They’re studying the attacks that have come before and devising tactics they believe will be impossible for law enforcement to overcome.

For that reason, it’s important U.S. emergency responders recognize the value in preparing for the worst thing that could happen, making the Beslan model of tremendous value. In looking at both Beslan and the recent attacks on American schools by our own societally manufactured predators, the conclusion is inescapable that there are only two things that will stop the next attack and save the lives of the targeted victims: brave men and women with guns, and brave men and women with the medical skills to save the wounded under combat conditions.

Thus, the single most crucial aspect of preparedness for all of America’s tactical operators, firefighters and paramedics is the need to train to rescue and to kill (if necessary) to save lives. This will be a tough concept for many agencies to accept, but it must be considered, especially since fire and EMS personnel may be the first to arrive at these incidents and the first to encounter terrorists intent on killing them and anyone else who gets in their way.

At Beslan, rescuers spent all day racing toward the school, across open ground, to bring stretchers full of much-needed bullets, weapons, water and medical kits to the beleaguered troops inside, only to turn around and race back out across those same killing fields carrying the wounded on stretchers. Many just carried children in their arms, or dragged adults by limbs across the yards to safety. Exhausted, these teams needed others to step into their role while they sought brief respite. Others were simply shot down trying to shield children with their bodies.

In this era of terrorism, all personnel must not only hone their abilities to take life to save the innocent, but also save life and rescue the wounded under fire. Just as importantly, our fire/rescue and EMS personnel must go into these battles with a tactical mindset and knowledge to ensure not only the safety of the wounded, but of themselves and those around them.

New Skills Needed
To deal with both the tactical (combat) and combat casualty care (first aid under fire) aspects of the battles yet to come to America, law enforcement operators and tactical medics alike must possess the same capabilities. If they don’t, people will die. Medical professionals must realize the differences between first aid and tactical combat casualty care (TCCC).

In a combat environment, priorities change. Stopping hemorrhage through the use of clotting agents and tourniquets is critical; other articles in this supplement address this in detail. The first personnel on scene to assist victims of gunshots and bombs must be able to stop hemorrhage, invasively open breathing passages, treat collapsed lungs and evacuate the wounded, often through walls and out windows. The same “tactics” can benefit law enforcement operators who may have to advance down hallways, straight into the face of automatic weapons fire.

Police must be able to use these same skills to treat the hostages, their teammates and themselves, because TCCC is all about staying in the fight. Though the combat capability and synergy of actual tactical medics must be substantial, both fire/rescue and EMS personnel must also be able to pick up any weapon and either load or unload it, relieve a jam and return it to combat effectiveness. In a gun battle with a committed enemy and innocent victims in between, no one can afford the luxury of job specialization. All personnel must be able to deal with re-supply and evacuation of wounded, and all personnel must be able to use the same devices and tactics to do both while keeping their hands free to provide their own suppression fire.

In short, tactical medics and law enforcement personnel alike must be able to shoot their way into and out of a building, and across open ground. And police officers must not be afraid to break traditional rules of emergency care. Lt. Anthony Wilson, commander of the Blacksburg, Va., SWAT team that led the assault on Norris Hall, says: “When it comes to kids, the rules all change. No matter what you’ve been told as a cop, if it’s a child and you have to stick your gloveless hands into that little body to stop bleeding, you’re going to do it. If you have to put your mouth on that little kid’s mouth to breathe life into him, you’ll do it without hesitation.”

The wheel need not be reinvented; America’s conventional combat arms units and our Special Operations Forces provide a model for preparing fire/EMS/law enforcement personnel to respond to the next Columbine, Norris Hall or Beslan.

Specifically, there must be three essential evolutions in the training:

1. At the top are the medics assigned to SWAT. Just as our most elite counter-terror hostage-rescue units have highly trained medics who deploy with every entry team, specialized tactical medics must also undergo substantial training with the SWAT teams to which they’re assigned. This will cost very little. Medics must be willing to undergo SWAT training with their assigned units, and hold themselves to the same physical standards. They will need equipment similar to their police teammates in the way of body armor, uniform and clothing, but little else. They may even be considered an added resource for extra ammunition, as they can carry heavier loads than the operators who must move at lightning speed in tight confines. Whether these medics should be armed is a matter for the individual departments, and may be determined by pre-existing policies, and, in some cases, state law. Having at least one sidearm for each medic, however, would likely result in the lives of police, medics and innocent victims being saved at some point.

2. The next level of advancement in training and ability is increased tactical awareness and understanding for all fire/rescue and EMS personnel. Although these individuals don’t need the expertise of the tactical medics, they must be aware of what tactics patrol officers employ when entering a building, clearing and securing areas, handling hostages and wounded suspects, withdrawing under fire, and working in small teams. This will greatly enhance the ability of the two groups to operate together in active shooter situations, particularly in those jurisdictions where it’s likely patrol will arrive ahead of SWAT. These medical professionals will not require extreme tactical knowledge, but they will need sufficient knowledge to ensure they can get their medical expertise to where it’s needed, while under fire, and without interfering with those engaged in combat. These professionals can also receive all of the training they need from the very departments they will be assisting.

3. And finally, just as the medics must be trained in combat tactics by the police, the police must also be trained in superior first aid by the medics. Police must be better at rendering aid to their law enforcement comrades, themselves and the victims. In a battle environment where police can expect to suffer casualties at the rate of one cop for every five terrorists shot (as the Russian special forces do), in addition to dozens (and even hundreds) of dead and dying victims, medics assigned to police will be overwhelmed. At Norris Hall, there were two tactical medics who would have had to treat 55 people if the police had not been sufficiently trained.

To develop this evolution in training does not require large budgets for equipment or six-figure DHS grants. What it does require, however, is the willingness to train, and a desire to be better than we are now. In advancing the skill level in the two critical areas of tactics and medicine-under-fire, we can, once again, turn to the model of the Army Special Forces, in which the first duty of each specialist is to teach his expert skill set to all of the other members of the team, so that any one team member can step in and do another’s job if that person is wounded or killed.

Police officers, paramedics, EMS personnel and firefighters can ill afford a different attitude in the battles America is yet to fight on her own soil. While some advances in equipment will be helpful, the real requirements are dedication, discipline and a willingness to commit time and effort.

For these reasons, both North American Rescue Inc. (NAR) and the Archangel Group Ltd. have been working to prepare America’s warriors to be able to do just that: kill and rescue. Since 9/11, Archangel has trained thousands of police, soldiers, and state and federal agents in unprecedented and innovative ways to conduct these battles against a committed, well-prepared and deadly enemy.

At the same time, NAR has been working with the most elite Special Operations soldiers and sailors who are conducting operations in our overseas combat zones to provide the most advanced, efficacious casualty care and extraction techniques for combat at home—techniques that represent an enormous evolution in casualty care from early conventional first aid and CPR.

Together, these organizations have forged a set of common skills that have joint tactical and medical applications. No police officer, SWAT operator, firefighter or paramedic can be without this skill set. New, and inexpensive, evacuation and medical equipment is now available that every police officer, soldier, medic, EMS professional and firefighter can benefit from.

Cutting-edge training in TCCC is now available to everyone. No longer is this equipment and training limited only to our elite military Special Operations Forces. Nor can we afford for it to be, because police officers, paramedics and firefighters are the ones we will be turning to when this enemy returns.

The enemy has promised us the deaths of millions of American citizens—including our own children—before this war is over. The only way to prevent them from reaching that goal is our ability to kill them and rescue and resuscitate our own; for our enemy will allow us no other solution.

John Giduck is a senior consultant with the Archangel Group (www.antiterrorconsultants.org) , an agency that provides training to U.S. law enforcement, government agencies and military. He has a law degree and a master’s degree in Russian studies, and has worked with several Russian special forces units. He authored Terror at Beslan and co-authored the newly released The Green Beret in You: Living with Total Commitment to Family, Career, Sports and Life. Currently he’s finishing a doctoral dissertation on the global expansion of radical Islam. Giduck has reported no conflicts of interest related to the sponsor of this supplement, North American Rescue.

Editor’s Note: The author’s book, Terror at Beslan: A Russian Tragedy with Lessons for America’s Schools , provides a detailed account of the events at the Beslan school siege. Learn more at: www.antiterrorconsultants.org/terror_beslan.htm.

1. Giduck J: Terror At Beslan: A Russian Tragedy with Lessons for America’s Schools. Archangel Publishing Group Inc.: Golden, Colorado, 2005.

2. Ahlers MM: “Agency says 7,000 sites at ‘high risk’ of terrorist attack.” CNN.com News Report, June 21, 2008.


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