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Expert commends response to bomb threats

Published 9:05pm Wednesday, June 5, 2013

A respected school security expert has commended the response by Suffolk Public Schools and public safety officials to a rash of violent threats. But the threats keep coming.

After reviewing coverage by the Suffolk News-Herald of bomb and shooting threats at Suffolk middle and high schools since the end of April, Michael Dorn endorsed measures taken in response.

The Safe Havens International executive director, who claims 33 years’ experience safeguarding the nation’s schools, especially commended local law enforcement authorities for charging eight student suspects.

Dorn
Dorn

The accused included seven juveniles and one adult, King’s Fork High School 11th-grader Abdul Dshawn Dixon.

“I have seen situations with 60 or 80 threats without an arrest,” Dorn said. “Somebody’s doing something right.”

Dorn, who was chief of police for a Georgia school district for a decade, described arrests as a prime opportunity to drive home the message that offenders will be caught, and their actions have consequences.

“When we made arrests, we called the media and announced it over the intercom at middle and high schools,” he said. “We also made it a practice to try to get restitution for the cost.”

Kevin Alston, its assistant superintendent, said Suffolk Public Schools would “ask as a school division” that anyone convicted be punished to the fullest extent possible, including responsibility for the cost of emergency responses and Standards of Learning testing disruptions.

“That means everything they can charge them with, everything they can fine them,” he added.

In response to the threats, video cameras have been trained on doors of restrooms, inside which most threats have been scrawled, and custodians are ensuring restroom walls are clear of threats prior to class breaks, Alston said.

Other measures have included random metal detector checks, assigning extra police and fire officers, having students sign in and out of restrooms, and banning bookbags or backpacks from restrooms.

Handwriting analysis has been used in the arrests, Alston noted.

Dorn endorsed all of the above, while making some suggestions. For instance, he said the school district he served had its own gun detection dog.

“You are placing obstacles in front of me,” Dorn said, assuming the role of a would-be bomber. “That’s one more thing I have to counter.”

Bomb threats written in restrooms at Turlington Woods School and John F. Kennedy Middle School Friday brought to 14 the total number of reported incidents since the spate began at Lakeland High School on April 22, according to Alston.

Dorn warned against always responding with evacuations, which he said creates a pattern a serious bomber could follow to create maximum carnage.

“Maybe evacuate on the first threat,” Dorn said. “The second threat, don’t evacuate, but don’t do nothing — you are sweeping the area” while people remain in place.

A third option, only to be used with a very large number of threats, is to move everyone into a certain part of the school, such as the gym, then sweep the rest of the school, before sweeping the gym after people are released, he said.

“What you are trying to do is make it more challenging for them to predict … make it harder to target evacuees,” he said.

Alston says the advice is being followed. “The fire marshal has tried to change up what we do so as not to have a pattern,” he stated.

Three of the threats have resulted in evacuations, according to Alston. One of those, at Turlington Woods School Friday, occurred “minutes before dismissal, so (students) grabbed their items and left for the day,” Suffolk Public Schools spokeswoman Bethanne Bradshaw stated.

Most threats discovered during school time have prompted a Code Yellow, in which classrooms are locked and students stay put.

Any bomb threat needs to be taken seriously, according to Dorn, even one in a long list. But he also said that “bombers rarely threaten, and threateners rarely bomb.”

“The more typical scenario is there is no notice of an attack, something just goes up,” he added.

Less than a dozen actual intended bombing devices find their way onto K-12 school campuses in America each year, according to Dorn.

He pointed to an elementary school bombing in Bath, Mich. in 1927, killing 38 children and seven adults, including the bomber, and the 1999 Colombine High School massacre in Colorado, in which bombs placed in the cafeteria that did not detonate could have killed hundreds more.

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