Terrorism and Schools
As the threat of terrorism evolves and as more youth embrace extremist ideologies, there is a growing need to include processes to assess, prepare, protect, mitigate, respond, and ultimately recover from terrorism-motivated incidents within district and school safety plans.
What is Terrorism?
Preventing Violent Extremism in Schools, FBI.
- The Webster’s Dictionary defines terrorism as:
- the use of violent acts to frighten the people in an area as a way of
trying to achieve a political goal;
- the systematic use of terror, especially as a means of coercion.
- Domestic: Domestic violent extremism is defined as
individuals or groups attempting to advance social or
political beliefs through force or violence and in
violation of federal law.
- International: The U.S. Department of State defines
foreign terrorist organization(s) as organizations that advocate violence or conduct
violent activities against U.S. interests domestically
Terrorism as Different from other Forms of School Violence: Active or rampage
shootings, bomb threats, and other acts of school violence might be considered
as forms of terrorism. However, as defined here, domestic or international
terrorist attacks differ from other forms of attack on schools and individuals
within schools. A very brief summary of those differences:
- Motivation – political, social, religious beliefs versus individual perceptions of harm or desire for revenge.
- Magnitude – as schools are often seen as very soft
targets, the impact of a terrorist attack can be much
greater than even that of an active/rampage shooter.
- Manpower – more likely to be perpetrated by a group
(small or large) than an individual or very small group.
- This is advance warning of a potential threat; an individual intentionally or unintentionally reveals clues that may signal an impending violent act.
- Think: Threat Assessment - The structured process to
evaluate the risk posed by a student or other person in
response to an actual or perceived threat or concerning
- Think: See something. Say something.
Behavioral Indicators: Activities which may be different forms of ‘leakage’:
- an unusual interest in or asking questions about security procedures;
- overtly suspicious actions to provoke and observe responses by security
or law enforcement officers;
- an unusual interest in entry points, peak days and hours of operation,
security personnel, surveillance assets (including cameras), and access
controls such as alarms, barriers, doors, gates, or locks;
- an unusual interest in security reaction drills or procedures,
initiating multiple false alarms or fictitious emergency calls to the same
locations or similar venues;
- loitering, parking, or standing in the same area over multiple days with
no reasonable explanation;
- unusual interest in speaking with building maintenance personnel or
- attention to or avoidance of surveillance cameras;
- interest, without justification, in obtaining site
plans, ingress and egress routes, and information on
employees or the public;
- clothing not appropriate for the weather or season
without a reasonable explanation;
- sharing of media glorifying violent extremist acts
- attempting to mobilize others to violence;
- new or increased advocacy of violence;
- advocacy that one’s religious, cultural, or national
group requires violent defense from an external threat;
- paramilitary exercises and reconnaissance or
surveillance activities related to terrorism,
particularly in conjunction with advocacy of violence;
- acquisition of suspicious quantities of weapons and
ammunition, or materials that could be used to produce
Existing Safety Plan Activities: Several components of a district or school’s safety plan can be used in preparation for a possible terrorist attack:
- Lockdown – Lockdown drills can be considered a part of a school’s response to a terrorist threat.
- Run. Hide. Fight. – These very situational responses can be considered a
part of a school’s response to a terrorist threat. Be sure that everyone
knows and practices appropriate responses to an emergency situation.
- Drop. Cover. Hold on – A large scale terrorist (bomb) attack might
require students to follow the same safety steps as they would follow in an
- Reunification – The sooner students are safely reunited with family or
other caregivers, the less traumatic stress they may experience. See also:
- See also:
Recovery – talking to kids:
Reporting Suspicious Activity:
Please report like information to the Washington State Fusion Center (WSFC)
Contact the Safety Center