Senior PoliceOne Contributor
Part 1 of 3
Probably the last place you want to think of terrorists striking is your kids' school. But according to two trainers at an anti-terrorism conference on the East Coast, preparations for attacks on American schools that will bring rivers of blood and staggering body counts are well underway in Islamic terrorist camps.
- The intended attackers have bluntly warned us they're going to do it.
- They're already begun testing school-related targets here.They've given us a catastrophic model to train against, which we've largely ignored and they've learned more deadly tactics from.
"We don't know for sure what they will do. No one knows the future. But by definition, a successful attack is one we are not ready for," declared one of the instructors, Lt. Col. Dave Grossman. Our schools fit that description to a "T"-as in Terrorism and Threat.
Grossman, the popular law enforcement motivational speaker, and Todd Rassa, a trainer with the SigArms Academy and an advisory board member for The Police Marksman magazine, shared a full day's agenda on the danger to U.S. schools at a recent three-day conference on terrorist issues, sponsored by the International Assn. of Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors (IALEFI) in Atlantic City.
They reminded the audience that patrol officers, including perhaps some with their own children involved, will inevitably be the first responders when terrorists hit. And they documented chilling descriptions of the life-or-death challenges that likely will be faced.
In Part 1 of this three-part report on highlights of their presentations we focus on what's
known about the threat to our schools to date, why terrorists have selected them as targets, and what tactics you're likely to be up against in responding to a sudden strike.
In Parts 2 and 3, we'll explore Grossman's and Rassa's recommendations for practical measures you and your agency can take now to get ready, including some defensive actions that don't require any budget allocations.
Why schools? Two reasons:1. Our values. "The most sacred thing to us is our children, our babies," Rassa said. Killing hundreds of them at a time would significantly "boost Islamic morale and lower that of the enemy" (us). In Grossman's words, terrorists see this effort as "an attempt to defile our nation" by leaving it "stunned to its soul."
2. Our lack of preparation. Police agencies "aren't used to this," Rassa said. "We deal with acts of a criminal nature. This is an act of war," but because of our laws "we can't depend on the military to help us," at least at the outset.
Indeed, Grossman claimed, "the U.S. in the one nation in the world where the military is not the first line of defense against domestic terrorist attacks. By law, you the police officer are our Delta Force. It is your job to go in, while in most other nations cops will wait for the military to come save their kids."
School personnel, Rassa said, "are not even close" to being either mentally or physically prepared. "Most don't even have response plans for handling a single active shooter. Their world is taught to nurture and care for people. They don't want to deal with this."
The American public, "sticking their heads in the sand, can't be mentally prepared," he said. "They're going to freak when it happens," their stubborn denial making the crisis "all the more shocking."
Noting that "sheep have two speeds: 'graze' and 'stampede,'" Grossman predicted that "not a parent in the nation will send their kids to school the next day"-perhaps for many days-after a large-scale terrorist massacre. If day-care centers-"also on the terrorists' list"-are hit as well, "parents will drop out of the work force" en masse to protect their children and "our economy will be devastated."
How we know they're coming.
Al-Qaeda has publicly asserted the "right" to kill 2,000,000 American children, Rassa explained, and has warned that "operations are in stages of preparation" now. He played vivid videotapes confiscated in Afghanistan, showing al-Qaeda terrorists practicing the takeover of a school. The trainees issue commands in English, rehearse separating youngsters into manageable groups and meeting any resistance with violence. Some "hostages" are taken to the rooftop, dangled over the edge, then "shot."
"Any place that has given [Islamic terrorists] trouble, they've come after the kids," Grossman said. Muslim religious literature, according to Rassa, states clearly that the killing of children not only is "permitted" in Islam but is "approved" by Mohammed, so long as the perpetrators "are striving for the general good" as interpreted by that religion.
He cited instances in Indonesia where girls on their way to school have been beheaded and in other countries where children have been shot, mutilated, raped or burned alive.
In this country this year ['06], Rassa said, there have been several school bus-related incidents involving Middle Eastern males that raise suspicion of terrorist activity. These include the surprise boarding of a school bus in Florida by two men in trench coats, who may have been on a canvassing mission, and the attempt in New York State by an Arab male to obtain a job as a school bus driver using fraudulent Social Security documents. The latter gave an address in Detroit, home to a large colony of fundamentalist Muslims.
Rassa claimed that floor plans for half a dozen schools in Virginia, Texas and New Jersey have been recovered from terrorist hands in Iraq.
The terrorists' tactical model.
A "dress rehearsal for what terrorists plan to do to us" has already taken place, Rassa and Grossman agreed. That was the brutal takedown in 2004 of a school that served children from 6 to 17 years old in Beslan, Russia.
Some 100 terrorists were involved, nearly half of whom were discreetly embedded in the large crowd of parents, staff and kids who showed up for the first day of school; the rest arrived for the surprise attack in SUVs, troop carriers and big sedans. Across a three-day siege, 700 people were wounded and 338 killed, including 172 youngsters.
If a similar assault were launched against a school in your jurisdiction, how would you and your agency respond? Consider this modest sampling of challenges that were deliberately planned or arose from the ensuing chaos at Beslan, as outlined by Rassa:
- The school was
chosen because it was one of the taller buildings in the area and had a very
complicated floor plan, making a rapid and effective counter-assault by
responders extremely difficult. Offender weaponry included AK-47s, sniper
rifles, RPGs and explosives, with everything the terrorists needed carried in on
their backs. RPGs were fired at a responding military helicopter and at
- More than 1,000
men, women and children, including babies, were penned in an unventilated gym
and a cafeteria. As the days passed without food or water and inside
temperatures rose to 115 degrees, survivors were eating flowers they'd brought
for teachers and fighting for urine to drink out of their shoes in desperation.
Women and some children were repeatedly and continuously raped.
* Adult males and larger male students were used as "forced labor" to help fortify the building, then shot to death. Bodies were thrown out of an upper-story window, down onto a courtyard. Attempts at negotiation by responders were used by the terrorists strictly as an opportunity to buy time to solidify their fortifications.
- Surviving hostages
were surrounded by armed guards standing on deadman switches, wired to
explosives. All entrances to the building as well as stairwells and some
interior doorways were booby-trapped. Youngsters were forced to sit on window
sills to serve as shields for snipers. "Black widows" (potential suicide
bombers) were rigged so their bomb belts could be detonated by remote control
when leaders considered the timing was right. The terrorists stayed cranked up
on some type of amphetamine to keep awake.
- Armed, outraged
parents and other civilians, some of them drunk, showed up and started "rolling
gunfights" outside in a futile effort to defeat the takeover. The crowd
identified one embedded terrorist and "literally ripped him apart." The media
was everywhere, unrestrained. So many people were milling around that responders
often could not establish a clear field of fire.
- When troops
finally stormed the school in a counter-assault on the third day, "pure
pandemonium" reigned. Soldiers and the kids they were trying to rescue were
gunned down mercilessly. Explosions touched off inside started multiple
- Responders who
made it inside had to jump over trip wires as they "ran" up stairs under fire
from above. By then terrorists were holding hostages in virtually every room.
Rescue teams were subjected to continual ambushes. Gunfights occurred
predominately within a 6-ft. range, with some responders having to fight for
their lives in places so cramped they couldn't get off their hands and
- Some children
successfully rescued from the building were so crazed by thirst that they ran to
an outdoor spigot and were killed by a grenade as they filled their hands with
- Terrorists who
escaped during the melee ran to homes of embedded sympathizers who hid them
successfully and were not immediately suspected because they were considered
"non-strangers" in the community. Some townspeople who volunteered to help as
stretcher bearers for the injured were, in fact, embedded
- During the siege "at least four people or agencies claimed to be in charge. Actually, no one was in charge and no one wanted to be."
"Osama bin Laden has promised that what has happened in Russia will happen to us many times over," Grossman warned. "And Osama tries very hard never to lie to us."
What's likely here.
Probably not so many terrorists involved at a single location. Moving that big a contingent into place would likely attract too much attention and thwart the attack. Grossman describes a more likely possibility, in his opinion:
Terrorist cells of four operatives each might strike simultaneously at four different schools. They may pick elementary schools, or middle schools with no police officers on site, where the girls are "old enough to rape" but students are not big enough to fight back effectively.
The targets may be in states "with no concealed-carry laws and no hunting culture" and in communities where "police do not have rifles." Rural areas could be favored, where 30 minutes or more might be required for responders to arrive in force.
The attackers will probably "mow down every kid and teacher they see" as they move in to seize the school. They may plant bombs throughout the buildings, and "rape, murder and throw out bodies like they did in Russia." Emergency vehicles responding and children fleeing will be blown up by car bombs in the parking lot.
In all, 100 to 300 children could be slaughtered in a first strike.
Terrorists capable of this are already embedded in communities "all over America," Grossman and Rassa agreed. More will probably gain entry surreptitiously from Mexico, making southern California potentially a prime target.
No time for despair.
It's a grim picture, for certain. "But if we think there's nothing we can do to prepare, that is a defeatist mentality," Rassa said. "We ought to be trying. If we're not trying, we're failing. We may as well give up our guns and surrender now.
"I can't think of a better thing to train up for than protecting our kids. If we try but fall short, look at how much else we'll still be able to handle than we can now.
"What made most of us do active-shooter training? The killings at Columbine. Are we going to wait for something far worse than that before we do the most that we can to stop the terrorists who are coming for our schools?"
Part 2 of 3
"4 Ds" For Thwarting Terrorists' Plans To Massacre Our School Children
[Editor's Note: In Part 1, we documented the plans of Islamic terrorists to strike U.S. schools in murderous raids, claiming the lives of hundreds of children, as reported at a recent anti-terrorism conference, sponsored by the International Assn. of Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors (IALEFI). In Part 2, we summarize countermeasures proposed by one of the conference instructors, Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, author of the popular books On Killing and On Combat.]
As Instructor Todd Rassa pointed out in our first installment, if we are not trying to prepare for and thwart the daunting terrorist threat to our schools and children, we are, in effect, conceding defeat and surrendering without a battle to those who would obliterate us.
There is no simple master plan for an easy victory. But the cumulative effect of many seemingly small countermeasures, effectively applied on a large scale by individual officers and their agencies, can have a powerful impact.
Here are some of the practicalities that Trainer Dave Grossman suggested we consider in beginning to address the critical problem of terrorists coming for our kids.
That's overcoming denial. And where schools and terrorist attacks are concerned, denial abounds.
U.S. schools continue to take extensive and overt measures to guard students against the threat of fire, with drills, alarms, sprinkler systems, building codes, etc.-even though there has not been a single child killed by fire in any American school in the last 25 years, Grossman declared.
In contrast, well over 200 deaths have occurred from school violence by active shooters and other non-terrorist offenders over the last dozen years, and Islamic fundamentalists are believed to be plotting attacks that will claim hundreds of child casualties in a single blow. Yet efforts to significantly harden schools as a target of violence have, for the most part, been slow, timid or nonexistent.
"We need to treat the threat of violence like the threat of fire. But if you try to prepare for violence, people think you're crazy, paranoid," Grossman said.
"Denial is the enemy. It's a big, fluffy white blanket we pull up over our eyes to convince ourselves the bad men are never going to come. And while we pull that blanket up, bad guys come and kick us in the crotch.
"Let's face the lessons terrorists have already taught us in blood and lives. They are coming, and they may well come for our schools, our kids. We've had all the warning in the world. And if we continue living in denial, then all the lives they've claimed to date have been sacrificed for nothing."
Grossman's 4 Ds.
Besides working to eliminate the big D (denial), Grossman cited four others we need to focus on:
An armed police presence in a school can provide strong deterrence against attack, Grossman argued. "Terrorists are willing to die, but they desperately don't want to die for nothing, without completing their tactical objective. They want a body count."
To squelch would-be attackers, many Israeli schools deploy on-site police at squad-level strength, and armed guards accompany all class fieldtrips, usually one per 10 students. But even with a single armed officer in a school, "the prospects of a massacre go way down," Grossman said.
Having unarmed security in or around schools is both pointless and ethically derelict, in his opinion. "Don't give someone responsibility for human lives and not give them the tools to do the job. You wouldn't give a firefighter just a hat, uniform and badge, and no hose or water."
Should teachers be armed? At least two states (Utah and New Hampshire) now authorize concealed-carry permits in schools, according to Grossman, and the Federal Safe Schools Act allows for it. Faculty with military experience and a willingness to receive additional training could be a starting point.
"Even one or two armed teachers in a school can make a difference," Grossman said. But given the current American mind-set, "you have to push this envelope very gently."
"The ultimate achievement is a terrorist takeover that doesn't start," Grossman said. And officers being suspicious-"doing what cops do"-are well positioned to interrupt attack plans before they culminate.
Follow good criminal patrol procedures on traffic stops, for instance, by asking probing questions and being alert for contradictions, inconsistencies, irrationalities, unduly nervous behavior and other indicators of deceit and guilty behavior. Be aware of what you can see inside vehicles or on subjects that may merit closer investigation.
Watch for signs of static or mobile surveillance of potential targets. Terrorists "always conduct a recon," which may involve photographing or videotaping a prospective site, Grossman said. Don't limit your suspicions just to persons who fit the stereotypical terrorist profile. "There are terrorists who are blond and blue eyed."
Inform schools to report any calls from people inquiring about security. Someone claiming to be a concerned parent wanting to know if any armed officers are on the premises may in fact be an operative gauging the vulnerability of the location. The staffer taking the call should jot down the caller ID number and note the precise time and the phone line the call came in on to facilitate follow up checking by police. "Any time terrorists bounce off a hard target is a chance to catch them."
If terrorists do strike, "one man or woman with effective fire from behind cover inside the school can hold off a group of attackers for 5 minutes," saving lives by buying time until police responders "can get in the door," Grossman claimed.
Meantime, at the first hint of trouble, teachers and children should kick in to a preplanned and frequently rehearsed three-step "lock-down model," he recommended. "Sheltering" children in place, as has been attempted in various school shootings, is more likely to be dangerous than protective. Instead, Grossman advises potential victims to:
- Move away from violence, which otherwise tends to be "mesmerizing and paralyzing"
- Move to a pre-selected secure location, someplace "secure enough to keep the bad guys out until the cops come in"
- Move again if you have reason to feel threatened at that spot. "Lock-down does not mean hunker down and die," Grossman said.
"As a last resort," there may be times when a teacher would need the courage to "go toward an attacker." Grossman cited a case in which an active shooter broke a window in a classroom door and reached through to release the locked knob. Teacher and students cowered inside and just waited, whereas a teacher might have "grabbed a chair and attacked his hand" and possibly have delayed or deterred a fatal assault.
Plans on paper "mean nothing," Grossman reminded. "You have to get the schools to rehearse" anti-terrorist scenarios. "Principals have been fired for not doing fire drills," and yet the terrorist threat these days is so much greater. Where are our priorities?
As a responding officer, you have to be fully prepared, mentally and physically, to use deadly force to stop the threat. "It is your job to put a chunk of steel in your fist and kill the sons-of-bitches who are coming to kill your kids," Grossman declared in an emotional crescendo in his presentation.
"Fight from the very beginning. Don't wait, thinking you'll fight later." Referring to the terrorist massacre at the school in Beslan, Russia, which we described in Part 1 of this series, Grossman said: "Every minute the Russians waited, the target got harder." If you hesitate in responding, "you'll die with a bullet in the back of your head in front of children."
Part 3 of 3
How To Prepare Yourself For Terrorist Attacks On Our Schools
[Editor's note: In previous installments, we documented the plans of Islamic terrorists to murder hundreds of U.S. school children, as reported at a recent anti-terrorism conference sponsored by the International Assn. of Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors (IALEFI), and we summarized counter measures proposed by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman.
In this final report, we explore recommendations of another conference speaker, Todd Rassa, a trainer with the SigArms Academy and a member of the advisory board for The Police Marksman magazine. We conclude with Grossman's suggestions of what LE agencies can do to defend our schools despite current budget restraints.]
Trainer Todd Rassa considers active-shooter training, which is now being embraced by more and more departments, as "a good start," but he warned that much more is needed to adequately protect our children from terrorist attacks on schools.
Here are some of the items he enumerated for a conscientious "to do" list:
1. Train every patrol officer in bomb awareness, crowd management, riot control, ballistic shield tactics, team firing drills and other response skills likely to be needed for a mass school takedown. Responsibility for an immediate effective response will most probably fall heavily on street cops, given the activation time for most SWAT teams.
2. Proper equipment needs to be readied. "Patrol rifles are needed now-as many as possible with as much ammunition as possible," Rassa stressed. Also ballistic shields, helmets and other protective devices for every officer. Have a plan in place to get large amounts of additional ammo to the scene ASAP.
Soft body armor may prove inadequate, but extras should be available anyway in a better-than-nothing effort to protect fleeing hostages by draping vests and ballistic blankets over them. Armored transport vehicles may prove crucial. Less-lethal rounds may be useful for crowd control, but will be futile to attempt against terrorists.
3. Work with school officials to anticipate problems and realistically rewrite their emergency plans. "They are not going to fix themselves," Rassa predicted. Cross-train with school personnel and consider involving community leaders with training on crowd-control tactics and intel collection. Manpower and tactics will be needed to handle "outraged, violent parents" if a siege develops.
SROs, who likely will be targeted by terrorists as first casualties, need training on "surveillance awareness, including real-life testing of school security" by would-be invaders.
4. Expand your active-shooter training to include "large, complicated, multi-adversary scenarios and exercises," Rassa urged. Practice against a booby-trapped environment, simultaneous attacks from multiple levels, ambushes from the rear. Rehearse tactics for CQB with both pistol and rifle.
Also practice counter-assaults on school buses. "What if terrorists hijacked a couple of buses and drove them into a school? What if they hijacked several and spread them out across your town?"
5. Incorporate suicide-bomber shooting drills into your firearms training for every officer. That should include "practicing head shots from a distance with a pistol after running." Build the ability to shoot while moving into your qualifications. Also integrate self-defense DT into firearms training-"blending two important worlds that usually never meet." Even consider training with AK-47s and other "exotic" weapons that may be in your property room, on the chance you may have to use the weapons of neutralized terrorists if yours run empty.
6. Thoroughly familiarize yourself with your schools. Videotape them inside and out and collect and review floor plans, making sure they are kept up to date as remodeling projects take place. Work with schools to get classroom numbers put on street signs and mounted on the exterior. Also check to see if computers in your squad cars can be made compatible with CCTV cameras inside the building, so you can tie in to what's going inside in event of trouble.
7. As a parent, you may want to falsify your occupation (as a police office) on school records so your child will not be easily identified as a desirable hostage.
8. And, of course, stage frequent incident-command training and exercises, so multiple jurisdictions and multiple disciplines (fire, police, EMS, city services, etc.) learn the importance of putting political egos and turf wars aside in the interest of saving children's lives.
Agency actions that don't take $$$
Dave Grossman, the well-known author of On Killing and On Combat, concluded IALEFI's excellent conference with suggestions of how LE agencies can improve their protection of schools without further straining already tight budgets.
1. Encourage officers always to carry off-duty. Always.
No one can predict where a given officer might be when terrorists strike. What if you were off-duty on a visit to your child's school; would you have the primary life-saving tool of your profession with you? Remember, Grossman said, "One person behind cover with effective fire can hold down a whole company of invaders for 5 minutes" while help arrives.
" If we stop them dead in one school and kill them before they kill kids, that will convince the country that we can fight back. If they fail in one school, that will undermine their plan.
" If you walk out off-duty without your gun, every time you pass a fire exit or see a fire extinguisher, say to yourself, 'Firefighters have made more preparations than I have.' Plant the seed with other officers. Once you tell them, they can't not think about it."
2. Exploit opportunities to expand your equipment inventory.
- Many cash-strapped
agencies now encourage officers to buy and carry their own rifles on duty. If
certain standards and training are maintained, that's a quick way to strengthen
- Officers should
also be encouraged to prepare and ride with "go bags" that can be slung over
their shoulder as they head into a crisis. Loaded with backup boxes of pistol
and rifle ammo, these can be comforting safeguards against running dry in a
firefight, where "three magazines can easily be burned up in less than a
- Get the name and
phone number of every private owner of a helicopter in your area and coordinate
with them ahead of time a plan for pressing their chopper into service in an
emergency. Even news agencies might be willing to cooperate if promised "great
footage" in exchange for transporting officers to a siege site. As medivac
helicopters go in, they should come in full of armed police, and go out full of
" There will be gridlock chaos on the ground within moments wherever an attack comes," Grossman said. "Helicopters can be great for getting firepower in and wounded out." Practice hovering over schools and landing personnel on the flat roofs that most have.
- Envision fire
hoses as "crew-served weapons." At a terrorist scene, hoses can be used not only
"to put out fires that may be caused by booby traps" but can also "knock a
combatant out of a window 50 yards away-an incredibly effective weapon."
A firefighter directing the hose can be protected behind two officers holding ballistic shields and two officers behind the shields with rifles, Grossman suggested. Obviously, this tactic requires practice well before it's needed.
3. Build the right mind-set in your troops.
As a police officer, "you have to have your heart and mind ready," Grossman said. "In our nation, the military is not coming to save your kids. You are the Delta Force. It's your job to go in like thunder when they come to kill your kids and destroy your way of life.
" Get training-all you can. Advance steadily along the warrior path. Live life in Condition Yellow, vigilant readiness. Cultivate hobbies that reinforce your survival skills."
He conjured a bumper sticker that says, Piss on golf. Real Americans go to the range. "We don't have time for childish pursuits," he declared.
" Most people in our society are sheep. Wolves will feed on them without hesitation. Anyone who thinks there are no wolves is in denial.
" You are the sheepdog, the protector. When bad stuff comes, the sheepdog is prepared, even eager. If you are not ready, who is?"
About Charles Remsberg
Chuck co-founded the original Street Survival Seminar and the Street Survival Newsline, authored three of the best-selling law enforcement training textbooks, and helped produce numerous award-winning training videos. His nearly three decades of work earned him the prestigious O.W. Wilson Award for outstanding contributions to law enforcement and the American Police Hall of Fame Honor Award for distinguished achievement in public service.