Is your University Prepared for Threat and Evacuation?

In the light of the recent attacks in some of the major cities in the world, it’s time for education authorities to evaluate their efforts to help combat terrorism, as well as what they should do should such event arises.

According to the 2016 Global Terrorism Index, the number of attacks decreased by 10% in 2015 despite the high-profile attacks in the main cities in the world. However, despite the fall, terrorism attacks has still become a major concern worldwide.

Just last month, the cities of Manchester, Marawi, Jakarta, and Pattani have brought back terrorism on the front pages. Since the start of 2017, there have been 496 attacks worldwide, carried out by attacked by groups and individuals believed to be working within the terrorist network or have been supporting the radical groups.

Attacks on Schools and Universities

Schools and universities are not spared from these vicious acts. For the past few years, educational institutions have become a target for terrorist attacks. According to the data gathered by the University of Maryland’s Global Terrorism Database, which lists more than 125,000 terrorist attacks around the world since 1970, there has been a rise in terror attacks in schools since 2004.


Terrorist Attacks Targeting Educational Institutions Worldwide, 1970-2013

Terror 1

(Data: Global Terrorism Database; The Atlantic)


In a paper published in the Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology in 2013, researchers Emma Bradford and Margaret A. Wilson of the University of Liverpool’s Department of Applied Psychology highlighted some possible reasons why schools have been attacked by terrorists.

The first reason is that there is a relative lack of physical security compared to other potential targets such as airports, military installations, and government embassies. Aside from the damage to the property, attacks on schools can inflict horrifying damage to students, especially the young ones. Attacks on schools also elicit stronger emotional responses. Another motivation is the extensive media coverage an attack on an educational institution might attract.

Despite these benefits, terrorists’ attacks on schools are still relatively lower as compared to overall terrorist targets recorded in the Global Terrorism Database. However, there has been an increase in the percentage from 2004 to 2013, 2% to 3% respectively, with a peak of 5% in 2010.


Total Terrorist Attacks and Attacks on Educational Institutions Worldwide, 1970-2013

Terror 2

(Data: Global Terrorism Database; The Atlantic)


What can Schools and Universities do?

In the UK, the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 has been put into place – despite debates and hesitations. Narrowing down to universities and colleges, the act “imposes a duty on “specified authorities”, when exercising their functions, to have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism.”

However, educational institutions on their own can already devise ways on how to prevent such attacks and what to do should events like such as mentioned occur. School safety expert Kenneth A. Trump said, “The vast majority of schools have not taken into account in their crisis planning all of the issues related to terrorism.”

In an article published in Education World, he said: “Some issues, such as handling bombs and bomb threats, creating emergency communications plans, and preparing for gunfire on campus should already have been in the plans.”

Measures can contain:

  1. Open communication on terrorism by explaining the reasons and possible effects of these acts.
  2. Creating an emergency plan which includes detailed evacuation procedures, alternate destinations, communication plan, and disaster supply kits. Learning how to do CPR and First Aid are also important.
  3. Counselling plan in the aftermath of an event, especially to young children.

According to Trump, principals should address this situation, despite the concern that parents, students, and teachers would overreact to the topic of terrorism preparedness. “Fear is best managed through education, communication, and preparation,” he said.

“By not addressing these issues and operating with ‘ostrich syndrome,’ schools are actually creating more fear and panic among parents and school officials. The key rests in context, balance, and reasonable efforts. And of course, discussions with students must be age and developmentally appropriate,” he added.

The truth is, there is uncertainty as to the extent and duration of these terrorist attacks. There is also no particular time or day when such acts will occur. While there one plan does not fit all crises, it is still better to be prepared beforehand.

As education officials, no one knows the school and the students better than you. While the responsibility rests on your shoulders, you do not need to act on this alone. Rather, call upon the parents, authorities, and the students themselves on how to better protect each other in times of trouble.