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Take Your Best Shot: Improving School Security in Rotterdam

By Neal Dilk
Take Your Best Shot: Improving School Security in Rotterdam

As a Head of School, it’s not every day that a police officer hands you a weapon and asks you if you would like to shoot your computer, but that’s what happened. It’s not important that we were not actually in my office, but were instead in the business office and the computer we were standing in front of wasn’t my computer, but was the Business Manager’s computer. The point is that these things just don’t happen everyday.
Upon accepting the weapon from the officer, two thoughts went through my head: the little administrator sitting on my left shoulder said, “Respect school property!” while the little frustrated user-of-technology-who-had-been-having-network-problems-earlier-in-the-day-holding-the-helpdesk-ticket sitting on my right shoulder said, “Ignore the other voice.” So I did.
The gun was real and so was the gunpowder, but the bullets were plastic, and ultimately the screen emerged from the onslaught unscathed. The second shot was probably unnecessary, but it is important to be certain when testing for the sake of safety.
The reason the officer was there in the first place had to do with our efforts to improve security at the school. As we all are aware, in the news lately there has been an increase in number of stories involving the so-called “radicalized individual actor” or “lone wolf,” as such individuals are often known. Such activity is not common, but does appear to be on the rise.
I recently attended a workshop put on by the Regional Security Officer (RSO) at the US Embassy in The Netherlands. The RSO brought in two security and threat assessment experts from Washington, D.C. to provide additional insight into matters concerning security, specifically in the context of international schools. During the workshop we were briefed on threat activity in the Middle East and in Western Europe. Attending the workshop made me feel better about our lockdown procedures, but alerted me to areas that we could improve.
The context of security considerations varies from school to school and country to country. Threats to security differ, as well as the ways in which relationships with, and responses from, local law enforcement proceed. In the Netherlands, it is perhaps easier than in some other parts of the world to develop partnerships with local police.
At the American International School of Rotterdam (AISR), we decided we’d like to have more interaction with local police and to maximize police presence in the neighborhood of the school, as well as increase the frequency of police on campus. We concluded that, to be successful, we would have to ensure our efforts would create a sense of willingness and desire in the local law enforcement community to interact with our school.
We have launched a number of initiatives to this end, but the most interesting is the use of our building by Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams as a training facility outside of school hours. There are three main benefits for the school in relation to security: 1) SWAT trainers report back to us on any weaknesses in our building security that they find, which we address as they are identified. 2) Data would indicate that radicalized individual actors tend to go through a phase of pre-operational intelligence and tend to base attacks on perceived vulnerability. By randomizing some school activity and by having a increased police presence on campus, the school presents a more difficult target for a possible threat, potentially diverting attention elsewhere. 3) In the event of an actual threat, local police are more familiar with our building specifically, and can clear it much faster.
What we have learned is that having local police, or SWAT, use a school as a training facility does improve overall security. In addition, there are some other considerations coupled with such activity that can add value. For example, we also arranged meetings with Dispatch. We provided Dispatch with plans of the school building and grounds so they could make plans for officers to secure and clear our school. They sent officers to tour the facility to go through our lockdown procedures, determine points of entry, etc. to ensure a rapid response to any potential threat. The Dispatch plans, which provided practical information for the training sessions, were relayed to the SWAT trainers.
So what does all of this have to do with me shooting the Business Manager’s computer? When deciding to engage in something like this there are several considerations: 1) Test the training weapons, and do so on actual school material to ensure that there won’t be damage; shoot the training weapons at walls, windows, bulletin boards, and at LCD screens to determine if the training weapons employed by local law enforcement are safe. 2) Communicate with your community. We informed all faculty and staff, all parents, and all students of our plans. We also sent letters to the immediate 250 homes in the area informing them of our intent. We never received one negative response. All messages from the community and local residents have been positive, thanking us for our initiative. 3) Go top down. Most arrangements can be made via individual divisions within local police, but it is always best to ask permission from the top. While many divisions within the police have been cooperative, they are much more cooperative when they know they are supported by their superiors.
Situations are different in every country. Individual schools need to ascertain the best course of action for their unique situations. For us at AISR, collaboration with local law enforcement has added layers of security that any Business Manager would agree outweigh the costs of an LCD screen (but for the record, it was fine).
Neal Dilk is Director of the American International School of Rotterdam.

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