In Conversation With ...

In Conversation With ...

In Conversation With ... Don Martin

On the Kentucky Center for School Safety’s training on terroristic threatening

Kentucky School Advocate

February 2016
In Conversation With … features an interview between a leader or figure involved in public education and a representative of the Kentucky School Advocate. Don Martin (right) is the coordinator for training and technical assistance for the Kentucky Center for School Safety (KCSS) and a former Grant County Schools superintendent. Last fall, in response to a flood of threats in public schools, KCSS began offering a series of regional “Terroristic Threatening in the Schools” workshops. The final workshop was held in January, and Martin was interviewed in early January.
 
Q: KCSS has held four workshops to train school personnel in how to handle terroristic threatening. Tell me about the response to the workshops, in terms of attendance.

A.
The response has been very positive. We have had approximately 250 who have attended. They represent over 120 of the Kentucky school districts.

Q. Did you limit the number of representatives a district could send?

A.
Not knowing at the time how many would request to attend, we encouraged the districts to send two people and if we could take more, we would permit it. At the session in Lexington, there were about 100 people, and we really don’t want sessions any larger than that.

Q. What about results in terms of the attendees’ evaluations?

A.
They were very positive. I think districts are looking for options from experts who deal with these issues frequently. Districts want to provide the safest learning environment possible, and at the same time they are charged with increasing student achievement and providing other services to students and the general public. In many cases, they are trying to balance safety issues with academic and other issues, so they are looking for answers from experts who deal with these issues on a daily basis.

Q. Will there be other training sessions after this series?

A.
At the current time we don’t envision more trainings that are exactly like this. We design our trainings based on school districts’ input about what they need. So, for example, we have emergency operation plan trainings that are going on concurrently at this time, so it may be that we will offer blends of different types of training to the districts depending on their needs and desires.

Q. Why do you think turnout has been so good for the terroristic threat training sessions?

A.
I think people are trying to find out what other districts have done in response to either real threats or hoaxes. Also, they want to get information about the ramifications of the actions they would take. Sometimes districts are forced to react before the thought process is completed, and I think they wanted to hear from experts about how that goes together and how all these things fit together to make rational decisions. And, I think we learn a lot from listening to other districts about responses they have completed as a result of these types of situations.

Q. Districts have undergone other types of safety training through the KCSS. What makes this threat training different?

A.
The number of these instances obviously has increased this year for one reason or another. With the advent of social media, and it having such a big impact on each community, the word spreads of either a real threat or hoax very quickly, much more quickly than in the past, so you have a reaction from the public that is much quicker than in previous years. Sometimes that speed of reaction places administrators in a position where they must act very quickly to ensure the safety of their students and staff and communicate that effectively to the public.

Q. Each workshop lasted three hours. How was information delivered?

A.
A lot of expertise is shared. We have a retired state trooper who dealt with a lot of these threats when he was active and a federal Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) agent who delivers a lot of training. They share their experiences and answer questions.
There are also a lot of question and answer sessions, but we have had to modify the sessions somewhat because we were running out of time. Our audiences ask a lot of ‘what if’ questions, but at the end of the day, the districts are still going to be saddled with the decision-making process. What we are trying to do is provide different scenarios and different situations and give them as many tools in their toolbox as possible so that they are able to make good decisions that affect their students, staff and the general public when they go back home.

Q. Could the format of any future training change based on attendee input?

A.
Yes. We will engage the districts to see what they thought was beneficial and what they need more assistance in.

Q. Did attendees leave with any resources in hand?

A.
We attach in one email to all attendees seven to eight handouts that we think are going to be helpful. The handouts are primarily from United States government sources and are helpful in determining which actions to take in each particular situation. They are not specific but cover general good practices.

Q. Have you learned anything new from the districts as a result of the training?

A.
Not really. Being a retired school superintendent, I have had experience with these types of real and perceived threats. The big thing is the social media aspect and how that has compounded the issue of investigations and the deliberate actions that sometimes need to be taken before a decision is made. Other than that, it is pretty much the same type of these things that we have seen in the past.

Q. Explain how the wide use of social media makes handling these terroristic threatening situations different.

A.
The information that has spread throughout the community is escalated because of social media. In the past, I think the threats would have been known but now, oftentimes rumors are spread before school districts have the opportunity to provide the information. In the past I believe districts would have more time to deliver the facts to the general public before rumors would be spread throughout the community by social media. I think that part of it has changed.

Q. Can the districts use social media to their benefit as they deal with these threat situations?

A.
We encourage them to disseminate the most accurate information as early as possible, and if that is through social media, then that is what we recommend. It varies from district to district. Some districts use social media more than others. Most people, in their lives now, deal with social media on a daily, if not hourly, basis.

Q. What do you think will be the key(s) to clamping down on these threats?

A.
As the vast majority of these threats have been determined to be hoaxes, it is our position that the prosecution and restitution of the guilty parties is probably the most effective way to reduce the number of these threats. This will only occur with increased vigilance, supervision, monitoring and willingness to report suspicious or illegal behavior. All of this is not going to end any way soon we don’t think, so we need to make sure our staffs, the general public and our students report suspicious behavior. We want everyone to be vigilant in this whole process. We think that will be the most effective way to curtail this activity.

Q. Are you seeing any signs that that is happening?

A.
It is still a little early, but time will tell. Hopefully the word will spread that this is dangerous and disruptive behavior that will end very badly for those who are posing these real or false threats. There have been some instances where the perpetrators have been apprehended and they are being punished. Hopefully people will realize that technology will often result in being caught, so hopefully this activity will be curtailed in the future.

Q. Have you heard back from any attendees with stories about how they have used the training they received?

A.
No, not since the training sessions, and that is probably a good thing. Hopefully the representatives from the districts went back and told their peers the value of being vigilant and monitoring and supervision. So maybe no news is good news.

Q. How much vigilance and monitoring is there in schools?

A.
It varies by district. Some districts have had this type of (terroristic threat) activity for many years and they do a good job of training their staff and their students in what to look for. In other districts, where they haven’t had as much of it in the past, they are at a different level, of monitoring, supervising and being aware. Hopefully, after they attended training sessions, they will know more about using commonsense approaches to curtail these threats.

Q. For those school districts that were unable to send representatives to the terroristic threatening workshops, are there any resources you could suggest for preventing and effectively handling these threats?

A.
School personnel can go to www.threatplan.org to access resources that may be beneficial in crisis situations.
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