Terrorism and Schools
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School Safety Center

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?

  • 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 and abroad.
Adapted from: Preventing Violent Extremism in Schools, FBI. 2016 (PDF)

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 behavior.
  • 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 security guards;
  • 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; and
  • acquisition of suspicious quantities of weapons and ammunition, or materials that could be used to produce explosives.

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 earthquake.
  • Reunification – The sooner students are safely reunited with family or other caregivers, the less traumatic stress they may experience. See also: NASP Online.
  • See also:

Recovery – talking to kids:

Reporting Suspicious Activity:
Please report like information to the Washington State Fusion Center (WSFC)

Additional Resources:


Contact the Safety Center

Safety Center


   Updated 11/22/2017

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