Michael Dorn has some very interesting things to say about school and public safety, and well he might, given that it has been the focus of his estimable career. After early service in law enforcement, Michael went on to become the top expert for the nation’s largest state government school safety center, located in Georgia. In addition to his duties as the Executive Director of Safe Havens International
, the world’s leading international non-profit campus safety center, Michael has authored and co-authored 26 books on school safety, including Weakfish: Bullying Through the Eyes of a Child
, and his latest, Staying Alive: How to Act Fast and Survive Deadly Encounters.
His expertise has been routinely called upon by many organizations including the FBI, U.S. Department of Education, National Emergency Management Association, FEMA, U.S. Attorney General’s Office, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and dozens of state police departments, emergency management agencies, and departments of education. Michael’s training videos are in use by more than 75,000 school systems and public safety agencies in more than 30 countries.
Here are a few of the highlights from my conversation with Michael.
On safety, participatory school culture, and empowering school staff
“It has to be in almost everything we do. It’s not that we have a safety department over here; we have school resource officers. Those are pieces and in the most successful schools that we’ve worked with in the United States and abroad, safety is part of almost everything they do. They just build it in naturally, just like a manufacturer would if they want to keep the injuries down, the worker comp claims down, and they want to have a good safety record. It has to be part of everything they do
. Just like our airlines in the United States, commercial air travel is very safe because any staff member on a flight, any airline, can stop that flight. They have the authority. It used to be just the captain could stop a commercial air flight, and we lost two planeloads of people in South America and one of them on the runway because the staff were afraid to tell the captain what to do. It came up on the black box. So now Delta, Air Tran, American, United, any of those flights, the flight attendant has the authority to stop the plane and that’s an important cultural piece that they have as an industry, and we can do the same things in schools, giving that type of empowerment to every employee
On successful bullying prevention initiatives
“One of the most powerful initiatives we’ve seen is of course the Olweus bullying program, which has many student components to it. That’s probably the most tried and true area out there. Just like CPI, you can go back and track and show that the training programs that CPI offers work. There’s proof, there’s evidence, and the same is true; it’s a good equivalent actually, what CPI has done in the de-escalation area and passive restraint areas. That’s what Olweus has done in the bullying arena.
Then we’ve got Stop Bullying Now, which is not a program but a campaign that’s free to us by the United States government. It’s an exceptionally good resource for our schools. There are components specifically for students, web courses, because you’ve got to create the situations that I talked about before where students are going to step up to the plate and reach out and support and help. They do need training. They do need to be made aware, just like adults do.”
On fear management theory
“What we try to do is teach them (see below) about fear management theory. Fear management theory, what it explains is that it is very natural for an educated, caring educator, police chief, mental health professional, or parent to focus too much on certain frightening aspects. It makes us believe that something like Sandy Hook or Columbine is more likely to happen to us than it really is
, and it can distract us and focus on things that are not the most important aspects that we learn from those types of tragedies. We miss, often, the simple and powerful tools that are proven to work to prevent those types of tragedies