Safe Havens International conducts annual school safety summit

Category:  News
Thursday, October 11th, 2018 at 9:17 AM

Michael Dorn, the executive director for Safe Havens International, conducted a summit on school safety at Butterfield Hall on Oct. 8.

Safe Havens International is a nonprofit global school safety center. A packet handed out at Dorn’s speech said, “Dorn believes that children can learn more if they attend a safe, orderly school which provides a caring and supportive environment.”

He started the presentation with three different scenario clips. The first two were more common things that might happen, a shooting in a hall and students being taken hostage. The third was an intruder who was threatening to commit self-harm. The scenario clips were used, not to show how everybody reacted, but to show how the school districts had been training their staff members. Dorn used many different scenarios, stressing the importance of training with them.

For K-12 schools, Dorn said 8 percent of students who die at school are killed during an active shooter event, while 92 percent are killed in events not related to an active shooter.

Dorn also spent some time talking about how school resource officers (SROs), mental health professionals, and threat assessment personnel have a better grasp of how to handle situations today.

He stressed the importance of using an all-hazard approach, and not just focusing on active shooters. All-hazards include tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes and nonshooter intruders. One section was focused on the idea that “every school will be visited by those capable of committing sexual violence.”

Dorn said that 50 percent of convictions don’t show up on FBI and state police background checks. He said the line, “we trusted him — after all he passed a background check,” can be very dangerous. Prevention tactics include post-hire and pre-employment processes which clarifiy expectations. Using “red-flag questions” in the interview process to verify candidates’ trustworthiness with students is another prevention tactic used.

Dorn, who travels the world teaching schools how they can improve on potential emergency situations, first told the crowd about some of the personal issues he had in high school. When he was in high school, he was arrested and put into a diversion program, while then saying that he never thought about being a police officer.

“But you’re hanging out with all these cops (in the program) and you’re learning from them, and I was just so inspired by so many of these officers,” Dorn explained.

He double majored in history and political science, earning his bachelor’s degrees simultaneously from Mercer University. He continued on, earning his master’s in business, as well as a management development certification from the American Management Association — Harvard School of Business, delivered through Mercer University.

Dorn was hired by Mercer University Police Department at the age of 18 and was promoted three times over the course of 10 years, earning lieutenant by the age of 25. After being a lieutenant with Mercer University, Dorn learned of an open position as the chief of police for the Bibb County, Georgia Public School System. Following a scandal that swept out most administration, some faculty members, and even some police officers in 1998, Dorn stepped into a mess.

“So then [I saw] the big scandal at the school system, and I said that’s what I wanted to do. I want to make schools safer,” Dorn said. “So I went there, had the right superintendent, right board members, that this stuff was a priority to give us the funding we needed and support; it took a while, but we built a really good program.”

Dorn has traveled all around the world and said every country, even those that are not already developed, can teach school safety officers something they can take back to their own cities.

“I never really thought about doing it internationally; you just start doing this stuff and people just start calling you.” Dorn said.

Dorn stressed the importance of datadriven decision-making rather than letting emotions drive the conversation during his presentation.

“Don’t let your efforts be emotively driven. You need passion; you need all that. But don’t react from emotion. That’s toxic. It’s where we make our biggest mistakes,” he said. “This is why we keep talking about testing, looking at data. Does this program actually have evidence that it works? Don’t rely on ‘I think it’s going to work’ or ‘we gotta do something because it sounds so terrible.’ That’s where we get into trouble.”

Kelly Staschak can be reached at

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