School trips are vital part of school life. For the children, it is an exciting break from the norm. For the teachers, while it’s an excellent opportunity to diversify learning, it can be a great deal of extra work and stressful to run. To add to the complexity and stress is the worry of what to do in the case of a terrorist incident.
While these are rare, getting into a few quick habits while planning and executing your trip will alleviate the stress, knowing that you have mitigated the risk as much as possible. This article gives you a few pointers and tips on how to plan for the worst. While some of these actions will be unnecessary or something you already do, none of them take long and will keep your staff and pupils as safe as possible should the worst happen.
In the planning phase, start from before you even leave the school grounds and work through the whole trip until you return to school. Knowledge is power and briefing the pupils at a level relevant to their age so as not to scare them but enough to prepare them for the worst is an important step in getting them ready to take the right action, directed by one of the staff, if something goes wrong. The staff should be briefed in more detail and could be handed this article to read for ease but specific details about your trip will also be required. Cover key timings of the day, whether there is a signal to bring the group together or meet up, how to easily identify the staff, what to do if they are lost (break this down if you are visiting several venues or there are different segments to the day such as walking to the venue from the drop-off point; at the venue; walking back from the venue to the pick-up point for example), who holds the first aid kit and, of course, actions in case of emergency.
When planning the trip itself start with the routes that you are taking to the venue. Think about best times to travel to minimise sitting in traffic, this can be unavoidable but the worry of being late increases stress which can distract staff from focussing on the safety of the whole group. Consider the drop-off point, this should be as close the venue as possible to minimise time walking down the street which is when the group is vulnerable to vehicle collisions. The pick-up time and location should also be considered to minimise time waiting in a crowd in an insecure location beyond barriers and security points. The action to trigger the pick-up, for instance calling the coach driver, must be discussed with the driver and should be a simple as possible. Understanding where the driver will be waiting and how long it will take him to get back to the venue will be key to minimising waiting time.
As the saying goes ‘Time is seldom wasted in reconnaissance’ and this is no different. As with transport, identify busy times and avoid them if at all possible. Terrorists are trying spread terror through maximising death and serious injury and therefore often target crowds. Avoiding waiting in large groups in insecure areas is a fundamental protective measure. Ask the venue if there is anything that can be done in advance to speed up movement through any payment or security points for groups. They won’t want a large group clogging up the entrance so they will probably have a plan or be interested in making one with you.
During your recce, identify the exits. Not just front main exits but ALL exits including service exits, kitchens, loading bays etc. Look at where they come out and where you need to go once you leave the exit to get to safety. Ending up in an alleyway with no idea which way to run or running to a dead end is very much to be avoided.
5. Risk Areas.
We have already identified any points where there is crowding as a higher risk area but think about areas on route that may be problematic particularly if you are on foot. These may be pavements along busy roads which do not have barriers between the traffic and the pedestrians or displays inside a venue where the groups may be split and will need to be briefed on where to meet if there is an incident. Briefing for this part of the trip is best to take place at the point they enter the high risk area so that the pupils remember the key points and not at the beginning of the day.
6. Protected Areas
The identification of protected areas is something that should happen as you are conducting your recce and during the trip itself. There are two types of protected area. The first provides protection from view (i.e. a hiding place) and the second provides protection from gun fire. While the second sounds a bit extreme, marauding gunman attacks have occurred several times in the past and selecting protected areas is quick to do. Many city centres, shopping malls and museums have large plant pots sometimes big enough for a tree to grow in them. Any plant pot that is filled with earth and more than around 2 metres in diameter will stop a bullet and is therefore a good location to seek refuge in the case of a marauding gunman attack. Be aware that the majority of the walls in shops and modern buildings will be flimsy partition walls that won’t stop low or high velocity bullets; whereas pillars are often load bearing and therefore strong enough to protect from gun fire; beware of facias or 2boxing around the load baring part of pillars which will offer no protection from gun fire. Giving a wall a knock as if knocking on a door will give you an idea whether it is a partition type wall; a hollow sound means it is weak. Even a solid wall may not be thick enough to stop a bullet so even when hiding it is best to be lying down to minimise you target profile. Clearly the best option is always to get as far away from the danger as possible so hiding or taking cover is a last resort or a temporary measure. In the latter case, be absolutely sure that you are able to get away safely before you move from your position of cover from view or fire.
7. Reduce Vulnerability
Whenever we are out and about, we must all strive to reduce our Target Value which is a function of Target Worth (how rich or desirable you look) multiplied by your Vulnerability (how vulnerable you look). This vulnerability is hugely reduced by travelling in groups; the larger the better. Being able to easily identify the group increases group identity, which will in turn increase the confidence of the individuals within the group, and shows a potential attacker that individuals are part of the group and not alone. Both of these factors reduce vulnerability. In addition, an identifying mark such as a baseball cap or coloured bands around the arm makes it quicker to establish if any of the group is missing. This ease of identification also increases the chance of group leaders checking more frequently and reduces their stress so that they can focus on other security and educational matters. When the group is together is when you are least vulnerable. Attackers may deliberately try and split individuals from the group by telling them that their teacher has told them to move to another location or that they can help. Consider using a password for the pupils to challenge a potential attacker with – it is not always obvious who attackers are, and they may appear as respectable, responsible people. Finally think about how you will control the group as they move through a venue. Ask yourself whether they will be allowed to split up, what are the control measures to ensure they don’t wander off beyond the view of a group leader, how or when will they be required to meet up again?
8. Reduce Worth
Minimising how valuable your pupils and staff look will also reduce the chance of attack from pick pockets and muggers. This may result in you deciding that the children should wear casual clothes rather than school uniform if your school is known to be attended by wealthy pupils. Consider the control of valuables and money. Think about leaving valuable possessions like phones and smart-watches etc at home or at school.
9. RUN, HIDE, TELL
While terrorist incidents are infrequent there is still a chance that any popular venue may be targeted. Thinking about what you would do in the case of a marauding gunman attack or an explosion only takes a few minutes and will significantly increase you and your group’s chances of survival. The advice from Counter-Terrorism Policing for a marauding gun or knife attack is Run, Hide, Tell. With a group the key thing is to get away even if that means the group is split up. If you are not in immediate danger getting your group to run in the same direction will be simpler. The best thing to enable this is to set a location that the whole groups knows how to get to in case of emergency. It may be that part, or all of the group can’t get to the rendezvous point and will need to hide. Identifying group hiding places as you move along your route is a good habit to get into. It is unlikely that you will find a hiding place big enough for your whole group and therefore make sure that all the group are looking out for hiding places gives you the best option of all finding somewhere. The critical thing to remember when hiding is to turn your phone to silent and the vibrate mode off. Bear in mind that if anyone in your group has a phone that can be heard then the whole group may be compromised. This is another reason to leave phones behind. Finally, telling the authorities at the earliest opportunity is key to the situation being brought under control. All the group leaders must have a phone and pupils should know where to find it in case of incapacitation of the leader. The information that the police are likely to need to know is:
- Your Location
- The Location of the Attacker
- How many attackers there are
- Descriptions of any of the attackers: Age (go for a four year bracket), Build, Height, Colour, Distinguishing features, Gender etc.
While this information is extremely valuable to the authorities do not risk your life to get it. If you happen to have seen someone acting suspiciously, try to think of these questions and avoid the individual as much as possible.
10. General Protection
The best option to protect your pupils, not just on school trips but always, is to educate them in how to protect themselves. Self-defence courses are a critical element to this education, but it is an area where a little knowledge is dangerous, and a poorly constructed course can lead to more problems and danger than it solves. Read my article Implementing self-defence courses in your school.
Protecting your group may seem complicated but is really just down to a little pre-planning and a good helping of situational awareness.
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