Archive for Thursday, November 30, 2006

Anti-terrorism seminar an ‘eye-opener’ for Bagby

November 30, 2006

A conference on school terrorism has touched a nerve with Lansing schools superintendent Randal Bagby.

Bagby attended the seminar Nov. 21 in Topeka and came back with a mission of getting the Lansing community involved.

"It was an eye-opener. It spooked me," Bagby said. "There's a lot of stuff there, and I'm going to study it."

John Giduck, the seminar's keynote speaker, delivered a chilling account of the Beslan, Russia, school hostage crisis, which took place in September 2004.

More than 1,100 parents and students were taken hostage by terrorists on the first day of school. Some 300 people - many of them children - died during the three-day ordeal.

The tragedy demonstrated to the world that school violence transcends the scope of gun-wielding teens who want revenge on their classmates.

Giduck is author of the book "Terror at Beslan: A Russian Tragedy with Lessons for America's Schools" and a member of Archangel Group, a nonprofit organization that offers anti-terrorism consulting and training to U.S. military, law enforcement and governmental agencies.

He shared his account with more than 600 law enforcement and school officials, including Bagby, Lansing Police Chief Steve Wayman, police Lt. Anthony Waterman and City Administrator Mike Smith.

Giduck told the audience that U.S. schools could be the next target for a major terrorist attack and provided examples of their vulnerabilities, Bagby said.

While school resource officers and security cameras often are touted as must-have security measures, Bagby said, Giduck offered an alternative perspective.

Giduck argued those measures sometimes attract terrorist groups, especially those that thrive on publicity.

Waterman said the seminar opened his eyes as well.

He said schools should be cautious about the information they post on the Internet.

Terrorist groups spend a great deal of time researching potential targets online, and when schools offer too many details about facilities and personnel to the entire world, they put themselves in danger, he said.

"We're an open society. If we don't start thinking in the other direction, we could be in trouble," Waterman said.

Bagby said he didn't want to frighten parents and students, but history has shown that school violence could happen anywhere, and it's time to re-evaluate the safety of Lansing's schools.

Graphic videos during the seminar punctuated that point, Bagby said.

Typically, law enforcement's role is intervention, much like the situation in Russia, when Russian Special Forces entered the school to end the siege, Bagby said.

"The school's role has to be prevention," he said, adding that terrorist groups who plan for the long term have a much longer attention span than most Americans.

Many terrorism experts say the question is where, not if, an attack like the one in Beslan will take place in the United States.

The issue has been on his radar for some time.

Bagby said a "tabletop meeting" involving school administrators, the Lansing Police Department and city of Lansing officials on Nov. 16 examined the city and schools' preparedness during an attack on Lansing High School.

At a meeting last year the group looked at a tornado scenario.

Bagby said he would review the information from the meetings and approach the Lansing School Board, school administrators and city officials to confront the issues head-on.

"The good news in it all is I'm not going to do the typical American thing and be complacent. The plan is to study and to plan ahead and be prepared. I want to know everything there is to know about it before I go to work on it," Bagby said.

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