Public Intellligence – DHS Infrastructure Protection Report: Elementary and Secondary Schools

Public Intellligence – DHS Infrastructure Protection Report: Elementary and Secondary Schools


DHS Infrastructure Protection Report Series

  • 2 pages
  • For Official Use Only
  • September 15, 2011


Approximately fifty million students attend nearly 100,000 public elementary and secondary schools throughout the Nation. Elementary and secondary schools are relatively open-access, limited egress congregation points for children, and have been successfully targeted by terrorists in the past.

Potential Indicators of Terrorist Activity

Terrorists have a wide variety of weapons and tactics available to achieve their objectives. Specific threats of most concern to schools include:

  • Small arms attack
  • Improvised explosive devices (IEDs)
  • Vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs)
  • Arson or incendiary attack
  • Chemical or biological attack

Terrorist activity indicators are observable anomalies or incidents that may precede a terrorist attack. Indicators of an imminent attack requiring immediate action may include the following:

  • Persons in crowded areas (e.g., school auditorium, cafeteria, athletic facilities) wearing unusually bulky clothing that might conceal suicide explosives or weapons
  • Vehicles approaching the school at an unusually high speed or steering around barriers and traffic controls
  • Suspicious or illegally parked vehicles on or near school grounds
  • Unattended packages (e.g., backpack, briefcase, box) that may contain explosives. Packages may be left in open areas or may be hidden in trash receptacles, lockers, or similar containers.
  • Evidence of unauthorized access to heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) areas of a school; indications of unusual substances near air intakes
  • Suspicious packages and/or letters received by mail that might contain explosives or chemical/biological/ radiological agents.

Indicators of potential surveillance by terrorists include:

  • Persons using or carrying video/camera/observation equipment in or near the school over an extended period
  • Persons parking, standing, or loitering in the same area over a multiple-day period with no reasonable explanation
  • Persons questioning school employees off-site about practices pertaining to the school and its operations
  • Persons discovered with school maps, photos, or diagrams with key components or sensitive areas highlighted
  • Suspicious personal e-mail, telephone, fax, or postal mail requests for information about the school or its operations
  • A noted pattern of false alarms requiring a response by law enforcement or emergency services
  • Threats by telephone, mail, or e-mail and/or increase in reports of threats from known reliable sources

Common Vulnerabilities

The following are key common vulnerabilities of elementary and secondary schools:

  • Relatively open access to school grounds and buildings
  • Limited or no vehicle access controls
  • Large concentrations of students gathering in open areas outside school buildings on a regular and readily observable schedule
  • Proximity of schools and neighboring facilities, especially in urban areas
  • Limited or no inspection of students’ personal articles, particularly in lower-crime areas
  • Limited security on school buses

Protective Measures

Protective measures include equipment, personnel, and procedures designed to protect a facility against threats and to mitigate the effects of an attack. Protective measures for elementary and secondary schools include:

Planning and Preparedness

  • Designate an employee as security director to develop, implement, and coordinate all security-related activities
  • Conduct security audits on a regular and continuing basis. Develop a comprehensive security plan and emergency response plan for the school
  • Conduct regular exercises of emergency plans
  • Establish liaison and regular communication with local law enforcement and emergency responders


  • Conduct background checks on all school employees
  • Incorporate security into employee training programs
  • Provide security information and training to all students

Access Control

  • Define the facility perimeter and areas within the facility that require access control. Maintain building access points to the minimum needed
  • Issue photo identification badges to all school employees and students
  • Require visitors check in with the front office upon arrival and departure
  • Provide visitors with school issued identification badges when on school grounds.
  • Positively identify all vehicles and drivers that enter the school parking lots
  • Institute a policy restricting other vehicles from accessing the bus-loading zone
  • Secure ladders, awnings, and parapets that provide access to building roofs, HVAC systems, and other critical equipment


  • Install appropriate perimeter barriers and gates. Maintain clear area at perimeter barriers to enable continuous monitoring and to inhibit concealment of people or packages
  • Establish a clear zone adjacent to buildings. Keep zone free of vegetation and other obstructions
  • Install barriers to protect doors and windows from small arms fire and explosive blast effects

Communication and Notification

  • Install system(s) that provide communication with all people at the school, including employees, students, emergency response teams, and visitors
  • Develop a plan for communicating with parents during emergency situations
  • Develop a notification protocol that outlines who should be contacted in emergencies.
  • Develop a procedure for communicating with the public and the media regarding security issues

Monitoring, Surveillance, Inspection

  • Evaluate needs and design a monitoring, surveillance, and inspection program
  • Provide visual surveillance capability (e.g., designated surveillance points, cleared lines of sight)
  • Install intrusion detection and alarm systems
  • Deploy personnel assigned to security duty to regularly inspect sensitive or critical areas
  • Continuously monitor all people entering and leaving the facility for suspicious behavior
  • Continuously monitor all vehicles approaching the facility for signs of threatening behavior

Infrastructure Interdependencies

  • Ensure that the school has adequate utility service capacity to meet normal and emergency needs
  • Ensure that employees are familiar with how to shut off utility services
  • Provide adequate physical security for utility services

Cyber Security

  • Develop and implement a security plan for computer and information systems hardware and software
  • Maintain a well-trained computer security staff
  • Incident Response
  • Ensure that an adequate number of emergency response personnel are on duty and/or on call
  • Provide training and equipment to emergency response personnel to enable them to deal with terrorist-related incidents
  • Check the status of all emergency response equipment and supplies on a regular basis
  • Develop a plan for discharging students following incident resolution

Public Intelligence – National Counterterrorism Center Says IED Precursors Widely Available in U.S.

Public Intelligence – National Counterterrorism Center Says IED Precursors Widely Available in U.S.

A video posted on YouTube shows 4 pounds of tannerite and 3 gallons of gasoline being detonated inside of a refrigerator. A March 2013 bulletin from the FBI warned that materials like tannerite, used for exploding targets, and other commercial products could provide alternative sources of ammonium nitrate and precursor material used to manufacture improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

Public Intelligence

The National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) warned in November of last year that precursor components needed to produce improvised explosive devices (IEDs) are “widely and legally available in sufficient quantities through a variety of sources” in the U.S. and are difficult to regulate due to their legitimate uses.

Last fall the NCTC conducted a “facilitated brainstorming session” on domestic terrorism in order to identify “the most common misconceptions about conventional Homeland plotting” based on “inquiries received from Federal, state, local, tribal, and private-sector consumers and from articles published by outside experts and in the media.” NCTC analysts determined the six most common misconceptions and compared these against current analytical trends. In a bulletin detailing the NCTC’s findings, one of the most common misconceptions listed is the belief that precursors needed to manufacture improvised explosives are “difficult to legally acquire in the US without raising suspicion.” The bulletin adds that public “reporting and unclassified government assessments that highlight regulations and law enforcement ‘tripwires’ designed to prevent the acquisition of explosives precursor material give an incomplete depiction of the availability of explosive material.” In fact, the bulletin states that many of the “precursors used to construct IEDs are widely and legally available in sufficient quantities through a variety of sources because their legitimate uses hinder regulation, allowing extremists to obtain suitable amounts without attracting attention.”

Following the Oklahoma City bombing in April 1995, the U.S. government created a program to monitor the potential use of ammonium nitrate-based fertilizers in explosive devices. Since then, these law enforcement “tripwire” programs have been extended to other chemicals that could potentially be used in in the construction of explosive devices, such as hydrogen peroxide. An FBI bulletin from March says that “at least 18 incidents related to attempts to directly purchase ammonium nitrate” have been detected since 2008 because of the ammonium nitrate tripwire program, though none were found to found to be connected with terrorism. The same bulletin warns that monitoring of ammonium nitrate purchases has caused criminals and extremists to adapt, seeking “alternative commercial products containing ammonium nitrate.” Other commercially available products providing a potential source of ammonium nitrate include first-aid cold packs and exploding targets. The bulletin warns that the “FBI assesses with medium confidence criminals and extremists may actively be attempting to acquire [exploding targets] to obtain the ammonium nitrate for use in the manufacture of improvised explosives based on FBI investigations of individuals interested in manufacturing explosives.”

Other materials of concern to law enforcement include chemicals used in swimming pools and water filtration systems, beauty supply products such as hydrogen peroxide and acetone, and industrial cleaning supplies like sulfuric acid. In October 2011, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security sent out a bulletin to police stating that “public and state and local official awareness, as well as tightened legal controls, have made it more difficult to purchase certain products that contain explosive precursors in bulk quantities or concentrated forms.” This regulation has made terrorists “more likely to use surreptitious, though legal, methods—such as multiple purchases in smaller quantities—to acquire sufficient amounts to create explosives.”

Public Intelligence – DoD Issues Instructions on Military Support of Civilian Law Enforcement

Public Intelligence – DoD Issues Instructions on Military Support of Civilian Law Enforcement


Soldiers from the 3rd Battalion, 321st Field Artillery Regiment, XVIII Fires Brigade train last December to “respond to an escalating civil-disturbance situation caused by unhappy simulated hurricane victims.” According to an article produced by the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, the training was designed to prepare the soldiers “for their upcoming assignment as a quick reaction and rapid response force for U.S. Army North Command in support of emergencies in the United States.”

Public Intelligence

The Department of Defense has issued an instruction clarifying the rules for the involvement of military forces in civilian law enforcement. The instruction establishes “DoD policy, assigns responsibilities, and provides procedures for DoD support to Federal, State, tribal, and local civilian law enforcement agencies, including responses to civil disturbances within the United States.”

The new instruction titled “Defense Support of Civilian Law Enforcement Agencies” was released at the end of February, replacing several older directives on military assistance to civilian law enforcement and civil disturbances. The instruction requires that senior DoD officials develop “procedures and issue appropriate direction as necessary for defense support of civilian law enforcement agencies in coordination with the General Counsel of the Department of Defense, and in consultation with the Attorney General of the United States”, including “tasking the DoD Components to plan for and to commit DoD resources in response to requests from civil authorities for [civil disturbance operations].” Military officials are to coordinate with “civilian law enforcement agencies on policies to further DoD cooperation with civilian law enforcement agencies” and the heads of the combatant commands are instructed to issue procedures for “establishing local contact points in subordinate commands for purposes of coordination with Federal, State, tribal, and local civilian law enforcement officials.”

In addition to defining responsibilities for military coordination with local law enforcement, the instruction describes circumstances in which direct participation in civilian law enforcement is permissible. Under the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, U.S military personnel are generally prohibited from assisting in civilian law enforcement functions such as search and seizure, interdiction of vehicles, arrest and interrogation, surveillance or using force except for in self-defense. Though the Posse Comitatus Act originally referred only to the Army, it was extended in 1956 to include the Air Force. Subsequent DoD regulations prevent the use of the Marine Corps or Navy for civilian law enforcement functions. In 1981, this principle was further codified in 10 USC § 375 which directs the Secretary of Defense to ensure that military activities do “not include or permit direct participation by a member of the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marine Corps in a search, seizure, arrest, or other similar activity unless participation in such activity by such member is otherwise authorized by law.”

Though the Posse Comitatus Act is the primary restriction on direct DoD involvement in law enforcement functions, it does not prevent military personnel from participating in circumstances “authorized by the Constitution or Act of Congress.” This includes circumstances involving “insurrection, domestic violence, or conspiracy that hinders the execution of State or Federal law” as well as actions “taken under express statutory authority.” The DoD’s instruction includes a list of more than a dozen “laws that permit direct DoD participation in civilian law enforcement” including many obscure statutes that are more than a hundred years old. For example, a law passed in 1882 and codified under 16 USC § 593 allows for the President to use land and naval forces to “prevent the felling, cutting down, or other destruction of the timber of the United States in Florida.” Likewise, the Guano Islands Act of 1856 enables the President to use land and naval forces to protect the rights of a discoverer of an island covered by the Act.

Military commanders also have “emergency authority” to use military forces in civilian law enforcement functions “in extraordinary emergency circumstances where prior authorization by the President is impossible and duly constituted local authorities are unable to control the situation, to engage temporarily in activities that are necessary to quell large-scale, unexpected civil disturbances”. This authority is limited to actions “necessary to prevent significant loss of life or wanton destruction of property and are necessary to restore governmental function and public order” and “provide adequate protection for Federal property or Federal governmental functions.” In fact, an enclosure to the DoD instruction describing requirements for support of civil disturbance operations states that military commanders “shall not take charge of any function of civil government unless absolutely necessary under conditions of extreme emergency.” According to the instruction, any “commander who is directed, or undertakes, to control such functions shall strictly limit DoD actions to emergency needs and shall facilitate the reestablishment of civil responsibility at the earliest time possible.”