Back to School Safety: Preparing for Targeted Violence


Dr. David Mussington, CISA Executive Assistant Director for Infrastructure Security

As 56 million primary and secondary school students head back to the classroom, the safety and security of our Nation’s children – and the dedicated educators and staff that support them – is top of mind for communities across the country. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), along with our partners throughout government, is particularly committed to preparing for potential acts of targeted violence on school campuses this year.

Reports from our agency partners indicate school communities face a heightened risk of targeted violence as they resume in-person operations and students return to campus this fall. This new threat environment is the result of an increased exposure among our Nation’s youth to risk factors throughout the COVID-19 pandemic that may increase students’ susceptibility to radicalization to violence. As we look towards supporting our kindergarten through grade 12 (K-12) schools in creating and maintaining safe and secure learning environments, our efforts include developing and providing resources and tools to protect against targeted violence, and to help educate school communities on how to respond if an attack were to occur.

One way to prepare for potential acts of targeted violence is to incorporate real-world scenarios or tabletop exercises into school safety training. During tabletop exercises, participants discuss emergency policies and procedures, and their roles and responsibilities before, during, and after an emergency scenario. This helps improve performance during an actual incident.

Exercise Starter Kits (ESKs) are self-conducted tabletop exercises tailored for the academic community. Each kit includes a set of scalable tools aimed to test existing emergency plans, protocols, and procedures, while also strengthening preparedness, response, and recovery capabilities. Each ESK offers customizable templates, including a situational manual to provide background information and scenario content for the tabletop exercise, a facilitator guide for assisting facilitators in delivering the tabletop exercise, and an after-action report template for summarizing key strengths and areas for improvement following the tabletop exercise.

ESKs specific to the K-12 community focus on active shooter incidents, and are tailored for educational levels including elementary schools, middle/junior high schools, and high schools. Additional ESKs on improvised explosive devices and hazardous material release scenarios are also available to help school communities plan for a range of targeted violence situations. ESKs are available at no charge, and K-12 Active Shooter Kits can be requested online here.

CISA will continue to make targeted violence prevention and education for school communities a top priority this academic year. For additional information on preventing targeted violence and other school safety issues, visit SchoolSafety.gov and follow @SchoolSafety and @CISAgov on Twitter.