Media reports of terrorist groups discussing potential U.S. targets have rekindled discussions of terrorist attacks.   When attempting to predict the probability of attacks and identify potential targets, it helps to understand the terrorists’ thought processes and tactics.

Suleiman Abu Gheith, Al-Qaeda’s spokesman, said: “Al-Qaeda has the right to kill four million Americans, two million of them children.”   He also said, “Allah willing, the blow will come from where they least expect it…” ISIL (or ISIS) has beheaded children and carried out mass killings inside Iraqi schools.

Terrorists will murder children gain maximum notoriety for their attacks.  To that end, a school, especially an elementary school would be an obvious target.  As the tragedy at Sandy Hook illustrated, Young children’s’ deaths rightfully have a significant symbolic impact, or shock value, on the American Public.

Target Selection: Risk versus Reward

Homeland Security funding does not indicate schools a viable terrorist target but a simple assessment can help contrast and compare potential target’s “value”  or “reward” in the eyes of would be attackers against the risks.  The assessment compares traditional high-value terrorist targets (White House, Major Event (I.e. World Series) and an Aircraft) alongside an elementary school.

Placing an exact value on any target is subjective, but key factors are measured for each of our potential targets below.

The probability of success has been a vital aspect of Al Qaeda’s planning ( it is commonly accepted the failed World Trade Center bombing in 1993 was why the location was re-targeted in 2001).  In order to gauge the probability of success, it is necessary to determine the level of risk associated with a target.   The chart below compare factors designed to prevent and mitigate attacks, thereby increasing risk to the would be attacker.

Determining potential targets is incredibly complicated and tragically imperfect.  However, the chart below compares the values and risks associated with the hypothetical targets.

So are schools an “attractive” target for terrorist?  There is no way to definitively answer that question.  However, a simple risk/reward analysis certainly illustrates the topic is worthy of discussion.

Stay safe,


This post is provided by Brad Spicer, CEO of SafePlans (, an all-hazards preparedness solution including emergency plans, staff training, and detailed site mapping.

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