Quick Thinking, Technology and Training Save the Day at Hillsdale High

The San Mateo, Calif., high school bombing ended peacefully thanks to three brave teachers, the school’s emergency plans, its frequent disaster drills and its recently installed door locks.

As this issue goes to print, details of the Aug. 24 pipe bombing of Hillsdale High School are coming to light.

Alex Youshock, a 17-year-old former student who was angry at some of the school’s teachers for giving him bad grades, is suspected of detonating two pipe bombs in an empty hallway and packing eight more in a tactical vest he was wearing. The suspect also had with him a long sword and a chain saw.

Police officials believe that he planned to kill as many people as he could with the pipe bombs he was carrying and then kill the survivors with his chain saw and sword.

If this plan had succeeded, we could have had a tragedy the likes of which we haven’t seen since Columbine or Virginia Tech.

Fortunately, Youshock’s alleged plan was foiled by three teachers – two who chased him and a third who tackled him. They held the suspect until police arrived a short time later. Miraculously, no one was injured during the ordeal.

According to news reports, prior to Youshock being apprehended by the teachers, he tried to enter some of the classrooms. His attempts were thwarted, however, because two years earlier, locks were installed on classroom doors so they could be locked from the inside of the classrooms.

As all of this was happening, the smoke from the two detonated pipe bombs in the hallway activated the school’s fire alarm system, which prompted the evacuation of Hillsdale’s approximately 1,270 students to a nearby middle school. This helped police secure and clear the school.

Hillsdale High School conducts regular emergency preparedness drills, which undoubtedly made the lockdown and evacuation process during this incident run smoothly.

The City of San Mateo Police Department credits school staff and the campus’ safety plans for the successful evacuation of students, as well as the safe and orderly release of children to their parents.

But Hillsdale High’s effective management of the situation didn’t stop there. It kept parents informed about the incident and evacuation by sending them automated telephone calls.

Soon after the incident, school officials posted updated information on the school’s Web site, telling parents in both English and Spanish about available counseling services, how students could retrieve their personal belongings from the campus and when classes would resume.

This incident appears to be a shining example of how appropriate emergency plans, training and technology – along with a lot of good fortune – can prevent tragedies and save student, faculty and staff lives. All campuses should take note.

Way to go Hillsdale High!

Robin Hattersley Gray is executive editor of Campus Safety. She can be reached at robin.gray@bobit.com or (310) 533-2534.

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