Ohio School Shooting Provides Opportunity to Review Campus Crisis Plans
Here are some of the key points for school shootings and other major crisis events.
As I watch the breaking news this morning relating to a multiple victim school shooting at a high school in Chardon, Ohio, I realize that the news coverage with it’s inherent limitations to accuracy in a fast breaking situation like this one provides a number of key points for school officials around the nation to consider as they naturally ask themselves how well they would respond to a similar crisis should it occur in a school in their community. As the media accounts at this point are changing rapidly and the Sheriff’s Department has announced that there is much disinformation floating around at this point, I will focus on key aspects that would be relevant regardless of the accuracy of these reports.
None of the following comments are intended to imply that staff at the high school have made any mistakes in any of these areas. These are instead offered as key concepts that are relevant to past school shootings that have occurred at times when students are not on class and for multiple victim school shootings in general.
- If early reports turn out to be correct, the shooting took place early in the school day in the cafeteria. This highlights the need for school to practice key functional protocols like room clear, reverse evacuation, emergency lockdown and evacuation.
- This type of incident also demonstrates the need for proper supervision by staff in key areas in the morning, during passing times, lunch periods and at the end of the day.
- The training and empowerment of staff to make life and death decisions during the first thirty seconds of an incident are critical. In many schools, staff have been inadvertently conditioned to contact an administrator before they take action. The actions of the first staff members in the first critical seconds of an event are often the best chance to reduce mass casualty losses.
- Mental simulation of a wide range of types of crisis situations is important. An overemphasis on active shooter scenarios can reduce the ability of staff to function for any type of incident including active shooter situations. Research has demonstrated that having a broad base of knowledge can help staff and students make better decisions regardless of the type of crisis they face.
- School officials and local public safety responders should be prepared to make decisions, communicate with each other and effectively communicate with the public relatively quickly but accurately in the wake of a major school crisis event. Formal training or school staff in the National Incident Management System is critical.
- School and public safety officials should be well prepared to perform key functional protocols such as evacuation, emergency lockdown, off site family reunification and to initiate these actions very quickly. For example, the decision to begin off site family reunification should normally be made in the first five to ten minutes of the incident’s beginning.
- School and district plans, training, drills and exercises relating to off site family reunification, interaction with the media are critical as these are often very challenging functions for large scale incidents where parents may be in fear for the safety of their children.
In addition, these types of incident should cause all school officials to re-evaluate the prevention measures they have in place. Key preventive measures that have helped to prevent these types of incidents have included a wise combination of security technologies with current research – based concepts in the ability of staff to detect indications of danger. Some of these that have been relevant in past multiple victim school shootings include:
- Modern strategies for improving student supervision
- Training in visual weapons screening to help staff recognize the specific physical behaviors that can indicate that a person is carrying a gun
- Training in pattern matching and recognition to staff to better detect problematic situations
- Multi-disciplinary threat assessment teams
- Efforts to improve the connection between students and staff
- Informational efforts to educate students to report potentially dangerous statements and behaviors
- Dress codes that make it harder to conceal a firearm and easier to detect guns if they are carried by students
- Evidence based bullying prevention programs
- Effective access control approaches
- Effective utilization of security cameras, metal detectors and access control technologies
I have seen some of the above strategies work to prevent these types of incidents. Since our nation’s first multiple victim school shooting in Pennsylvania in the 1700s, this type of crisis has been deserving of our attention. Today’s tragedy reminds us once again that these types of incidents can occur in any school, in any community on any school day.
- 7 Signs a Weapons Is Being Concealed
- Columbine 10 Years Later: The State of School Safety Today
- Virginia Tech 1 Year Later: how Campuses Have Responded
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