With Training, First Things First

Some school systems, hospitals and universities have sophisticated virtual tours of their facilities and have conducted exercises with S.W.A.T. teams practicing for extreme violence scenarios. Unfortunately, they are not as prepared for major crisis situations as other organizations that have expended far less time and money on emergency preparedness measures.

This problem usually stems from them focusing too much on remote scenarios rather than covering crucial core competencies. The scenario-driven approach to preparedness has proven to be extremely ineffective in many cases. This method emphasizes specific technical issues like how a tactical team member would react to a specific set of actions by a gunman rather than core emergency functions like incident command. Focusing on basic and critical functional capabilities maximizes the efficiency of preparedness efforts.

Too Much Information Can Lead to Chaos

Sophisticated support systems will not serve their full potential unless and until every building administrator and every member of the CEO’s cabinet have completed formal training in the National Incident Management System (NIMS).

The most robust tools available may simply provide fancy graphics to key personnel who may lack the skills to fully apply these tools because they are suffering from information overload during a major crisis. As one official with a district that had recently purchased a quarter-million-dollar emergency communications system commented recently, “We are now eminently prepared to communicate sheer chaos and panic in the event of any emergency.”

Unfortunately, there are hundreds of organizations that have participated in the type of exercises that look good to the media and to the untrained observer but often do little to help prepare the general staff as well as key decision makers to handle more common crisis situations. Although these exercises do a lot to help prepare police tactical personnel for extreme violence scenarios, they often don’t help the organization’s crisis teams as much as other types of exercises.

If rank and file employees are not ready to move, shelter in place, lock down and evacuate large numbers of people to off-campus sites, even the best police tactical team will experience significant challenges should they ever need to conduct a rescue operation. Individual campus employees should have plan components like flip charts that are specific to the functions of different types of employees such as custodians, administrators, teachers, nurses, part time faculty bus drivers and other personnel.

Prepare for Most Likely Scenarios First

Law enforcement officers naturally tend to focus on readiness for law enforcement situations and typically do so very well. While law enforcement is a valuable component to the all-hazards approach to safety and emergency preparedness, most safety issues and crisis situations are not crime related. This is the reason why it is sometimes counterproductive to conduct violence-based exercises until after personnel have practiced their responses to other more likely situations.Officials in one district realized this and placed their emphasis on emergency functions. The district focused on hazardous materials incidents because these types of scenarios are much more likely to occur than “active shooter” incidents. As a result, the staff members are now much better prepared to handle not only a serious hazmat situation but also a major act of violence or terrorism.

Be sure you are devoting time and resources effectively in your emergency preparedness efforts.  Focus on incidents that will most likely occur, and then with these incidents in mind, conduct full-scale exercises that are fully simulated with role players. An exercise should follow an 18-month process involving a series of school-based drills, tabletop exercises, and a complex functional exercise including building administrators, crisis team members and central office staff. Exercises like these will mean your campus will be better prepared, whether you’re dealing with a toxic spill three miles away or a terrorist attack on campus. Taking 20 minutes now to identify potential flaws that could cause chronic plan failure may be the best investment you make with your time today.

An internationally recognized authority on campus safety and the author of 19 books on the topic, Michael Dorn is the senior public safety and emergency management analyst for Jane’s Consultancy. Dorn, a member of the Campus Safety Advisory Council, works with a team of campus safety experts to make campuses safer around the globe through Jane’s offices in nine countries. He can be reached [email protected]

For the complete version of this article, please refer to the July/August 2006 issue of Campus Safety Magazine.

About the Author


Michael Dorn serves as the Executive Director of Safe Havens International, a global non profit campus safety center. During his 30 year campus safety career, Michael has served as a university police officer, corporal, sergeant and lieutenant. He served as a school system police chief for ten years before being appointed the lead expert for the nation's largest state government K-20 school safety center. The author of 25 books on school safety, his work has taken him to Central America, Mexico, Canada, Europe, Asia, South Africa and the Middle East. Michael welcomes comments, questions or requests for clarification at [email protected] Note: The views expressed by guest bloggers and contributors are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Campus Safety magazine.

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