Terrorism Threats: When Should Your School Cancel Classes?

At Campus Safety Conference West this summer, Steve Zipperman of the Los Angeles School Police Department will discuss the decision-making process behind LAUSD’s district-wide shut-down last year.

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As the nation’s schools devise plans for responding effectively to critical incidents on campus, the spotlight is now on how school districts are managing crises, emergencies, disasters, terrorism threats and active shooters. In many cases, these districts are looking to the schools that have “been there” for examples of what to do (or, what not to do) when these and other incidents occur.

Steve Zipperman, chief of police for the Los Angeles School Police Department will share his experiences and expertise with attendees at Campus Safety Conference West, which will take place in Long Beach, Calif., August 9-10. Zipperman will discuss Critical Decision Making During Significant Safety Threats: Debrief of a District-wide School Day Shut-down.

In this Q and A, Zipperman discusses his district’s 2015 shutdown, the value of having solid relationships with federal agencies and law enforcement, and some of the key steps that districts need to take in the event of a safety threat on campus. 

Campus Safety: What prompted you to present this topic at the conference?

Zipperman:  We had a district shutdown last December. It was the result of things that are occurring probably daily in many school districts, as well as with security departments and school police departments or municipal agencies that are responsible for the SRO responsibilities of schools. In our case, a cyberthreat came in about nine days after the San Bernardino tragedy. A lot of folks – certainly here regionally – were still thinking about that, and realizing that domestic terrorism is still alive and well and that it’s gotten even closer to home.

Campus Safety:  Are districts doing a good job when it comes to identifying and addressing safety threats on campus?

Zipperman:  Certainly every school district security department, police department or school police department has programs and mechanisms in place to monitor social media. They hopefully would have a team that is available to take a look at certain threats that come in, whether they’re bomb threats, threats involving a possible shooting or other types of threats that would compromise school safety. That team has to be able to quickly analyze and vet the threat.

Campus Safety:  What other steps did you take before and during the shutdown?

Zipperman:  One of the most important components is ensuring that the smaller agencies or districts have a relationship with those components of either the Joint Terrorism Task Force or other regional federal agencies or state agencies that can assist them in analyzing the threats. This, in turn, enables quick decisions on what is in the best interest of the safety of the students and the staff as it pertains to the school day moving forward. For us, we looked at the threat, analyzed it and worked with our federal partners to ensure the safety of the students and staff before the school day started. Because we operate such a large district, we knew we had to do an initial scanning of our campuses to identify anything unusual. There was a lot of decision making as to what impact this shutdown would have, but at the same time its important that districts and agencies take proactive measures like this.

Campus Safety: What do you hope attendees will take away from your session?

Zipperman: All school districts have to be concerned with issues like communication with parents and letting them know when a safety issue arises. Then, we have to balance that with not disrupting the operational aspect and educational endeavors of the school. Ultimately, it’s important and incumbent upon the district administrators, the security departments, the school police departments and the municipal departments to ensure that they’re on the same page when this type of situation arises.

The third annual Campus Safety Conferences are education and training events for anyone who has a stake in ensuring the public safety and security of our nation’s schools, universities and colleges. Taking place in Washington, D.C., July 25-26 and Long Beach, Calif., Aug. 9-10, the conferences provide full-day training workshops, a campus police chief and a K-12 safety panel, dozens of conference sessions and more than 35 companies showcasing their products, services and technologies.

To register for the Campus Safety Conferences, visit CampusSafetyConference.com. Steve Zipperman will be speaking at CSC West, K-12 Track, on August 9 and 10.

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