Tabletop Exercise 7: Armed Robber Barricaded in Home Adjacent to School
A heavily armed robbery suspect barricaded himself in a home next to a school while much of the student body was outside for recess.
With the distribution of the coronavirus vaccine underway, there is a sense of hope among many that K-12 schools can return to some sense of normalcy by the start of the 2021-2022 school year — including refocusing on all aspects of campus safety and not only those related to the coronavirus pandemic.
While most K-12 schools and colleges have emergency plans in place, the current pandemic has significantly impeded the ability to practice responses to various emergencies such as severe weather or ill-intentioned intruders. Conducting tabletop exercises is an excellent way to test a campus’ plans for these types of emergencies.
During these exercises, relevant stakeholders should be brought to the table and presented with real-life scenarios. Each stakeholder should share how they would handle the scenario and a subsequent debriefing should be held to address strengths and weaknesses within emergency plans.
Guy Bliesner, an analyst for the Idaho Office of School Safety and Security (IOSSS), has provided us with incidents that happened at Idaho schools in the last five years and how those particular schools responded.
Each scenario provides details of the event, along with the real outcome and findings from an after-action report. They are designed to be completed in 10-15 minutes as part of an administrative meeting.
Here are the links to the previous scenarios:
- Tabletop Exercise 1: Student Hasn’t Returned Home from School. What Would You Do?
- Tabletop Exercise 2: Worsening Odor Leads to Student Asthma Attack
- Tabletop Exercise 3: Loud Voices, Smell of Alcohol Coming from Main Office
- Tabletop Exercise 4: Minivan with 4 Students Rear-ends School Bus
- Tabletop Exercise 5: School Loses Power as Temperature Drops
- Tabletop Exercise 6: Chemistry Teacher Drops Beaker Containing Mercury
The next scenario is detailed below.
- Season: Spring
- Day: Tuesday
- Time: 12:06 PM
- Weather: Clear and sunny
- Temperature: 71 degrees
- School type: Elementary (K-5)
- Event: A large portion of your student body is outside on the school grounds following lunch. You receive a phone call from local law enforcement that the suspect from an armed robbery has barricaded themselves in a house immediately adjacent to the west of your campus. Most of your playground is on the west side of your school. You are informed that the suspect is considered heavily armed. What next steps should be taken?
How the School Handled the Situation
During the initial call, the principal requested a police officer be sent to the school. The dispatcher informed him that a school resource officer (SRO) from the nearby high school was already on the way. The principal then used the end of recess bell and school P.A. system to notify staff and students to go back into the school.
There was not a standard operating procedure (SOP) for this process. It takes nearly 9 minutes for all the students to clear the playground and return to the building. Once students are inside the school, the principal institutes a lockdown with students and staff moving to the nearest available securable space. The process for accounting for all students and staff in the school is ineffective at this time due to the confusion.
The SRO arrives at the school and suggests moving students and staff away from the west side of the building and using the school structure as a shield. However, with the lockdown already in progress, the staff will not respond to a P.A. announcement. As a result, the principal, secretary, counselor, custodian and SRO move through the school with keys, opening locked doors and instructing students and staff to move to the multi-purpose room on the east side of the building. This process takes approximately 35 minutes.
While this is in progress, parents notified by text messages from their children begin to arrive at the school and demand access. Using his police radio, the SRO requests law enforcement assistance to control the growing crowd.
In the meantime, once in the multi-purpose room, the students are returned to their assigned teacher for positive accounting. Nine students and one staff member are determined to be missing. The custodian subsequently begins a sweep through the building to look for the missing staff member and students. Twenty-two minutes later, they are found having locked themselves inside a janitorial storage space.
The principal went to the main entrance and spoke to the growing number of concerned parents indicating that once all students and staff were accounted for, parents would be allowed entry into the school. The inference that not all students were accounted for further increased the level of concern among the growing crowd of parents.
Local media began to arrive during this period. By 1:25 PM, parents are allowed to enter and most choose to remove their student from school for the day. The student check-out/parent reunification process for an event of this size is not well defined and has not been exercised. Staff confusion slows the process, causing further parental distress. The resulting public relations issues also consume several days.
After-Action Review Findings
An after-action review (AAR) of a response should always be completed following an incident. See Part 1 for questions that IOSSS says should be used to review a response.
The AAR in this case determined the action taken did provide for student safety but was not an effective response to the incident and unnecessarily increased the level of parental concern. Here were some additional findings/changes made:
- The slow movement of students into the school indicated a need for the development of an SOP and training for a “reverse evacuation” procedure to move students from the campus grounds into the school building during an emergency.
- The use of the lockdown complicated the student accounting and prohibited the effective movement of students once inside the building. Use of the intermediate security protocol would have allowed for the needed adjustment in student location.
- A review of district training on the appropriate use of the lockdown protocol is instituted.
- The need for an onsite public information officer (PIO) to address communications requirements with parents and the media is determined. One has since been appointed and trained.
- A mass text communications process for the timely dissemination of information to parents was developed.
- A well-defined SOP for parent/student reunification process was developed and training and exercise for all district staff was implemented.
Check back with us on Jan. 18 for the next scenario when a teacher faints and is found unresponsive.