Tabletop Exercise: Student on School Roof Threatens Suicide

A substitute teacher informs an administrator that one of her students climbed onto the roof and is threatening to jump if anyone attempts to make contact. What should they do?

Tabletop Exercise: Student on School Roof Threatens Suicide

Mental health continues to be a major concern among campus protection professionals. Nearly 60% of college students have received mental health care during their K-12 years, according to a recent study. Additionally, suicide threats were the second most common tip reported to Michigan’s OK2Say anonymous tip line in 2022.

In fact, since 2013, suicide threats have been the top concern flagged each year by Safe2Tell Colorado, an anonymous tip line service. During the 2012-13 school year, there were 421 tips related to suicide and self-harm. In the 2018-19 school year, that number jumped to 3,668.

While much of emergency planning for schools focuses on active threats, these concerning and overwhelming statistics are proof that mental health and student supports need to be at the top of the list for making schools safer.

An effective way to test a campus’ readiness to respond to mental health concerns is through scenario-based training exercises, often referred to as tabletop exercises. These exercises bring together a wide variety of stakeholders to test a school or campus’ emergency response to a wide variety of incidents.

In the real-life tabletop scenario discussed below, which involves a student who threatened to jump off a roof, you’ll see that many campus employees played a role in the response, emphasizing the need to involve an array of employees in these exercises.

This scenario, provided by Guy Bliesner, an analyst for the Idaho Office of School Safety and Security (IOSSS), sets the scene for the day and describes the event in detail, along with the actual outcome of the scenario and findings from an after-action review.

But first, here are links to other scenarios to test with your team:

Scenario #11

  • Season: Late spring
  • Day: Wednesday
  • Time: 10:37 A.M.
  • Weather: Sunny
  • Temperature: 47 degrees
  • School type: High school
  • Event: The school office is notified by a student runner that a substitute teacher needs help with a belligerent student. The substitute teacher is on her first day and the student has a known and documented history of defiance. An administrator responds to the 3rd-floor classroom to assist and finds the class and substitute teacher in the hallway. The substitute teacher says that the student found an unlocked window and climbed out onto a parapet overlooking the football field and is threatening to jump if anyone attempts to make contact. What steps should be taken?

How the School Handled the Situation

The administrator contacted local law enforcement through the school resource officer (SRO). The entire facility was placed into a “Hall Check” response to curtail normal student movement, confining students to their respective classrooms. Since the suicidal student was directly above one of the primary evacuation routes and in full view of the primary assembly area, the school could not be effectively evacuated. Students in the affected wings of the building on all three floors were moved to unaffected parts of the building out of view of the incident and the response.

The SRO and an assistant principal started an initial dialog with the student in an attempt to build rapport while the rest of the students were being moved. City Crisis Negotiators arrived approximately 30 minutes later and were able to support the SRO and the assistant principal in their efforts.

The standoff persisted for nearly two hours, resulting in large disruptions to school operations, including mid-day bussing, lunch service, and class changes. It also garnered a significant level of media interest.

Law enforcement worked in conjunction with a district spokesperson to give clear information and control rumors. Student social media content generation was significant and uncontrollable, creating a significant barrier to getting clear information to the parents and community.

Eventually, the SRO, assistant principal and the Crisis Negotiation team were able to convince the student to come back into the school and receive a medical and mental health evaluation.

After-Action Review Findings

An after-action review (AAR) of a campus’ response should always be completed following an incident. See Part 1 for questions that IOSSS says should be used to review a response.

Overall, the AAR determined the school emergency team was faced with a dynamic and unusual situation and handled the incident appropriately and in a manner that protected student safety.

As with any incident, the AAR revealed several areas of potential improvement or planning gaps:

  • High levels of disinformation from student social media accounts effectively buried the traditional media outlets and bypassed the standard informational gatekeepers and fact-checkers.
  • Alternative evacuation plans and assembly points were developed to allow for an evacuation when a primary route is compromised.
  • Meal service, medication delivery and behavioral supports for students developed alternative plans for service delivery during an extended Hall Check or Lockdown.
  • Transportation coordination became a designated role within the district response plan as a result of the continual close management needed for bus cancellation, routing and rerouting.

If you or someone you know might be at risk of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text TALK to 741741 or visit for additional information. 

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About the Author


Amy is Campus Safety’s Executive Editor. Prior to joining the editorial team in 2017, she worked in both events and digital marketing.

Amy has many close relatives and friends who are teachers, motivating her to learn and share as much as she can about campus security. She has a minor in education and has worked with children in several capacities, further deepening her passion for keeping students safe.

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One response to “Tabletop Exercise: Student on School Roof Threatens Suicide”

  1. randy says:

    What a perfect scenario. Let’s make it more realistic where the student refuses any to comply. What options does administration have at this point? Will they or the SRO physically stop the student from self-harm? Why was local Fire and Rescue not notified of the incident? Was FR not notified for PR reasons? Was an ambulance dispatched to the area? This type of incident has actually occurred at a high schools and did not end the same beautiful hands clapping way.
    What are the next steps for administration, were teachers instructed to remove students from viewing areas/classrooms? Were students instructed or prevented from filming and sharing the event inciting further harm to the victim or family of the (repeat attempt, see attached) victim? The US education system needs to be realistic in its training scenarios and not afraid to discuss real world strategies and outcomes.

    Change the ending to administration physically restrained student from committing suicide and now faces legal litigation from students’ family. Discuss with legal representative from school on laws allowing administration to physically do so and the legal representation or lack of in the court system.

    Change ending to SRO employs taser or physical take down to restrain and save students life, and is facing excessive force litigation by student and family. Discuss with school and law enforcement legal teams.

    All too often do educational training events become a check the box we are complete (in reality ineffective) and we have met the minimum criteria for our yearly training event. See articles on real world events that plausibly could have ended less tragically if and adult were able to feel comfortable physically restraining a juvenile under local parentis or state codes/laws. I dent beleived and of the articles below would likley have had 30 minutes to spare for a mobile crisis team to arrive.

    Let us be real and get realistic training results to real world events. Better training equals better response and outcome, chang my mind.

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