Recently my children’s school district had a bit of an active shooter scare. It turned out to be a false alarm, but all district schools went into lockdown.
In my opinion, the district did a good job handling the situation – with one notable exception. Before the event, parents were not notified about the district’s emergency response procedures, so many parents panicked and there was a degree of chaos and confusion (not inside the school) about pickup and other logistics. While the administrators, teachers, and students knew what to do in a lockdown, the parents didn’t know what was going on or how to respond. A few days later the administration sent an email to parents detailing the school’s emergency response procedure.
Pasted below is a (edited for security reasons) version of the email sent to parents after the event. This is not intended to be used as a template for any organization, particularly since portions of the email have been cut and other portions have been edited. It is intended to be an example of how to inform parents about your school’s plan.
If your school hasn’t notified parents about the emergency response procedure, do it now! Don’t wait until after an event to let parents know what’s going on.
Emergency Response Procedures
In light of last week’s events, please see detailed information below regarding our emergency response procedures.
Also, if you did not receive the text notification last week regarding the Lockdown, please make sure you are signed up for the Remind app, and that your information is updated by logging in to your account to confirm current information. All personal information is kept private. Teachers will never see your ….
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Emergency Response Procedures
How will my child’s school handle an emergency situation?
All ….. facilities have an emergency preparedness plan. The response to each situation will differ based on the specifics of that situation. The flexibility of the plan is key to the success of the response. In general ….. kits that contain key information and supplies; designation of a primary and secondary relocation/ evacuation site; provisions for training personnel and updating the plan; checklists and student information for dealing with specific types of incidents; and resources……
What is lockdown?
An emergency may prevent the safe evacuation of a school building and require steps to isolate students and faculty from …. interior lockdown situation, all students are kept in classrooms or other designated locations that are away from the danger. Faculty members are responsible for accounting for students and ensuring that no one leaves the safe area. School personnel……
In the event of an emergency situation, will the school go into lockdown?
The specific actions taken by us in any emergency situation, will depend on the specifics of the situation. Any action taken would depend on several factors, including the level of threat and the advice of local…..
A. The Principal or designee announces the Lockdown Level.
B. Law enforcement and the regional superintendent are alerted.
Level 1: Threat is exterior to school. Criminal activity in area of school.
Level 2: Threat is inside school (or potentially could be)
Lock exterior door….
Level 3: Threat is (or potentially could be) inside school….
What is primary or secondary evacuation site?
Primary or secondary evacuation sites are short-term solutions to a short-term problem. If an accident or attack that created an unsafe environment for students and personnel to remain at …. method for ensuring the safety of students and staff members in this type of crisis.
Can I pick up my child?
Parents are allowed to pick up their children unless public safety officials have declared a shelter-in-place response, or there is some other reason why access to the facility …… in emergency situations. Remember, school may be the safest place for children.
Why are you keeping children from their parents?
The administration does not intend to keep children from their parents if a crisis occurs during school hours or school activities. It is the schools intent to make sure that children are safe inside the school until such a time that the threat …. emergency messaging system.
Who can pick up my children?
Children will not be released to individuals who are not authorized ….. school year. Friends and neighbors may sign a child or children out with written permission from a parent or parents. Both (or all) parents have to give permission in writing for the sign out ….. notes and sign out lists. Schools will also ask for identification when the child is released to one(s) mentioned in the permission note.
Can I contact my child?
Parents are asked not to call in emergency situations so phone lines can remain accessible for handling the specific situation. Parents will be kept informed…..
What if my child is riding a school bus at the time of a crisis?
School bus drivers will be in contact with the Department of Transportation for instructions in the event that a crisis occurs while students are in transport. Bus drivers will be informed to use common sense and not travel toward the crisis location. Parents will be informed…..
A security operations console is a key part of security management in any given organization. In a perfect world, an organization’s security operations console would:
- be housed in an interior room
- have access control on the door
- have camera coverage of the door
- have integration of systems (e.g., cameras, access control, gates) inside the room
- have video analytics
- have dynamic presentation of alarms
- be manned by security personnel
- have the ability to remotely control gates, doors, etc.
- have the ability to relay information to responding agencies
- put the campus/building on lockdown
- initiate mass notification
Because a proper security operations console could be a large undertaking for an organization that doesn’t already have most (or some) of the above points in place, decision makers sometimes shy away from deciding to install one. With that said, new technology means that a physical room with equipment and personnel isn’t strictly necessary anymore.
With a cellphone and a web-based login, it’s possible these days to hit most of the salient points of a security operations console without the physical location of one. Systems integration, video analytics, dynamic presentation of alarms, remote control of gates and other entrances, contact with responding agencies, and initiation of lockdown and mass notification can all be achieved with a mobile operations center.
Don’t let the price tag overwhelm you when it comes to a security operations console. There are multiple options on the market for all types of organizations and their needs.
If you’ve been around this blog for any length of time, by now you know that we at Invictus Consulting advocate for everyone to have an emergency action plan. An emergency action plan tells your people what to do in the event of various types of emergencies (e.g., active shooter, tornado, workplace violence); an emergency action plan will tell your people what type of emergency is occurring, where to go, how to conduct themselves, their role as relates to other people (e.g., teacher’s role in terms of their students), evacuation procedures and routes, and other critical information. The other critical aspect of an emergency action plan is drilling that plan with your people.
Today we want to talk about making your emergency action plan mobile. There are a few apps on the marketplace that allow an organization to put their emergency action plan and accompanying documents in an easy accessible and mobile place. Let’s face it – our people (whether it’s our teachers, employees, executives, students, third-party contractors) have their mobile devices within arms reach at all times. What better place to have your emergency action documents than on people’s phones?
When looking at the options on the market, think about the following:
- Is the information on the app secure?
- Can documents be uploaded easily when parts of the plan change?
- Can the app handle images such as floor plans, evacuation routes, and other maps?
- Can the app be used offline so that people can view emergency documents even if there is no internet available?
- Is the app user friendly so that your people can easily use the app during an emergency?
You can find apps on your choice of app store by querying “crisis manager,” “emergency management,” “incident management,” “crisis plan,” or “mobile emergency response plan”. At this point in time there are only a handful of options on the market, but we are hopeful that over time more companies will put products on the market to give users increased options. If you are an app developer, consider creating an app based on the bullet points above.
Mass notification is a critical part of emergency planning. Without a way to alert your employees or students about an emergency, you have no way to manage your most valuable assets – your people. Imagine a scenario where an active shooter is in the main lobby of your multi-story building. You have no formal mass notification system, so someone pulls the fire alarm in an attempt to alert people to the shooter. Because people have been trained to exit the building when they hear a fire alarm, most of your employees dutifully shuffle down the stairs to make their way out the main entrance. In other words, they head straight to the location of the shooter. Proper mass notification in this situation would have altered your employees to the nature of the threat, it would have initiated a lockdown procedure, and it would have kept other employees from coming into the office at that time.
When considering installing and implementing a mass notification systems, decision-makers should consider the following points:
- Will it include the ability to send text messages to users?
- Will there be ways to alert users who do not have their cell phones on hand (e.g., scrolling marquees, email, audible sounders)?
- Is the system easy to maintain? Will the vendor/installer work with you if problems arise?
- Will it be easy to add new users as necessary?
- Will the system be user-friendly?
- Can the system be integrated in to your security management system?
- Will the system be easy for administrators/executives to use during an emergency?
- What are the upfront costs? What are the monthly costs?
- Do you want the system to have bi-directional communication (e.g., ability for users to give feedback or respond to certain alerts)?
- Do you want maps to be part of the system, where users can view a map of where the emergency is occurring?
- Do you want to be able to send alerts to various audiences (e.g., employees only, certain office locations only, executives only, etc.) rather than all users?
- Will the system support your organization’s emergency action plan?
There are many mass notification systems on the market, and there are many features that can be included in whatever system you choose. Mass notification is such a critical facet of emergency preparedness – it is important that your organization have some way to alert your people of an emergency or threat. Make sure you get the right system for your organization’s needs, size, types of users, location, and culture.
Classroom barricade devices are gadgets that can be put on the inside of a classroom door during an active shooter event in order to quickly and easily barricade the door.
Here at Invictus Consulting we frequently talk about Avoid Deny Defend as the best way to deal with an active shooter. Barricades play a part in the Deny part of the process, whereby you deny the shooter access to your location. In other words, once you’ve found a place to hide, do everything you can so that he can’t get into the room or space where you’re hiding. We usually teach people to use traditional barricade measures such as desks, chairs, bookcases, and other heavy objects. The reason we don’t typically teach people to use barricade devices is that there are many devices on the market and you never know if the room has a device, let alone which particular device it has. Moreover, the best barricade devices should be designed so that use does not need special knowledge or training to use the device.
In fact, there has been some debate recently about the advantages versus the disadvantages of the barricade devices that are flooding the market these days. It appears that many of the gadgets on the market do not comply with state safety codes. While different states adhere to different safety codes, in general it is important that an egress point:
- can be unlocked with only one operation (in other words, if the barricade device requires two or more operations to be released, it doesn’t meet code)
- can be unlocked without a key or tool (in other words, if the device requires a ket, tool, or secondary device to release the latch, it doesn’t meet code)
- can be unlocked without any special knowledge or training (in other words, if the device requires detailed training before a user can work the device, it doesn’t meet code)
- can be unlocked without special effort (in other words, if the device requires more than moderate strength or effort, it doesn’t meet code)
- can be unlocked from outside the door so that responding agencies can get into the room (in other words, if they device can only be released from inside the room, it doesn’t meet code)
Again, different states have different codes, but it’s important that the people tasked with school safety (e.g., administrators, teachers, security guards) are aware of both the pros and cons associated with classroom barricade devices.
Code compliance isn’t just about complying with local codes – safety codes are put in place because experts have weighed the pros, cons, evidence, usability, and various other factors of a policy, procedure, device, or whatever it is that is codified. Safety codes improve safety – that is their purpose. So if your school is thinking about purchasing classroom barricade devices, make sure you look at your local codes and use devices that meet the code.
The recent horrifying school shooting at North Park Elementary School in San Bernardino, CA is heartbreaking. Innocent children caught between the crosshairs of violence is a parent’s nightmare.
Preliminary details indicate that this was a domestic violence issue that spilled over into the workplace – the perpetrator was having a domestic dispute with his wife and went to her place of work with the intent to do violence to her. Because the school staff were familiar with the perpetrator (he was the husband of an employee), he was let into the school. Panicked parents raced to the school after hearing about the incident and many indicated that their children were too young to have cell phones, causing more panic and distress amongst parents.
As always, here at Invictus Consulting we are not going to Monday morning quarterback this situation – in other words, we are not going to criticize or assess how the school handled the affair.
We do want to give you a go-to resource for some topics we’ve discussed here on the blog before:
1. Domestic violence spilling over to the workplace (usually the workplace of the victim) is a major source of workplace violence
2. Avoid Deny Defend is an important preparedness exercise for active shooters
3. Special needs students should factor in to your emergency planning
4. Mobile devices and social media are a mixed bag when it comes to emergency planning
5. Understanding active shooters is important for preparedness
6. Visitor management is a critical part of security
Our thoughts and prayers go out to the North Park Elementary School community and the San Bernardino community during this tragic time.
If you’ve been around the Invictus blog for a while, you know that we are serious about schools, companies, and organizations drilling their emergency plans on a regular basis. Today we want to talk about how to expand your drills to make them more effective.
First, we should clarify that the term “drill” is actually a very specific type of exercise. We tend to use this term to generally mean practicing any part of an emergency plan, but a “drill” actually tests a specific operation or function. For example, teachers may drill how to lock their doors during a lockdown scenario.
There is an established step-wise progression for expanding your exercise program to effectively track progress and make changes where necessary. A brief explanation and example for each follows:
Step 1: Seminar
This should be the beginning of your exercise program. It is a discussion-based step that is basically an orientation to the emergency plan. Here participants listen to a speaker introduce the plan with the goal of creating a common framework of understanding amongst administration/executives and employees. [Example: school administration speak to the faculty about their new emergency operations plan and give the faculty a copy of the plan.]
Step 2: Workshop
After a seminar, your exercise program should move on to workshops. These are also discussion-based, but workshops are more interactive than seminars and may include break-out groups discussing ideas or coming up with ways to improve the plan. The goal here is to improve your plan or create new facets of the plan. [Example: school administration, faculty, and staff meet together to work on the lockdown portion of the emergency operations plan and have break-out groups to discuss how it would look for each classroom and how to improve the process.]
Step 3: Tabletop Exercise
A tabletop exercise is also a discussion-based step in your exercise program. In this step, participants process through and problem solve a hypothetical situation. The goal here is identify strengths and weaknesses in the plan before conducting live exercises. [Example: school administration and faculty/staff that are part of the Emergency Response Team sit down to problem solve through an active shooter on campus.]
Step 4: Drill
This is the first operation-based step in an exercise program; the three prior steps are all conducted in a meeting room sitting down discussing ideas while this step involves players physically going through an exercise. As noted above, a true “drill” only practices one specific operation or function, like learning how to use new equipment or practicing skills. The goal here is to prepare participants for a more detailed exercise. [Example: teachers learn how to use the new door stops which will be used during a lockdown.]
Step 5: Functional Exercise
This step is the one most people associate with doing a safety drill. This step is operations-based and, unlike a drill, involve multiple operations or functions. The goal here is to simulate an emergency and have participants practice the emergency plan. [Example: faculty and students practice an entire lockdown procedure.]
Step 6: Full-Scale Exercise
This final step is similar to the previous one but includes cooperation of responding agencies, deployment of actual resources, and more realistically simulates an emergency. The goal here is to see how things progress if an actual incident takes place. [Example: school administration, faculty, staff, students, and local police and fire engage in an active shooter exercise with a simulated active shooter on premises, deployment of fire and police responders, and deployment of mass notification.]
It’s important to note that an exercise program is a multi-year endeavor where you build upon past exercises and learn from your successes and failures. It’s okay to keep using the word “drill” in your place of employment or even your home as you practice fire evacuation with your children. The terminology is not essential; what is essential is that you practice your emergency plans, both via discussions and action-based exercises. What is also essential is that you learn from your exercises; don’t just go through the motions and check off the box that the drill has been done for the year. Over time improve your exercises, improve your performance, and change your plan as necessary.
School entrances are a critical location for security measures. A recent article by Campus Safety Magazine outlines 11 components of a safe school entrance. They included:
- perimeter fencing
- single point of entry
- staff monitoring of arrival and dismissal
- visitor management procedure
- double entry system (e.g., vestibule)
- minimal glass
- electronic access control
- video intercom for visitor screening
- door hardware
- office panic button
- situational awareness
We agree with all of those measures and would like to add a few other components that can improve the security of a school entrance.
- Make sure your cameras point not only at the door / entrance itself, but also at the pathway from the parking lot to the door. If the camera only looks down at the door, the first time you have eyes on a bad guy is when he’s already at the door. Cameras that view the path to the door can give valuable extra time to observe the threat and prepare.
- Make sure your front desk isn’t directly in the line of sight of the glass doors so that the bad guy at the door can’t see the person at the front desk. This can give valuable extra time for people inside the school to observe a threat and prepare before he enters the building.
- Make sure your panic button is in a reasonable location. If the panic button is 4 feet up on a wall, the person hiding under their desk isn’t going to risk getting out from under the desk to hit to panic button. Place these in logical places and places where people would hide or evacuate.
- Train your teachers and staff on what to do should a threat appear. If you don’t know what you’re going to do when a bad guy shows up, all these security measures are futile. Make sure your faculty and staff know exactly what to do if a threat appears on campus.