12/14/2009

School threats: Are you ready?

By PoliceOne Staff

Congratulations to the school resource officer who acted on this tip and shut down a likely tragedy. Using this incident as a reminder, ask yourself this questions:

1. Are you and other officers in your agency familiar with the layout of the local schools? Do you know where to locate blueprints quickly if needed? Schools are often multi-floored mazes of twists, turns, blind corners, obstacles and long, open spaces. The more you know about the layout ahead of time, the better response can be under intense pressure.

Along those lines: who’s one of the most helpful people you can get in touch with during a school crisis, in addition to the school safety officer if they’ve got one? The principal? Nope. A janitor. They’ve got keys to everything, they typically know every square inch of the building by heart and they’re familiar with how things work, like the lighting system, the HVAC system, the PA system, school security systems, etc. in case you find you need to have those accessed and/or manipulated.

2. Are you prepared to respond in a controlled, professional fashion if you find yourself responding to a crisis in your own child’s school? It can happen, and if you lose your cool and act in a fashion not in line with the trained response other officers will be acting on, you can quickly add to the problem and potentially become an additional problem. Emotions can run extraordinarily high when your talking about a crisis involving children, particularly your own, so be ready for that.

3. Has your agency practiced effective perimeter control strategies? A crisis in a school can result in panicked parents responding code red to the scene, prepared to do whatever it takes to ensure that their child gets out of the situation quickly and safely. Is there a plan in place for what parents will be told at the scene? A curt, “Ma’am, that’s a police line and crossing it is against the law,” may not do the trick with a parent who wants information now and who’s ultra motivated to get to his or her child, regardless of the cost. How about the media hoard? How are they going to be handled…and where? Have you made contact with the media decision-makers in your area and discussed a plan, agreeable to both entities, that will help prevent them from stoking the fire and potentially putting first responders, school staff and kids at increased risk?

4. Are the fire and EMS agencies in your area in sync with your response plans? Have you determined their roles and how each agency will work together? Have you considered how some of the extra gear these other responders will bring to the scene—particularly the fire department, which has access to major water power, ladders, door-smashing gear, etc.—might be helpful to police? Are you confident that your multi-agency response will be calculated and coordinated or does lack or preparation and practice have you primed for a cluster? The risks are too high not to be as ready as you can possibly be, as an individual officer, and agency and an adult concerned with the welfare of children.

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