Editor's Note

Stop, Drop and Roll

BACK in the day, there were two things my schoolmates and I were taught about emergency preparedness in the school setting: where to find the bomb shelter and what to do in case of a fire. I am old enough to know about the Cold War and bomb shelters, though they lost their intrigue by third grade.

Being prepared in case of an emergency has not lost its luster.

"Stop, drop and roll" was an innovative plan designed to aid someone who might be caught in the midst of a fire and have flames on their person. It's a catchy little phrase that gives plenty of instruction. You're on fire, so you stop running, drop to the ground and roll until the fire is out.

These days, school security and emergency planning strategies are aimed at preventing and responding to terrorism. I suppose that, once, we all thought a terrorist attack on a school in the United States was improbable. The attacks at Colorado's Columbine High School on April 20, 1999, and other schools before then offer a stark reminder that it is possible for a school to be a target.

Columbine is a grim reminder that security is paramount and belongs in our educational system.

After a 1992 Brooklyn high school shooting that left two students dead, New York's board of education ordered the installation of metal detectors in the city's schools. Police also were brought in to patrol some of the toughest schools, teachers were given special training, and students were taught conflict resolution.

New York City also made it mandatory that anyone?student or staff?bringing a gun, knife or other weapon to school be expelled. There was a loophole, however: A person had to be 17 or older before they were expelled.

Since 1992, a rash of school shootings has taken place, notwithstanding the Columbine attacks. A 1997 shooting in Bethel, Alaska, claimed the life of a principal and student. At the other end of the country, in Lake Worth, Fla., a popular English teacher was randomly killed. There are a host of other incidents that you'll remember from Santee, Calif., to Jonesboro, Ark., to Paducah, Ky.

In 2002, the Secret Service completed the Safe School Initiative that studied school shootings and other school-based attacks. The study found that school shootings are rarely impulsive acts. Rather, they are typically planned out in advance. The study also found there is no profile of a school shooter, but that shooters differed from one another in numerous ways. However, almost every attacker had engaged in behavior before the attack that seriously concerned at least one adult; many had concerned three or more different adults.

The Secret Service also found that when young people plan targeted violence, they often tell at least one person about their plans, give out specifics before the event takes place and obtain weapons they need?usually from their own home or a relative's home. However, the study identified a major barrier to the prevention of targeted school violence. In nearly all of the cases, the person told about the impending incident was a peer. Rarely did anyone bring the information to the attention of an adult.

It goes without saying, but schools without a crisis plan in partnership with public safety agencies, including law enforcement, fire, mental health and local emergency preparedness agencies, should develop a plan. It should address traditional crisis and emergencies, such as fires, school shooting and accidents.

Back in my primary years, we did exactly what the Department of Education suggested: "Train, practice and drill. Documents on a shelf don't work in a crisis." Realizing that districts differ in their needs, a separate plan for each school building should be addressed. There are, however, four major areas that should receive considerable attention: prevention/mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery.

In the role of prevention, a school district should conduct an assessment of each building and identify factors that put the building, students and staff at greatest risk. Districts also should work with nearby businesses and industrial complexes to coordinated crisis plans.

Perhaps the most important factor is to ensure a process for controlling access and egress to schools, and review landscaping to make sure buildings are not obscured by overgrowth of bushes or shrubs where contraband can be placed or people can hide.

An obvious sign to ensure security in the preparedness category is having site plans available where they can be shared with first responders and agencies responsible for emergency preparedness. Schools also should make sure there are multiple evacuation routes and rallying points.

District officials must develop a command structure for responding to a crisis, as well as the roles and responsibilities of educators, law enforcement and fire officials. This should be done for response to different types of crisis needs.

During the recovery phase, identify and approve a team of credentialed mental health workers to provide services to faculty and students after a crisis. Understand that recovery can take place slowly and that the services of this team may be needed over an extended period of time.

In a perfect world, law enforcement would respond and take care of the situation. But most shooting incidents are not resolved by law enforcement, rather they ended before law enforcement arrived. School staff members are often the first responders.

School officials should practice crisis intervention on a regular basis and make certain there is a plan in place for communicating during a crisis. Prevention is as much a part of security as cameras and equipment. One aspect of prevention may be to ensure that young people have the opportunity to talk and connect with caring adults.

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