A Lesson in School Emergency Planning From The Parkland School Shooting

Picture of Carolyn Berk By Carolyn Berk


school emergency planningThe tragic shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida in February of last year shocked the U.S. As details emerged about the devastating event that took the lives of 17 people, those focused on student safety wondered how they could prevent a similar event from happening in their own school.

A major lesson in school emergency planning

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission Report sought to explore elements of the shooting and highlight factors that could have prevented it. The importance of staff communication was a common thread, with many major points from the report driving home the importance of thorough preparation for effective school emergency planning.

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School safety lessons from the Parkland, FL shooting

The report provides many valuable lessons in school safety, with an emphasis on the importance of communication before, during, and after an event. Most importantly, it shows that there are several important collaborative factors of school safety that need to be accounted for in security plans and preparation.

Run drills that account for all variables

If an emergency does occur at a school, there’s no guarantee what kind of incident will take place, where it will occur, or how it will unfold. However, those in charge of student safety can ensure that schools are prepared by running drills that address all shifting factors.

At Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the shooter didn’t even need to enter a single classroom to find targets. While the school’s procedure for active shooters called for classroom lockdowns, it failed to identify blind spots in classrooms, where students could hide out of view of the gunman as he shot from the hallway.

This massive oversight could have been spotted and averted by simply conducting an on-the-ground walk-through during a drill. Keeping an eye out for overlooked aspects, such as having a full view of a classroom from outside the door, can bring attention to issues like this and highlight the need for window covers.

Likewise, running drills at different times of the day can also highlight shortcomings. Varying the timing of drills also helps students and staff gain a better understanding of the steps and precautions they need to take depending on where they are when an emergency occurs - whether it’s in the school gym, cafeteria, auditorium, or outside on a sports field.

Make 9-1-1 communication instantaneous

While 69% of active shooter incidents last less than 5 minutes, officers arrived before the end of the event only 31% of the time.

Regardless of the type of emergency, the first priority should be notifying 9-1-1 as soon as possible. There are many solutions to help with this, yet schools still need a response plan that can be used by staff anywhere in the school to both report the incident to authorities and alert other staff members so they can take appropriate action.

Related Article: Why We Should Consider This Emergency Management Process for  Ending School Violence

Provide anonymous reporting capabilities

It's not unusual that the Parkland shooter had attended the school and several students knew and recognized him. In fact, 95% of targeted violent school incidents from 1974-2000 involved attackers who were current students at the school.

In the case of Parkland and other violent incidents, students, faculty and staff may already be aware of a troubled person in advance. They will be more likely to report this concerning individual if they have a discreet and secure way to alert school staff.

Anonymous two-way tip texting provides an avenue to communicate with students and staff about any concerns before they become full-blown emergencies. Instead of waiting for a violent incident to occur, those responsible for student safety can converse directly with on-the-ground individuals who can provide valuable information, such as students who've recently made a threat or displayed disruptive behavior. These details can be illuminating and have the potential to help school staff prevent violent events before they happen.

Have solutions in place to prevent call crowding

Within the first minutes of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, 81 calls were made to 9-1-1 from people both inside the school building and from parents calling on behalf of students.

This flood of calls overwhelms 9-1-1 call takers who were already trying to manage the unfolding emergency while sending out the appropriate first responders. Overloading 9-1-1 doesn’t just hinder the response to the actual emergency, but it’s also a sign that communication with students, staff, and parents greatly needs to be improved.

Parents calling 9-1-1 to learn about an incident or find out where to pick up their children can easily be prevented by elevating communication from school staff. At the beginning of the school year, parents should be told where to go for information and expressly warned about wrongly contacting 9-1-1. Additionally, improved communication can also help students and staff remain informed even while an incident is underway. Many tools, such as sophisticated panic buttons, can be used to notify staff and students what is happening, what they should do, and when the coast is clear. 

The most important lesson of all: communication

Although no school safety plan can spot every oversight in advance, the greatest way to prevent or address these shortcomings is with communication. Communication plays a major role in the success or failure of an emergency response. Take the time today to identify communication hurdles that may exist in your current school safety plans and procedures.

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Carolyn Berk

Written by Carolyn Berk

Carolyn Berk is a Content Marketing Specialist at Rave Mobile Safety. She writes about public safety and technology for professionals in state and local government.


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