The quote above was said by John-Michael Keyes, of the non-profit foundation I Love U Guys (1) set up by himself and Ellen Stoddard-Keyes, the parents of Emily Keyes: a young girl killed in a hostage situation at Platte Canyon High School, Bailey, Colorado (2006). This organisation put together a training package for parents and educators, said by John Michael Keyes, to turn the ‘what if’ of emergency management plans into ‘how to.’ Emergency management plans are a form of risk management, seeking to avert a crisis and deal with one most effectively if it was to occur — these are particularly relevant to incidents like school shootings, where the risks are unquestionably highest. The ‘standard response protocol’ developed by I Love U Guys (see image below) has been described as the ‘safety nexus’ of the school district of Jefferson County, Colorado, by its Executive Director of Emergency Planning. Over the course of three years, it has allowed them to converse with and train over eighty-two thousand school students.
The basis of this protocol is the federal-level guide (2) on crisis planning, which distinguishes between response actions in different situations. ‘Evacuation’ would take place in a situation where staff and students have to leave the building; thus refuge points should be decided in advance, taking into consideration the needs of disabled students. The ‘reverse evacuation’ scenario would occur when the incident is outside and students are re-entering the school. When students are unable to leave or move through the building ‘lockdown’ occurs. The ‘standard response protocol,’ devised by I Love U Guys, consists of four options: lockdown, when there is a threat inside the building; lockout, in the case of criminal activity outside; evacuation, allowing for escape; shelter, for seeking refuge. In the case of a ‘lockout,’ the priority of staff in this scenario is to account for every student inside the building, since the threat is outside. A ‘lockdown’ scenario would be more problematic to manage, with the ‘time barrier’ between the threat and potential victims — utilised through a locked door and lights being switched off to hide from the threat — being crucial to safety. It was stated by John Michael Keyes that there has only ever been one case of a gunman entering a classroom through a locked door and the teacher was able to tackle him because of this time delay.
Pertinent to the effectiveness of the Standard Response Protocol is practice. I Love U Guys has put together a presentation and training workbook for educators and school resource officers (3) to conduct drills in classrooms. A state-law implemented in Colorado following recommendations made about response to the Columbine shooting (1999) mandated training staff members with local community partners and first responders (law enforcement, medical, fire) and highlighting the roles and responsibilities of every actor. After investigating the bill further, I Love U Guys found the legislative change did have an effect: fire, medical, and law enforcement response agencies were using a shared language and had a clear management structure. It is likely that relationships between rescue agencies and training involving all involved (educators, students, first responders) will improve reactions should an incident transpire. Something that has to be taken into account when devising training plans, however, is that the first responders to a school shooting incident could actually be the administrators and teachers who are there when events unfold, especially if they occur in the classroom — the Sandy Hook elementary school is a prime example of this.
[This blog post was put together using presentations from the ‘School Safety Symposium’ in June 2013, held by the I Love U Guys foundation, and reading about the organisation. Future blog posts will further examine the role of emergency management planning and training in managing school shooting incidents. Special thanks for this post go to the organisers of this event and the board members of I Love U Guys.]