Category Archives: Emergency Management

Campus Police as ‘Full Law Enforcement’: Widening the Jurisdiction

The previous two blogs have discussed the issue of policing in the form of SROs in K-12 schooling and external law enforcement agencies; this post will now turn to look at the transformation of law enforcement in colleges and universities across the United States. Similar to the alterations which took place at K-12 schools after the Columbine shooting (refer to the previous two blogs for more details), the impetus for change at further and higher education institutes occurred after the tragic incident at Virginia Tech University in 2007.
To begin with, an investigation carried out at the request of the President into the circumstances around the Virginia Tech shooting found that there were a number of limitations with the current status of law enforcement. (1) It was found that campus police felt that they were not considered to be ‘full law enforcement’ by students, campus officials and officers from external law enforcement departments. The ‘legitimacy’ of police is of key important in convincing people to trust their decisions and follow their orders. (2) Concurrently, the report ordered by the Governor of Virginia, recommended that the mission statements of campus police should give precedence to their role as crime prevention officials. (3) This was subsequently translated into policy at Virginia Tech University, where the jurisdiction of the campus police department was expanded to give it the same authority as law enforcement agencies to do the following activities: make arrests, conduct investigations, enact security procedures, enforce laws and approve building modifications. Additionally, the police and rescue departments have been amalgamated into one facility, hence cementing the legitimacy of their position. (4) Rationalising and redefining the roles of police to deal with crime relates to the ‘culture of crime control,’ where government agencies alone — in this case, educational institutions — are not trusted to manage the risk. (5)
On another note, the report prepared at the request of the president noted that many campus police departments are under-staffed and lack critical resources. (6) At Virginia Tech University, funds of $487, 400 were appropriated by its executive vice president to employ eleven new members of staff in the campus police department. The police department currently has forty-nine officers, ten dispatchers, eight security guards and five support personnel. Equipment was also procured by the university: marked cars to increase visibility of police; uniforms for security guards; rifles for patrol officers. (7) Once again, this brings to mind the idea of ‘militarism’ within law enforcement, where the weaponry of the military is utilised as a problem-solving tool. (8) Overall, these actions are tangible indicators of the institution ‘doing something,’ further strengthening the legitimacy of campus police in their role of managing school shootings and other threats faced.

[This blog was formed using analyses of federal and state policy documents published in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shooting, alongside relevant academic readings. It wraps up the theme of law enforcement changes following school shootings that have been the focus of the last few blog posts.]

(1) Leavitt, M. O., A. R. Gonzales, and M. Spelling. (2007) ‘Report to the President on Issues Raised by the Virginia Tech Tragedy.’ 13 June, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice.
(2) Tyler, T. R. (2011) ‘Trust and legitimacy: Policing in the USA and Europe.’ European Journal of Criminology 8(4), 254-266.
(3) Virginia Tech Review Panel. (2009) ‘Mass shootings at Virginia Tech April 16, 2007: Report of the Virginia Tech Review Panel presented to Timothy M. Kaine, Governor, Commonwealth of Virginia (updated edition).’ November. http://www.vtreviewpanel.org/report/index.html.
(4) Internal policy documents ‘University Safety and Security’ and ‘Crisis and Emergency Management Plan,’ both published throughout 2012.
(5) Garland, D. (2001) The Culture of Control: Crime and Social Order in Contemporary Society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
(6) Leavitt, M. O., A. R. Gonzales, and M. Spelling. (2007) ‘Report to the President on Issues Raised by the Virginia Tech Tragedy.’ 13 June, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice.
(7) Internal policy documents ‘University Safety and Security’ and ‘Crisis and Emergency Management Plan,’ both published throughout 2012.
(8) Kraska, P. B. (2007) ‘Militarization and Policing – Its Relevance to 21st Century Police.’ Policing 1(4), 501-513.

“In law enforcement, we cannot have a cookie cutter solution”: Post-Columbine Changes to Law Enforcement Tactics

The quote in the title is indicative of the stance law enforcement has now adopted in a post-Columbine context. The statement was made by Sergeant AJ DeAndrea (Arvada Police Department), a SWAT member involved in Columbine and two other school shooting incidents in Colorado. (1) This blog will discuss the ways in which law enforcement changed its rescue priorities and training techniques to deal with school shootings following the Columbine incident. It could be said that these represent the ‘militarisation’ of police forces, where they adopt the cultural (values, styles) and organisational (tactics) aspects of the military. (2)

A noticeable element of the Columbine shooting was the criticism it provoked of law enforcement response. The law enforcement officers stationed outside Columbine went through the lengthy process of ‘securing the perimeter’ to stop the perpetrators escaping and of escorting students out after searching each one for weapons. Issues contended in the public sphere more generally were whether: teacher, William ‘Dave’ Sanders, who was shot in the chest and survived for four hours afterwards, could have been saved had medical teams been ‘allowed’ to enter the school; and a more expeditious law enforcement response could have prevented the bulk of the carnage, which took place in the library and resulted in the deaths of ten students. (3)

On the contrary, a report by Jefferson County provided a justification of sorts for the delayed response at Columbine. The SWAT officers had to form an ‘ad hoc’ team of police from different agencies with no previous contact. Other difficulties facing the teams were: incorrect Intel being provided, such as there being snipers, hostages and up to eight gunmen in the building; out-dated information about the building layout; most officers did not have their tactical equipment with them. Additionally, inside the school, officers faced hazardous conditions of flashing strobe lights, overflowing sprinklers, and fire alarms wailing. (4)

Since the confusion about building layout was something that hindered police response to Columbine, law enforcement tactical operations are now driven by knowledge about the environment in which a crisis is occurring, according to Sergeant DeAndrea. A useful technique in preparing law enforcers for potential school shooting attacks could be ‘tactical architecture,’ predicated on interpreting public spaces and their links to behaviour, an approach intended to aid operational policing. (5) Relating this to schools, it could allow law enforcers to instruct staff and students of ways to optimise survival if a shooting were to take place by highlighting escape points and places to hide.

Secondly, Sergeant DeAndrea explained that law enforcement training since Columbine has been honed into a single response led by SROs (see previous blog post for more details of their role in emergency management and response). Further to this, during an active shooter or hostage situation, the law enforcement rescue priorities have now changed to ‘hostages, civilians, cop, suspect.’ Sergeant AJ DeAndrea went on to clarify that hostages being held against their will on the threat of violence and civilians in an active shooter situation are the priorities for rescuing; the lives of cops comes below this and the life of the suspect is the least important factor, since the most important aspect of response is rescuing those in harm’s way.

[The blog post was put together using statements made during Sergeant DeAndrade’s presentation at the ‘School Safety Symposium’ in 2013, further reading around the response to Columbine and scholarly discussions of law enforcement training. The next post will look at the differences to campus police at colleges and universities in the United States following school shootings.]

  • Statements from Sergeant DeAndrade were made during a presentation at the ‘School Safety Symposium’ held at Columbine High School in June 2013, organised by I Love U Guys.
  • For further information, see: Kraska, P. B. (2007) ‘Militarization and Policing – Its Relevance to 21st Century Police.’ Policing 1(4), 501-513.
  • These were criticisms often made in news media reports and letters to the editor. An extensive sample of these were analysed by the author as part of a separate research project.
  • Jefferson County Sheriff reports examined SWAT techniques, equipment and the critical incident reponse overall on the day of the shooting. See http://extras.denverpost.com/news/colreport/columbinerep/pages for more information.
  • Jonescu, E. ‘Strategic and Tactical Architecture: An Instrument of Law Enforcement.’ In Bouttell, L. and S. Doran. Reframing Punishment: Silencing, Dehumanisation and the Way Forward. Oxford: Inter-Disciplinary, page numbers needed.

Changing the Landscape of Emergency Management Legislation

During ‘crises’ — something as horrific and unexpected as a school shooting fits that criteria — immediate strategies have to be formed; prevailing narratives then have a direct impact on which coping strategies are selected.[1] As documented in the blog post published 16th February 2015, school shooting incidents have elucidated flaws in emergency management plans; this requires legislative response. In Colorado, the site of the Columbine school shooting (1999), the General Assembly passed the ‘Safe Schools Act’ (2000), requiring each school district board in the state to adopt a emergency management plan, crisis management procedures, and employee training. This framework had to adhere to the ‘National Incident Management System’: a federal-level framework of four principles for responding to crises consisting of organisational structures and strategies, intended to allow first responders from different jurisdictions and agencies to be able to coordinate more effectively.[2]

Following the 2007 Virginia Tech school shooting, legislation was implemented the year after at the state-level. All institutions falling within the purview of higher education were mandated to have emergency management plans and coordinate these with local community ones; every year the president or vice-president of every institution is to review and make any necessary revisions to ensure it remains current, and the institution shall carry out a drill; after a period of four years, the plan is to be reviewed and submitted to the state ‘Department of Emergency Management.’

Although Colorado had already taken action in the past, the Virginia Tech shooting (2007) prompted the Governor of Colorado to make school safety a priority item once again. In 2008, he signed a bill which established the Colorado School Safety Resource Center to provide assistance and funding to schools in preparing for and responding to emergency situations. An existing Colorado statute was amended to include the addition of a sub-section provisioning funds for the school mapping information to first responders.

Moreover, the Colorado ‘Safe Schools Act’ (2000) was amended in 2008 to include the requirement that all school districts had to incorporate components of the ‘National Response Framework’ into emergency management plans. The actions to be taken were: devising a plan to meet the date of compliance (1 July 2009); adopting the ‘National Incident Management System,’ the federal-level framework for dealing with emergencies and the ‘Incident Command System,’ as the management structures to organise and organise crisis responses; form relationships and communicate with local responders to check adherence to local, county and state level plans; define the roles and responsibilities of community partners through memoranda of understanding (known as MOU’s); engage in practice schedules, such as drills and tabletop (i.e. simulation) exercises; partake in an annual inventory of emergency equipment. Revised Statutes in the 2012 Colorado General Assembly made the legislative declaration that “emergency response and crisis management measures should be implemented in all communities within the state to protect students and school personnel.” The importance of emergency management plans, training and response means that legislation is an expected response to flaws; the next blog will discuss this in relation to law enforcement tactics.

[This blog was put together by analysing legislative documents from Colorado and Virginia. Future blogs will look at a different dimension of emergency management, by exploring the response of law enforcement to school shooting incidents.]

[1] Fairclough, Isabela. and Norman Fairclough. (2012) Political Discourse Analysis: A Method for Advanced Students. London, New York: Routledge, 3, 16.

[2]  Definition taken from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (n.d.) ‘National Incident Management System,’ https://www.fema.gov/national-incident-management-system

 

Managing the Risks of School Shootings: Flaws to Avoid

Continuing the theme of the last two blogs of emergency management plans and training — something which is crucial to managing something as deadly as a school shooting — this post elucidates what to avoid when planning for and responding to acts of violence. Since something like ‘risk’ cannot be entirely eliminated, what organisations should strive to achieve instead is a level of ‘safety,’ i.e. what is deemed to be “an acceptable level of risk.”[1] In terms of school shootings, this means planning for which actions to take in a crisis should be located within the wider rubric of school violence; as well as accounting for potential spectacular events, which are rarer but more likely to be lethal in nature.

A common flaw of emergency management plans in educational institutions where school shootings have already taken place is not considering the possibility of such an event occurring in the first place: for instance, Columbine High School and Virginia Tech University had guidance in place for fires, bomb threats and so forth; yet not for an active shooter scenario. Whilst schools may feel that ‘it can’t happen here,’ the myriad school shootings which have occurred in the United States show that these tend to occur in suburban areas with relatively little crime. Moreover, the danger in not acknowledging the risk of a school shooting is that no plans would be put into place about how to eliminate or reduce that risk.[2]

Another common mistake is outdated or incomplete information in emergency management plans. An example of this is Virginia Tech University’s plan, which, at the time of the shooting, was two years old: this meant it had outdated information in it, such as the name of a previous police chief. Another instance of incomplete information is the case of Columbine High School, where, prior to the shooting, the building layout for the school had not been included in the plans — it has been said by delayed the response of police and other rescue personnel.[3] In situations like these, it certainly seems the point that Coombs[4] makes about the danger of having a plan in place is providing a false sense of security is correct: these have limited usefulness when actually applied to a crisis.

Probably the most well-known of emergency management mistakes is the delay in emergency communication at Virginia Tech University (refer back to the blog posted on the 20th August 2014 for more information). In addition to staff error, this transpired because of a number of pre-existing flaws: there was confusion about what ‘timely’ actually meant; there was no set template(s) for emergency communication messages; there were inconsistences in the emergency communication policy and emergency management plans about who had the authority to release an emergency alert. This exemplifies the importance of the linkages between different facets of emergency management: prevention, planning, communication, training and response.

[This blog post was put together using analyses of policy documents produced after the Columbine and Virginia Tech shootings, as well as further reading. The next blog post will document some of the changes made to law to eradicate these flaws.]

[1] Borghesi, Antonio and Barbara Gaudenzi. (2013) Risk Management: How to Assess, Transfer and Communicate Critical Risks. Springer: London, New York. Page 19 cited.

Vestermark, S. D. (1996). ‘Critical decisions, critical elements in an effective school security program.’ In A. M. Hoffman (ed.) Schools, violence and society. Westport, CT: Praeger, 101-122. Page 108 cited.

[2] Coombs, W. Timothy. (2012) Ongoing Crisis Communication: Planning, Managing and Responding (third edition). Thousand Oaks, CA.: Sage. Page 41 cited.

[3] For more details refer to Jefferson County Sherriff report. http://extras.denverpost.com/news/colreport/columbinerep/pages

[4] Coombs, W. Timothy. (2012) Ongoing Crisis Communication: Planning, Managing and Responding (third edition). Thousand Oaks, CA.: Sage. Page 106 cited.

“We are just waiting around as easy targets”: Anxiety about School Safety Procedures

The last blog detailed measures that can be utilised to prepare educational institutions for the occurrence of a school shooting. Discussed in this blog post will be the results of research into online commentaries of videos relating to previous school shooting attacks: these elucidate a further need to reassure students about the importance of emergency management training to their safety. In online debates, notably, there were insecurities expressed about whether school safety measures actually offer protection.

One issue, for instance, was a concern about hiding in a corner or under desks, rather than running for the nearest exit. Likely exacerbating these perceptions is knowledge of past shooting events — the mass shooting in Norway (2010) and the school shooting at Columbine High School (1999) were commonly cited  — and how others were killed. Extrapolating from this, the main ideas probably driving these reactions is a kind of helplessness at being inside where the threat is rather than running out to safety. Appropriately, a study by Fisher and Nasar’s study[1] into fear of crime on college campuses discovered that fear levels were highest in sites which offered low prospects for escape. As the last blog outlined, however, in cases where the attacker is inside the building, a ‘lockdown’ procedure is actually safer than trying to escape. With this in mind, training scenarios for educational institutions should spend a substantial amount of time explaining why taking a particular kind of action would be the safest in a particular situation, so that students are aware of why they are hiding rather than trying to escape.

In addition to this, despite the wave of school security measures implemented after high-profile school shootings like those at Columbine High School and Virginia Tech University, online users still felt that this was an area of weakness; this is evinced with statements like “schools need better security” and “security was lax as usual.” Online users were particularly incredulous that higher educational institutions do not even have metal detectors, pointing out that this made them ‘open targets’ for shooters. Considering this, some users argued in favour of universal metal detector implementation across all educational institutions. Despite this, as pointed out by my blog post ‘Creating a Market? The Commercial Products of School Shootings,’ (published 14th May 2014) the actual likelihood of metal detectors preventing school shootings is questionable. A study[2] of school safety administrators found that only 32% considered these to be effective in reducing more general school violence; this is even less likely to be the case when dealing with an active shooter event. Instead of metal detectors and other ‘target-hardening’ measures, it would be more fruitful to train students to prepare for school shootings, as well as to report any ‘warning signs’ that could prevent an attack from occurring in the first place.

[This blog post was put together by using analyses of comments from YouTube videos and some scholarly sources. The next blog post will discuss emergency management mistakes to avoid.]

[1] Fisher, Bonnie S. and Nasar, Jack L. (1992) ‘Fear of Crime in Relation to Three Exterior Site Features: Prospect, Refuge and Escape.’ Environment and Behaviour 24 (1), 35-65.

[2] Crystal A. Garcia. (2003) ‘School Safety Technology: Current Users and Perceived Effectiveness.’ Criminal Justice Policy Review 14: 30-54.

“How to turn the ‘what if’ of emergency management into ‘how to’”: The Standard Response Protocol of I Love U Guys

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.

i love you guys

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.

srp

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.]