You arrive at work armed with a strong commitment, good equipment and the right information-ready to provide a safe atmosphere for your school community. Then it happens! You find yourself the victim of a weapon of mass disruption.
Everyone on the site is affected as buildings are evacuated, people are relocated and the atmosphere is changed from calmness to a sense of confusion and alarm. As you quickly arrange theft protection for personal items and sensitive equipment, you wonder if the authorities will complete their search of the premises in time to avoid cancellation of classes. You may need to compose and distribute information to dispel rumors and possibly respond to the media about this event.
There is, of course, a difference between destruction and disruption. While weapons of mass destruction are rarely used against schools, weapons of mass disruption are used against us often. While not all disruption is catastrophic, without an effective strategic plan the effects of these weapons can result in even greater disruption and expense. How we respond to this type of attack is the focus of this article.
The goal in dealing with weapons of mass disruption is to insure that staff and students are out of harm's way within the first five minutes. Whether the threat is real or designed only to disrupt, now is the time for rapid decisions. What you do while waiting for the local authorities to arrive is critical; and if the threat is not limited to just your campus, it may be some time before they are able to get to you. Having a Critical Incident Management Plan in place is essential.
Everyone talks about the need for "the Plan." Whether your plan is a new concept, is currently being developed, or is already in place, an essential element is the Critical Incident Management (CIM) team. Having an organized CIM team will help improve your chances of responding appropriately and efficiently. The CIM team should include administration, security, faculty and facilities personnel.
It is imperative to have members with the authority to make decisions regarding relocation or evacuation of students. The nature and severity of the specific incident will determine which team members will be involved. The CIM team members will be trained in all aspects of the plan, however, their main duties include conducting the initial assessment, determining if relocation or evacuation is required, and notifying those affected by the threat. Throughout the incident, the team will keep appropriate members of administration informed so that critical decisions can be made as quickly as possible. Obtaining additional resources to manage the incident such as barricades or hand held radios, and coordinating volunteers may be necessary. Informing the public relations department and arranging counseling and support for students and staff after a disturbing incident are also on the list of CIM team duties. And finally, be sure to coordinate a critique of the response to applaud the successes and clarify the areas that need improvement.
An all-hazards approach to prevention is a key element for school safety. Preventative measures include:
Increase general vigilance
Advising staff on what they are to do if they observe a suspicious item or situation
Advising maintenance staff to store routine issue tools and supplies properly
Providing evacuation plans and alternate location arrangements to employees
Determining who is responsible for critical incident management training
A safe school is everyone's responsibility; but I know that if you are reading this article, you are particularly dedicated to protecting the people on your campus. Through training and practice, you can prepare staff as well as students for effective critical incident response.
Find the time to review and expand your plan. Ensure that your CIM team is in place and clear on all aspects of the plan. Finally, be certain that the campus community understands their role in your effort to defend against weapons of mass disruption.
Pat Myerscough is Supervisor of Safety & Security at Palm Beach Community College. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org