The recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida, has compelled school administrators to evaluate the effectiveness of their emergency plans and how they protect students.
To get ideas on new ways to improve their plans, 50 school administrators from public and private schools gathered March 26 in Kenner for the “Active Shooter Preparedness Workshop for Administrators” conducted by Dr. Jan Lancaster and Greg Lapin.
“We’ve had a critical issue,” said Lancaster, former superintendent of Catholic schools for the Archdiocese of New Orleans. “Something has happened. What do you do?”
For an entire day, Lancaster and Lapin discussed crisis plans and how crisis managers can respond to emergencies using practical procedures – including whom to communicate with and how after an emergency and during the cleanup and recovery phases.
From working in various capacities in schools, Lancaster recommended transparency in communicating with parents every step of the way, detailing emergency plans when devised and providing information during a critical event and then in its aftermath (clean-up and reopening).
“How do you get back the parents’ trust (after a crisis)?” Lancaster of JDL Innovative Solutions said. “The most important thing is you’ve communicated with them that the plan was well-thought out and the people involved in the plan acted in the best interest of their child.”
“The best leadership skill is communication,” reinforced Lapin, a Slidell police officer in the training and special operations division and owner of VAPA Training Center. “That makes and breaks a plan. If you communicate clearly, concisely and constantly with parents, that’s going to go a long way.”
Administrators were given an acronym to remember in a crisis situation – OODA – Orient yourself to the situation; Observe the situation; Decide; take Action and constantly reevaluate to make the best decisions in critical situations.
“A lot of times people freeze, so having this skill will stop people from not knowing what to do,” Lancaster said.
Forging and maintaining relationships with local emergency agencies such as police and fire departments is critical to an emergency plan, Lancaster said. By doing this, emergency responders are familiar with a school’s campus and can respond appropriately.
“Form these relationships long before anything happens,” Lancaster stressed.
Lapin, whose experience in law enforcement dates to 2004, had administrators thinking about how to make their campuses as secure as possible by detailing how active-shooter events materialize and what they, as leaders, sometimes fail to consider as they prioritize what’s necessary, such as the medical response to minimize loss of life.
He gave an overview of how to stop a bleed and stressed the importance of faculty having more intense training, since they are the “boots on the ground.” Seventy percent of shooting victims could be saved by immediate and appropriate medical attention, he said.
Lancaster and Lapin stressed to administrators the importance of re-evaluating their plan after a critical incident for overall effectiveness by asking: What was successful? What didn’t go well?
Sharing best practices
An important aspect of the day included time where administrators shared their craft knowledge of emergency situations and their emergency plans. Each was given an emergency action plan template for active shooters and asked to appoint a crisis manager who would be responsible for the plan and updating it.
One administrator mentioned how radios are used by all teachers to communicate on campus.
“Radios are ultimately the best way to communicate with a group of folks (internally),” Lapin said. “In an emergency, kids are getting on their cell phones, parents are calling, faculty is calling their loved ones. Cell phones are going to blow up and get tied up. Internal communications, like radio, are optimum.”
Ann Marie Locascio, an Immaculate Conception School PE teacher and former tactical police officer, said her Marrero school has made inroads in safety with locked gates and radios, but her emergency team wanted to “verify some of the things we are doing; that we are doing the right things and to find out what else we can do more efficiently and safely.”
Representatives from the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office and Homeland Security recently visited St. Edward the Confessor School in Metairie to evaluate its plan, said Richard Donnes, a social studies teacher, Matthew 25 coordinator, coach and technology director. While the school was secure, recommendations were made to better train faculty for an emergency situation.
“I wanted to find out what others were doing,” Donnes said about the seminar.
St. Dominic School in Lakeview has secured its campus with locked gates and added the Raptor system that scans visitors’ identification, runs it through a database (for possible offenses) and then makes a nametag with the person’s picture and destination on campus. Faculty and students are instructed not to open the gate for anyone and to question those without a nametag.
“I am thankful that I came today to share ideas and to get a definitive plan,” said Suzzan Defourneaux, data and technology coordinator at St. Dominic. “It’s all about keeping the kids safe and trying to keep ahead of things – trying to anticipate what the next issue will be.”
Lancaster and Lapin hoped administrators walked away with a better emergency plan.
“(We want) to build awareness and let administrators know the shortfalls of the plans they have and what they need to do to get them to a higher standard,” Lapin said.
“While administrators have a plan in place, they need to constantly be reevaluating it and making it the best it can possibly be,” Lancaster said.
Christine Bordelon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.