Is Your School Ready? Rancho Tehama Elementary School Was

Photo of a busy school hallway
Category - Education
by Hillary Bowling on November 30th, 2017

It is every parent, teacher and school administrator’s worst nightmare: an active shooter is loose in the halls of your school.

Are you 100 percent certain that everyone will know what to do, how to react and keep children and teachers safe in the event of an emergency of this magnitude? A school in California recently learned that their preparation paid off in a huge way — countless lives were saved when the school immediately went into lockdown mode. If we have proof that these types of active shooter drills work, why are more schools not running this type of scenario on a regular basis? Communications during a tragedy can also be challenging, and a lack of communication not only causes severe distress for parents, it can even result in tragedy if people are uninformed.

Preparing for Disasters

The recent shooting at Rancho Tehama Elementary School left five people dead and at least eight injured, but could have been dramatically worse if the school had not been prepared and immediately launched into lockdown mode. In only a few moments after notification that a shooter was on the loose in the area, teachers and administrators were able to corral children safely in their classrooms — behind locked doors and safely under their desks — until the danger was past. Even as the shooter rammed a vehicle into the school compound and began firing, only one child was wounded by random stray bullets instead of what could have been dozens of injuries if the school was unprepared. However, there is no national protocol for what should be involved in active shooter drills for the school and the efforts are driven at a local level.

Keeping Kids Safe

In an absence of coordinated effort and regulations at the national level, local school districts are left to determine how often drills should be conducted. Many school systems note that they may not even call the drills “active shooter drills”, but instead focus on strictly lockdown procedures that would be effective for different types of emergencies. School emergency planning efforts may not be as coordinated as school administrators want parents to believe, with the possibility of serious injuries to children hanging in the balance. What’s worse, is that drills themselves can cause panic for parents if they are not properly communicated. Some school systems have even gone as far as having children pose as fake “victims”, with officers coming into the area and firing blanks in enclosed spaces to simulate an attack. The thought behind these extreme measures is to cause a level of anxiety in students and faculty in an effort to prepare them to stay calm in an actual emergency.

Critical Communication Links

The communication strategy employed by the school districts is critical to how these drills are accepted by parents and the broader community. If parents are well-informed, they are able to coach kids on how to react in the event of a dangerous situation. However, imagine the widespread panic that would ensue if parents got text messages from their kids or posted on social media that the school was on lockdown mode without any information from the school. Schools and emergency personnel can be immediately overwhelmed with well-meaning parents attempting to discover what’s happening to their children. The importance of helping children understand that the efforts are in place to keep them safe is critical to any emergency program’s success.

Reality is that a crisis isn’t going to happen at a convenient time when children are all safely seated in their classrooms. In the case with Rancho Tehama Elementary, school had not yet started for the day and teachers had to round up kids from outside of the building and get them to safety with only a few minutes of warning. They were able to do so — and keep parents from panicking — due to their impressive preparedness strategy.

Learn more about what your school can do to prepare and download our Article: Is Your K-12 School Prepared For An Active Shooter Incident for free.

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