With the recent nationwide increase in school threats, it is a good time to share school threat response practices.  The most critical moments occur upfront and quickly.  In the first few minutes, the principal confers with law enforcement and the superintendent to make critical decisions.  Decisions vary from threat to threat.  Here are some of the questions we consider.  Is the threat credible (harm is plausible or likely or probable)?  Is this a localized threat involving a very small number of people or is it a broad threat involving an entire school?  What is the best response?  Who is doing what (based on crisis planning)?  Who is notified and in what order?

Determining credibility and the best response are critical.  If we over-respond to non-credible threats, we get unnecessary chaos which can cause unnecessary danger.  Believe it or not, that is the goal of some people who make threats.  If we under respond to a credible threat, we may reduce the ability to limit harm.  Sometimes we need to lock down and address an isolated threat while we determine if it is credible.  At other times, we need to move students to another part of campus or off campus while we determine if a threat is credible or while we address something that is credible.

The most important thing I can tell you is, “There is no single response that we should use every time.” There have been situations in which people were hurt or killed because the school was evacuated.  We are also fearful that parents and other people could be intentionally harmed if they rush unnecessarily to school or some other location.  That is why we share evacuation sites after students are safely there.  That is also why we don’t evacuate unless the facts of the particular incident call for that response.

Threats demand our full attention before we shift our focus and resources toward communicating with people away from the threat location.  Our first and primary job is to address safety before we do other things.  We communicate with parents when there is a credible threat that involves their children.  If your child is safe and not in a credible threatening situation, we are going to address safety and communicate with parents of children who are actually in a threatening situation, before telling other parents and the community what is occurring.  The general rule of thumb is:  (1) determine the credibility of a threat (2) determine and implement the best response given available facts (3) notify parents of children who are in a credible or likely credible threat situation (4) notify other parents and the community about the situation.  In some situations we send multiple updates to specific parents and additional updates to the community.   In some protracted incidents, our law enforcement and emergency response partners establish an incident command center to manage the situation.

If there is a threat-related announcement and a parent has not been sent a rapid notification message, there is not a credible threat to that parent’s child.  In this instance, we are working to help those who might actually be in danger.  This idea also applies if you hear a school is in a “soft” lockdown.  Soft lockdowns are used for two precautionary reasons:  (1) when there is a non-school incident within a few miles of the school (2) when a student or staff member is having a personal health problem and we want to clear entrance pathways for emergency personnel and protect the person with the personal health problem from unnecessary disturbance or embarrassment.

Dr. Bill Nolte, Interim Superintendent