Incident response plans help district address student safety

The district is developing a training video to help schools recognize and respond to bomb threats.

Following the shootings at Columbine High School in 1999 and the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the East Coast, U.S. Homeland Security determined that schools and hospitals are two of our country’s most vulnerable soft targets.

Attacks on schools in the U.S. would have a ripple effect across the world. While schools in Israel, for instance, are behind chain link fences, most schools around the U.S. and in other countries are not locked down. When most people envision what a locked-down school would look like, the image is a hard one for people to accept.

Legislators in central Ohio are pretty serious about citizen safety. According to the Policy Analysis on School Safety, created by the Ohio Collaborative and part of the Ohio State University’s College of Education and Human Ecology, legislators have passed several laws regarding student safety, including:
• Mandating zero tolerance regarding violent, disruptive or inappropriate behavior
• Requiring school safety planning regarding crisis-oriented safety issues (i.e. a school safety plan for each building)
• Requiring fire drill and lockdown procedures and practice
• Permitting school discipline codes to address student misconduct that occurs off school grounds
• Requiring that schools establish an anti-harassment and bullying policy

In light of the new safety legislation tied to students, Worthington City Schools created a position called Student Support, which has student safety as a core responsibility. This individual participates in the central Ohio chapter of Homeland Security. This chapter meets regularly with safety officials so that everyone knows the important personnel in case a safety issue arises.

The Homeland Security Advisory Committee of Ohio asked our district to work with it to develop a training video on how to recognize and respond to bomb threats, as well as how to respond appropriately if a bomb is found on campus, in an effort to help address the vulnerability of schools. The Advisory Committee received a federal grant from Homeland Security for the development of the video and supporting materials.

We started the process by creating a workgroup to develop the video and supplemental materials. The workgroup is made up of individuals from the Homeland Security Advisory Committee, Worthington City Schools, the Columbus Division of Fire Bomb Squad (DCFBS), Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Paratus Solutions–a nonprofit healthcare and public health emergency preparedness organization in central Ohio–various local safety officials and PublicSchoolWORKS, our safety compliance vendor.

The workgroup met regularly to create a storyboard. We asked PublicSchoolWORKS, a company that creates online risk management systems and safety training videos, to participate and provide the framework by which we will deliver the video to educators.

Once we completed a master outline, we started creating the video vignettes using real educators from around central Ohio. The final video includes a 2-minute introduction and 25 minutes of training to support building-level crisis teams, share best practices, and provide a review of resources available to schools and hospitals, such as vulnerability assessments and how to share intelligence between agencies.

The program will be available for districts this fall and also offers supplemental materials. The video program, entitled The Bomb Threats and IED Response for the School Community Course, is made up of a Central Regional Bomb/IED and Active Aggressor Planning Guidance document, Bomb Threat Response Awareness Video, and the Bomb Threat Response Mobile Training Team.

The video begins with a general introduction to school safety and basic security (mitigation). The video details how to handle both a bomb threat and bomb response situation, as well as a general understanding of Incident Command structure. The importance of clear communication among responders and school officials is stressed and explained. The various response methods to these threats are also outlined and explained for better understanding. The video includes a small segment on how to respond to an active shooter in a school environment, and wraps up with the importance of a debriefing by all involved in an incident.

All components will be available free-of-charge to central Ohio school districts either via PublicSchoolWORKS or through an approval process in development at the Ohio State University and the Columbus Urban Area Homeland Security Advisory Committee. Due to the sensitive nature of the content on the video, there is a plan to make the video and documents available nationwide to approved schools and hospitals. Approval for access will include creating an account and requesting access on the Urban Areas Security Initiative website. As of this writing, the process is still being designed.

As districts continue to assess their safety issues and create solutions to solve those issues, it is our hope that this program will help schools quickly address bomb-related threats and issues in order to diffuse situations before they become dire.

Dr. James McElligott has been in education for 35 years, the last ten deeply immersed in school safety issues. Although his doctorate is from Ohio State University in curriculum and instruction, his attention has been focused on ways to keep students and staff safe in their schools.

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