This week I led a four hour session on crisis response for the leadership of the three higher education institutions in my community; a four-year state university, community college and a technical college. Presidents and key administrators gathered to learn and discuss the challenges, considerations and management of an active shooter incident. While our community has never experienced something as horrific as the Columbine or Virginia Tech shootings, our community college campus was the scene of a shooting death of a student in front of the school and dozens of students in the early 90’s. The echoes of the gunshots still reverberate with the administrators there that day.
As the administrators discussed their respective emergency operations plans and how they would respond, I was struck by their commitment to student/staff safety and also their realization of “Oh, CRAP! Do we have some work ahead of us!” At the end of the day, I asked for a show of hands of how many people felt they were better prepared. Not a single hand went up. My job was done…..
Some common themes emerged during our time together:
- The principles of ICS are inconsistent with the management cultures of the college institutions. “We normally make decisions by committee. We’re collegial. Using ICS isn’t something we are used to doing.”
- Key management staff will likely be victims too, emotionally impacted to the point they may not be able to perform.
- An active shooter situation is not just an emergency event for the institution. It will be a community response and recovery effort.
- The severity of the incident is directly proportional to the body count.
- Expressions of altruism have to be managed, and can profoundly impact recovery efforts.
- The leader of the institution needs to be a highly visible and personally engaged presence early in the recovery effort.
- Recovery must start as soon as the shooting stops. The incident may only last eight minutes. But, recovery may take eight years.
- Public instruction and information in the initial few minutes will be tactically driven. Once the event is stabilized, the pressure for additional public info will be overwhelming, requiring a long term strategic approach geared towards support and recovery.
- Social media will be the primary communications tool used by students and administration in building and maintaining this support.
- Coordinating opportunities to bring people together to heal is critical to restoring and maintaining a sense of campus security and community.
- Rebuilding a sense of security depends on the institution’s ability to maintain and support a sense of community.
Thanks to the administrations of Western Washington University, Whatcom Community College and Bellingham Technical College for their strong support and commitment to preparing for the worst. May it never happen…..