planning for the unthinkable
With shootings in schools and other public places an unfortunate fact of life, Mt. Lebanon police work regularly with the Mt. Lebanon School District preparing teachers and administrators to make smart decisions in the event of a violent incident in the schools.
This was the imaginary scenario during an emergency preparedness drill conducted by the Mt. Lebanon Police Department in cooperation with the school district earlier this year: A female employee who was let go from the district told her husband she had been fired, and he did not take it well. The next day during instruction hours, as the building principal was in a classroom observing a teacher’s performance, the husband walked into the principal’s office and started speaking sternly with the building secretary. He wanted to talk to the principal. Now!
As the secretary sent an email to the principal, the principal’s observation in the classroom was ending, and she was headed back to the office. Just then, the angry husband yelled to the secretary: “You know, I just bought a gun. I hope I don’t have to use it.”
The tabletop drill, conceived and organized by Police Chief Aaron Lauth and school district Director of Communications Cissy Bowman in cooperation with the Mt. Lebanon Emergency Management Team, divided participants into two teams. The exercise continued for 45 minutes, as building administrators had to work together and determine what they would do…what they could do…during such a heartbreaking event, says Lauth.
When would they call 911? When would they call the superintendent? Would the principal go into the office to negotiate with the man, knowing she could become a hostage, or would she stay outside to manage the building?
Planners increased the complications as the scenario progressed. The building was evacuated. During the evacuation, a child had a seizure. Media showed up. Parents were frenzied. An evacuated child was unaccounted for.
The situation became more tense. Administrators could use Bowman and Director of Technology Chris Stengel for pushing out info to parents. The superintendent was available as a resource. Each of the four teams then laid out what they would do and why, using the district’s existing emergency plans.
As the exercise concluded, everyone reconvened as a group to recount their experience and assess the choices they had made.
“None of that was geared toward having right or wrong answers,” Lauth says. “It was about creating things to think about.”
Bowman was pleased with the drill, some version of which is done periodically to make sure administrators learn to adapt to changing circumstances.
In the process, the district also practices its communications skills and its ability to manage incidents. While the district often does building lockdown and evacuation drills, the smaller administrative exercise was easier to schedule. More exercises are planned for administrator meetings.
“It was great for everyone to work together on a manageable scale,” Bowman says. “It was a great test of our plans and our knowledge and our thought processes and our reaction times. The more you drill, the better you get.”
Mt. Lebanon no longer has a non-emergency number. If you see something suspicious, or whenever you need to see or speak to a police officer, call 911.