Campus Violence – Observations after Crisis

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HRhulen QuoteAt Firestorm, we watched with the rest of the world as another instance of school violence shattered a peaceful Spring morning for students of Franklin Regional High School in Murrysville, after a Murrysville, Pennsylvania teen allegedly rampaged through his high school’s hallways, stabbing wildly with two kitchen knives.

This attack, like so many others, is complex in motivation and response management; while many are quick to cite bullying as a motivation, that is not yet clear.

The school had trained for crisis – it is this training and “muscle memory” that helps response in a completely random and unplanned scenario. 

While gun violence is at the top of the threat list for many schools, in the past 12 months, there have been at least 10 reported stabbings at schools across the country. Most recently, on March 26, a 19-year-old student stabbed another at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, a public high school in Cambridge, Mass. A day before that, in Ontario, California, a 16-year-old student stabbed another student at Valley View High Franklin Regional TweetSchool, resulting in three local schools being placed on lockdown.

Students, school staff and all associated with a campus, must test for multiple scenarios – arson, chemicals, weapons, poisoning, and yes, even Zombie attacks if that engages students and fosters learning retention.

Dr. Kevin Manning recently shared his own poignant view of campus protection in an articulate commentary for the Baltimore Sun.

Dr. Manning has served as president of Stevenson University since 2000 and has more than 40 years of experience as an administrator in higher education. He is the current board chair for the Maryland Independent Colleges and Universities Association (MICUA).

In his commentary, Dr. Manning describes his thoughts and concerns as his own campus is in lockdown as a result of a report of an “Active shooter on the Owings Mills campus.” Fortunately in this instance, it was a false alarm, however, Dr. Manning eloquently states:

“I think that I can speak for all in our campus community — students, families, faculty and staff — when I say that it was a sobering experience that woke us all up to the contemporary world in which we live. There are some lessons from this event that will help us, and possibly other institutions, prepare for the future.”

Dr. Manning then articulates three primary observations – observations Firestorm has always incorporated into our overall methodology of PREDICT.PLAN.PERFORM.®.  I summarize here, but you may read the commentary in its entirety at The Baltimore Sun:
  1. Campus safety begins long before an emergency alert is sent.
  2. Social media and the news media are pervasive but not always accurate.
  3. Institutions must take the time to review all the information they can shortly after an incident.

Dr. Manning’s closing observations sum up the great responsibility he is tasked with, as are all school officials – no matter the size of campus – today:

“Lastly, we can ask ourselves if we in any way overreacted, but I do not know if we really have the luxury to do so after Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook Elementary and so many other tragedies nationwide. Our first lockdown was in essence an unplanned dry-run. Yes, there was no “real” gunman, and no one was harmed, but we are not going to take those facts as signs of success.”

As the company that has been called in to respond to some of the nation’s greatest school tragedies—including Virginia Tech, Littleton, JeffCo Schools (Columbine), Arapahoe, and Platte Canyon—we at Firestorm applaud Dr. Manning’s approach to incident review, and encourage all schools to clearly reflect on their own states of readiness.

“Every Crisis is a Human Crisis.”  Post-event, it is critically important to observe and provide resources to support those in need, as long as they are in need – the trauma and effects of being a victim of an attack or witnessing a violent attack can last for years – for both students and adults as the below social media message so clearly illustrates:


From Firestorm Co-Founder Suzy Loughlin:

“Every preparedness program must be based on an established framework and overarching policies that define the goals of the program. The program should be supported by the board of trustees through either a board resolution or written policy statement.

A program framework, which aligns with best practices, has many components that must be integrated with one another, your environment, and your culture in order to be successful.”

We encourage you to learn more about protecting your school and about how your school can join the Firestorm Continuous Improvement Partnership at a level that is right for you.  Firestorm is a national leader in crisis management and crisis communications, emergency response, security, and school/workplace violence.

Additionally, Firestorm – in partnership with RenWeb – provides a series of school preparedness webinars each month.  Our session from 4/10/2014 reviews the role of social media in not only the incident at Franklin, but in our students’ daily lives.  You may view the recording here – RenWeb – Social (& Secret).

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