Avoiding Gridlock by 'What If?'

People often ask “What if?” in training sessions and preparedness planning meetings at colleges, technical colleges, and universities across our great land. What if terrorists attack an academic building with guns and bombs while setting the building on fire? If you have experienced this in meetings and safety training sessions on your campus, you know how difficult it can be to develop even one component of an emergency operations plan, such as a lockdown protocol, to the satisfaction of the campus community. You also know that an endless stream of “what if” scenarios can stifle the planning process because developing a lockdown protocol that would address in step-by-step detail every single scenario that has happened on a campus or that could realistically happen in the future would result in a plan that would make Tolstoy’s great work War and Peace look like light reading. This, of course, means that even with logical and efficient indexing and formatting, a campus staff member under the pressures of both time and danger could not locate the information he or she needs quickly enough to locate, interpret, and apply it in time to address any situation involving imminent danger.

Develop and Reinforce Protocols
Many campus organizations have had success in addressing these challenges by helping people understand the need for all campus employees to be well versed, trained, and practiced on core functional protocols which can be easily drawn on in the event of almost any crisis. Developing solid yet concise functional protocols and using time-efficient and effective means in order to prepare staff to use them can set up campus employees for success through a flexible and integrated system of menu options that will provide appropriate action steps that can be applied quickly under stress.

For example, if an adjunct faculty member has a role-specific emergency guide that is well designed, easy to use under stress, and covers the crucial core functional protocols, she should be able to quickly match an appropriate functional protocol for life-endangering situations, such as someone shooting in her building. She can then adapt to the situation by moving to another, more appropriate functional protocol if the situation changes to the point where the primary functional protocol is no longer appropriate. For example, in this instance the faculty member should have implemented the emergency lockdown protocol and notified emergency response officials if possible. If, at this point, potentially deadly chemicals began to seep under the classroom door, the faculty member might find it appropriate to implement her shelter-in-place protocol to address the new threat.

Keep the Team Informed
Also, make certain students are on your team. For the most part, students are the best information resources for inside threats. Recent studies by the Secret Service revealed that in the vast majority of student shooting, other students on the campus were aware of the event before it occurred. Having a tipline or safe reporting mechanism in place for students is critical.

As with any written plan documents, emergency plans must be made a reality through briefings, trainings, individual staff initiatives, and practice through practical and effective drills and exercises. Periodically assemble your crisis teams to re-acquaint members with each other and with crisis plans and procedures. Enlist new team members as needed. By using an integrated series of core functional protocols instead of overly complicated protocols, plans can be kept lean enough to use under stress while providing the depth required to handle sometimes complex campus crisis situations.

Personnel must be prepared to use basic concepts that can be adapted to a wide array of situations rather than trying to micromanage emergency response concepts to the point of being ineffective.

About the Author

Michael S. Dorn has helped conduct security assessments for more than 6,000 K-12 schools, keynotes conferences internationally and has published 27 books including Staying Alive – How to Act Fast and Survive Deadly Encounters. He can be reached at www.safehavensinternational.org.