Put Safety First

The paramount concern in any crisis is safety. Follow your school’s policies for locking down the site for site evacuation, if needed; call school security officers or outside law enforcement, if appropriate; alert parents and caregivers, if warranted; and make sure everyone on campus is safe and accounted for. Attend to any injuries. Follow your school’s emergency protocols. That, always, is an administrator’s first order of business.

If you have not already formed an incident response team, do so now. Ideally, members of an incident response team need to project a sense of calm as well as earnest concern.

Restoring order is a key step to reestablishing any sense of safety.

Isolate alleged offenders as quickly as possible. Direct uninvolved students back to classrooms, and have teachers keep them there until further notice. If necessary for safety, hold bells and provide instructions to teachers by intercom, phone or written messages. Students, faculty and staff should be assured that the matter is being dealt with and that more information about the incident will be provided as soon as possible.

Rumors already will be flying. Take them seriously. According to both the U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. Department of Education, in most cases of school violence someone other than the attacker knew of the threat but failed to report it. Emphasize that any such information should be communicated immediately, and identify the person or persons to whom information should be reported. Publicize access to an anonymous tip line, an online report form or an in-school tip box. Provide avenues for people to share information, and assign people to review and report on that information as it comes in.

Also, especially with more serious incidents, be on high alert regarding the potential for copycats or retaliatory actions. With many incidents—bias-driven fights or attacks, vandalism and graffiti—there is a real risk of repeated incidents by vengeful classmates or copycats. Faculty and staff should be more aware than usual, watching for signs of tension, veiled or implied threats and unusual activity. Let all students know that the campus is on heightened alert.