School Shooting at Marysville-Pilchuck High School

This excellent front office design can dramatically improve access control for a school.  While this can be effective in reducing the risks for certain types of school violence, this approach fails to address the majority of mass casualty attack methodologies that have been utilized to carry out most school shootings.

This excellent front office design can dramatically improve access control for a school. While this can be effective in reducing the risks for certain types of school violence, this approach fails to address the majority of mass casualty attack methodologies that have been utilized to carry out most school shootings.

School Shooting at Marysville-Pilchuck Similar to past school shootings

The shooting that has left two students and the perpetrator dead in Marysville, Washington should serve as a stark reminder of the need not to become focused too intently on any one type of school shooting. Many school and public safety officials have been intensively focused on how to stop shootings carried out by external aggressors. While this is one form of school shooting we have seen repeatedly in K12 school incidents for decades, it is far from the most common. Unfortunately, many schools have focused on target hardening of main entryways and office areas in response to the Sandy Hook event at the expense of other important prevention measures such as student threat evaluation, visual weapons screening and pattern matching and recognition which have each been used to avert numerous school shootings.

Fighting the last war

We have noticed a pronounced tendency for parents, school and public safety officials to focus intently on the most recent mass casualty school shooting event. This has repeatedly resulted in situations where many schools emphasize prevention and preparedness measures for one specific type of event while not paying as much attention to strategies that could help them prevent and prepare for more likely school shooting scenarios. During hundreds of school security assessment projects we have conducted since the Sandy Hook School Shooting, our analysts have noted a dramatic surge in interest in buzzer access, security laminates for front entryways and other target hardening measures for front entryways and office areas. While these types of security upgrades are often logical and in many cases decades overdue, our analysts have also noted a striking number of school systems and non-public schools that lack any viable student threat evaluation strategy. As the majority of mass casualty school shootings have involved students or former students, behaviorally centered approaches should be a priority for schools.

Too early to accurately determine what took place at Marysville-Pilchuck High School

Having worked seven targeted acts of violence and hundreds of more typical school shootings, edged weapons assaults and other major crisis events at K12 schools, my experience has been that much of what is being reported in the media at this stage will prove to be inaccurate. My experience has been that the most compelling and important lessons to be learned from a school shooting are in the case files reviewed by the expert witnesses during civil actions which typically follow the majority of these tragic events.   This makes it imperative that school and public safety officials be pragmatic when considering what is purported to have taken place in any mass casualty school shooting.

Marysville-Pilchuck High School Shooting – Early Lessons

The Marysville-Pilchuck High School Shooting is the fourth K-12 Active Shooter Incident since Sandy Hook, according the the current FBI definition of an Active Shooter Incident.

As with any such incident, the information that has come out has shifted.  As of the time of this posting there are two dead, including the shooter, and four wounded, three of them critically.

A lone gunman entered the cafeteria and targeted a group of students. After shooting his targets, he reportedly shot himself in the head.  Local news coverage showed a student describing what she went through on the other side of the school.  She stated that the fire alarm went off, and that the students evacuated, but were then told they were in lockdown.  They had to return to the school.

Marysville-Pilchuck High School is a large school of over 2,000 students. This story exemplifies the chaos that often accompanies these terrible incidents.  Prior planning can help schools deal with chaos, and maintain a higher state of order that can help save lives.

Of interest is the location of the shooting.  A school cafeteria is an open, unsecured area that requires special considerations when planning to respond to events like this.  Safe Havens International teaches a protocol called Room Clear that would have been very useful in this situation.

Room Clear involves students quickly and safely exiting a room or area to a pre-arranged place of safety.  In classrooms, it is very useful for removing students from the source of violent or emotional outbursts.  In this type of situation, Room Clear could be used to get students from the cafeteria to an area of safety.

The use of this protocol, like others, requires planning and practice. It also requires the understanding that various situations for which Room Clear can be used may happen.  This requires that planning occur now, that practice using it occur now.  Room Clear will not prevent an Active Shooter Incident, or any other incident. What it can do is remove students from a source of danger, and get them to a place of safety.

Marysville-Pilchuck High School Shooting

Police in North Carolina practice clearing a school hallway, similar to what was done today during the Marysville-Pilchuck High School Shooting.




How to prepare Schools for Ebola?

A lingering question that has come across my desk at least a dozen times lately is, “Dr. Shepherd, what are you recommending that schools do about the Ebola crisis?” My response is simple – the same thing that I recommended for schools during the pandemic influenza crisis – make a plan and follow that plan.

The current Ebola situation should be an exercise of biological incident planning for schools. Although, we have not seen US schools completely affected (although there have been a few scares), it is important that school officials begin meeting with local and state public health entities to form a plan of action. There are a few things that schools can do now to prepare for Ebola (and subsequently prepare for the upcoming flu season):

  1. Begin/continue universal health precautions campaigns. Hand washing is still a great infection control method.
  2. Establish and practice disinfecting/decontamination guidelines for all school facilities including support buildings, school buses, and other transportation vehicles.
  3. Developing NIMS (National Incident Management System) compliant protocols, location, equipment and staff assignments. School nurses are the front line people and should be a part of the command staff if not incident commanders of biological incident for schools.
  4. Encouraging parents to have alternative child care plans should closures be necessary in containment and building disinfection/decontamination efforts.
  5. Developing a mental health plan for students and staff, in conjunction with local mental health services staff to implement during an incident. Do not forget that fear, anxiety and panic should be expected and it is important that plans are in place to communicate facts adequately.

It is unlikely that a full blown outbreak will happen, but maintaining a state of readiness for Ebola will prepare all schools and youth based organizations for almost any public health emergency.

For more on this topic, sign up for our newsletter and look for the issue that we will be releasing this week with more detailed information on planning and preparedness for Ebola and other outbreaks. You can also catch my interview with Campus Safety Magazine here!