LFT in Manhattan for school safety and communications training

The Leadership for Tomorrow Class of 2019 was in Manhattan Thursday and Friday for sessions on school safety and media training.

The class, which is comprised of school board members, superintendents and administrators from across the state, spent Thursday afternoon observing USD 383 Manhattan-Ogden’s annual active violence scenario drill at Theodore Roosevelt Elementary school. The drill, held each summer at a different district school, involves intensive cooperation between the school district, police, fire and emergency medical first responders.

Manhattan-Ogden Communications and Safety Director Michele Jones told LFT that the summertime drills have been nearly ten years in the making, beginning with preliminary planning work between her office and the leadership of the Riley County police and fire departments. The exercises have evolved from simple scenarios involving one classroom and a handful of observers into sophisticated events involving not only regional police, fire and emergency responders but also the Kansas Highway Patrol, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and even the local offices of the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks.

“Building relationships with your local first-responders is critical,” Jones told the group. She meets frequently throughout the calendar year with local law enforcement and safety officials and their public affairs officers to discuss potential crisis scenarios, discuss events and trends that impact school safety, and to plan not only for crisis response but also for routine drills that familiarize law enforcement officials with school district facilities and property.

“Having our first responders in our buildings for fire drills, safety demonstrations and other activities helps ensure that in case of an actual emergency, first responders can respond quickly and effectively to protect our students and staff,” Jones said. The district also shares school building plans with emergency officials.

In the Roosevelt school drill, the scenario called for police to respond to a report of shots fired at the multi-level school building. The suspect was described as a teenaged male armed with a long gun. Adult and high school-aged volunteers with stage-makeup “wounds” sprawled in the hallways and classrooms as the police burst into the building. The “victims” screamed for help as police went floor-to-floor, searching for the gunman. Only after the scene was secured were firefighters allowed to enter to conduct a brief triage assessment and given ten seconds to apply tourniquets or other stop-gap medical treatment. Emergency medical technicians weren’t allowed in the building under police escort until the suspect was confirmed to be in custody. The class then observed the medical staging area that prepared victims for transport to the hospital or other medical facilities. Officials explained how they prioritize patient care and lessons they’ve learned over four summers of practice in district buildings.

Following the conclusion of the drill, the group met at the school district office for classwork on leading through incidents and crises. Leadership Services Field Specialist Gary Sechrist led the group through debrief discussions on the importance of having a school district incident or crisis plan and reviewing it after each use.

“Ask yourselves, ‘what went well and what went poorly?’” Sechrist said. “What are the key lessons learned, and what changes do we need to make to our procedures? Knowing what to do can be the difference between chaos and calm, or even life or death.”

On Friday, classwork continued with communications and media training conducted by Assistant Executive Director for Marketing and Communications Carol Pitts and Advocacy and Outreach Specialist Leah Fliter. They worked with the class to examine common communications pitfalls like commenting on issues or events without the benefit of proper information; using personal social media channels to comment on school district or other matters; and how to use formal lines of communication to ensure the timely and proper response to patron or news media questions.

The class then worked through developing responses to three hypothetical school emergency scenarios in preparation for a media “interview” that was recorded and critiqued by their peers. Class members learned to acknowledge the question, “bridge” with an appropriate statement, and convert to their key message about the incident.

When developing a response to an incident or crisis, “control your message, brainstorm about what you can and can’t say and make sure everyone is on the same page before you leave your planning meeting> Ask ‘what’s our message’ after every decision.”

Deputy Executive Director Brian Jordan then led the class through a discussion of proactively planning school safety through assessment not only of the physical school infrastructure but also of the school climate and the family and social situations that may lead a student to become a threat to others. KASB will offer workshops entitled, “What Every School Board Member Should Know About Safe and Secure Schools” on July 17 in McPherson and July 18 in Colby. You can find more information under “Upcoming Events here.

Leadership for Tomorrow’s next class session will be September 12 and 13 in Lakin and Garden City.

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