The Sandy Hook school shooting prompts Louisiana to require schools and law enforcement to collaborate.
The events that surrounded the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012, served as another wake-up call for education administrators and law enforcement to ramp up emergency preparedness plans in the event of a crisis like a school shooter.
On what may have appeared as a typical Friday in suburban Newtown, Conn., a single, active shooter made his way onto the Sandy Hook Elementary School grounds and killed 26. It was another reminder that planning for the worst — at schools, businesses, everywhere — is an essential part of keeping a community safe. The Sandy Hook tragedy was the catalyst for the state of Louisiana to require that schools plan along with local law enforcement for this type of scenario.
Six months after the school shooting in Newtown, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal signed House Bill 718 into law. Schools within the state are now required to coordinate with law enforcement and fire department officials to improve safety. The bill states that schools must develop a viable crisis management plan with an emphasis on preparing for a school shooter.
According to Michael Walker-Jones, executive director of the Louisiana Association of Educators, the state’s public schools have been prepared for such incidents even before the law was passed.
“The real key I think for Louisiana and a lot of other states is they’ve already had these kinds of crisis management plans in place and the legislation actually was more of a reaction to the Newtown [shooting],” Walker-Jones said.
Yet, whether or not schools have drafted crisis management plans in the past, the law specifies requirements that must be fulfilled each year. According to HB 718, Louisiana schools must have a “crisis management and response plan” to address safety and any incident regarding a shooting or other violence on campus. Each plan must be prepared in collaboration by each school’s principal and with local law enforcement, fire, public safety and emergency preparedness officials.
Every year, school principals are then required to meet with those same emergency responders to review the plan and revise it if necessary. In addition to a series of other requirements drafted into the law, schools must also perform live-shooter drills within 30 days prior to the start of the new academic year.
Louisiana law enforcement officials have expressed confidence that schools in the state are prepared for following through on their crisis management plans. Col. Mike Edmonson, superintendent of the Louisiana State Police, said he thinks the schools are prepared, yet proper assessment of the nearly 1,800 public and private schools in the state is key.
For school superintendents, principals and teachers, it’s critical to communicate with law enforcement about their emergency plans and if they’ve conducted drills for situations like active shooters. During an assessment performed by the State Police, Edmonson said officials surveyed the schools by asking certain questions to ensure that their incident prevention plans were up to speed.
To get the facts they needed, Edmonson said it was critical to turn to the students for information, for example, about what on the school grounds malfunctioned.
“Sometimes the locks didn’t work,” Edmonson said. “We discovered that by listening to the kids. [We asked], ‘What is not working at the school? What are some safety concerns?’”
He said the State Police hope to move forward with a comprehensive checklist schools can use to ensure the safety of their campuses. The idea is for officials to determine their school’s strengths and weaknesses so they can focus on areas that need improvement. As of November, the police had not released official checklists, but were in the final stages of creating a more permanent list of safety factors.
“We may not have a final product,” Edmonson said. “It will always be a work in progress.”
Although Louisiana law enforcement officers are confident that school districts have adequately prepared for worst-case scenarios like an active shooter, some acknowledge that they haven’t done enough to prepare their schools.
Bo Mitchell, a former police commissioner, thinks the new Louisiana law could be construed as ambiguous since it focuses on active shooters and not overall school safety.
Mitchell, who is also the founder and president of 911 Consulting, has spent the greater portion of his career reviewing emergency preparedness plans. He said schools, like all workplaces, should not focus solely on shooter preparedness — they must be ready for any type of disaster. He said the new Louisiana law is not comprehensive enough to cover all those bases since the law mostly emphasizes active shooter preparedness.
“So what you’re seeing in the [Louisiana] law is, ‘Let’s get prepared for shooting incidences,’” Mitchell said. “But what about the all-hazards?”
Preparing for all hazards doesn’t mean reinventing the wheel on crisis management. Because national standards on preparedness already exist, Mitchell said schools should be integrating such standards into their safety plans.
To target all-hazards preparedness, Mitchell said schools should look to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) for its nationalized standards, specifically NFPA 1600. The document, which has been adopted by the U.S. DHS and state fire codes, establishes a common set of criteria for about 300 worst-case scenarios like active shooters and natural disasters.
“The NFPA is the platinum-plated standards-making association in the world,” Mitchell said.
Other national, standardized requirements like from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) should also be considered for school emergency preparedness, Mitchell said.
According to OSHA’s website, Louisiana doesn’t have an official state plan regarding occupational safety and health, but the administration provides information and resources for employers to learn about regulations regarding workplace violence.
“Schools are employers and workplaces before they are anything else,” Mitchell said. “Generally speaking, most workplaces aren’t well prepared.”