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School Lockdown Reaction: Understanding The Big Picture & Seizing an Opportunity

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keep-calm-and-learn-on-button-free-chalkboard-keep-calm-and-carry-on-copy-170x288My kids’ schools went on a modified lock down yesterday due to an unfortunate situation. (Again, I’ll save the rant for access to mental health care for another post.) Before you read on, I’d like every one to take a big deep breath. Please. This post is about learning, discourse, and seizing an opportunity.

Here’s my perspective: I’m pleased given the situation with how it was handled. I was notified quickly. The authorities who had the authority to deal with the threat to the school were engaged and keeping the suspect away from the schools. I knew all this very fast. I was calm.

I then watched as my friends and community freaked out. As I texted with them, talked to them on the phone, saw their posts on social media, one thing became clear — they likely don’t understand what happens on the first-responder side during a crisis like this. I tried my best to validate their emotions and show them the other side of the coin, as it were. Emotions were keeping people from listening, it was clear. I felt bad for the parents who were upset. I wanted to be able to calm them down.

However, I was not the only parent who was calm. But, we seem to be in a minority. It could be a matter of squeaky-wheel symptom, too. Yet, I had another parent stop me in the post office yesterday afternoon, hours after the event, and we chatted. She was floored at how calm I was and said, “Well, you were in the Army, in combat, you’re just numb to violence.” Um, actually no, was my response. I explained that I’m hyper vigilant to violence, but I also understand what the police and the school officials have to do in order to do their jobs appropriately and within the confines of the law. She wasn’t ready to listen.

This morning I was expecting things to be calmer. They are not. The more, it seems, that people have time to think about it, the more upset they are. Now being generally upset that someone could make threats to our children — that’s absolutely a normal and healthy emotion. There was a vague, unknown threat. That does things to folks feelings. Yes, here it comes, the but…. As adults I think some of us need to step back and take a look at all the pieces and parts.

Here’s some things I’d like everyone to think about, questions to ask yourself:   What has not been reported is the exact timeline from when the police took the call (0643 hrs.), the length of their assessment (meaning engaging, gathering information), and then when they were able to appropriately communicate to the school. We do know that the situation was resolved by 0950 hrs. Having the background I do with the military and crisis communication, and knowing how those commo ties can break down, things happened very fast. Given that context and that people don’t do their jobs at hyper speed, the reaction and very conservative action at that by all involved was appropriate. What I’m curious about is how some of you are claiming you weren’t notified until the incident was nearly or completely over? My notification came much earlier than that. It may be a matter of alphabetical order or sign up order and their alert system only being able to handle so many calls. I don’t know. But again, from my organizational communication background, it still happened FAST, folks. But the school district hit calls, text messages, the web, very quickly. Those things don’t happen in a vacuum. Also, we found out before the media. That’s really exceptional. Do recall, too, that when the call came into police — not the school — buses were already on the road, classes and activities already rolling on campuses. I’m sure, also the police may have communicated that they had the suspect engaged, which means a lower threat to the school.

I think the police and school district took the threat very seriously and given all the moving parts reacted appropriately. I don’t think anyone didn’t take it seriously. Oh, and the rumor mill is out of control! People are adding flourishes to the stories that heightens the anxiety of the adults. Where was there information that the threat was shooting? Or that there was a bomb? There has been no information of any details in the threat, and the information we do have shows that the individual making the threat didn’t even have the details of the school correct, which told officials the level of disturbance within the individual.

This post is reaching book-level portions and I really don’t want a tl:dr situation. Stick with me just a moment longer, please.

I’m doing my best to let everyone know how my experience with both law enforcement, crisis & organizational communication processes affects my viewpoint of such a situation like yesterday’s. I’m not numb to school violence, but I also understand that my level of freak-out affects my kids. I think sometimes our hard-wired emotions to protect our kids don’t always allow us to see the big picture. There are good people in both organizations and they were thrown a big stinking pile yesterday. Given the big picture and how things happen in real-time, the sheriff’s department and our school district get more than passing grades from me. My only critique would have been language choice in the first phone call coming in to parents. It may have inadvertently increased anxiety for some families. Hopefully the communication staff learns from this and gets even better and the institutional knowledge is passed down throughout the organization.

Understand, too, that I’ve had my battles with the school district and the police. I don’t trust them implicitly. Any healthy patriot does not. However, they did their jobs yesterday and earned a little more trust from me. Hopefully those who are still upset can take this information and soothe their fried nerves. No one was hurt yesterday.

What this situation does do is lets us have a gentle reminder that we still have work to do in regards to increasing the physical security of our schools. I would cheer you on in that direction as a good place for the energy you feel over this situation. There’s a need for parental involvement to get our high school back to a more secure layout. Also, ask your high school student about what they have to do during a full lockdown. My high school students over the years have always felt that what they have the students do (line them up in the hallway) creates more anxiety as opposed to protecting them. Oh, and if you happen to be in a portable classroom during such an incident — you’re very vulnerable. Again, we have an opportunity here. However,  do know that from an operational standpoint, the communication between agencies (police and school) obviously works right now. Let’s hope that continues.

I also must state here that I don’t fault anyone for how they reacted — if they were mad, fearful, wanting to pull their kids out of school, whatever. You’re the parents. It’s your kids. We live in a more insular community. Situations like this tend to freak us all out. I have this weird peacekeeper streak and I want people to be calm and happy. That’s where the motivation from which this post comes. I want us, however, to move from the emotion, into action. It’s my number one fault — ask my protest narrative professors from university. Learn, understand, then, do. Hopefully what we do now is invest further in the physical security, which I think would be a great lesson for our kids.


Published inAnd Sometimes There Is Politics


  1. Jane Jane

    I don’t know if it is because of the drilling (every month), or maybe just the good communication of our district, but we’ve had a couple lockdowns now at the kids’ elementary school and everyone has been very reasonable about it. Possibly because the reasons were less school-related (bank robber in the area, people in a non-school involved altercation but that happened on school grounds.)

    You can’t teach your kid how to live in the world by always assuming the worst and hiding under rocks whenever scary things happens.

  2. As you mentioned in your post, buses were already on the road when the schools were notified. Officials had to make a quick decision, and I think they followed protocol correctly; get the kids to a known location and secure them.
    They couldn’t very well turn the buses around and close the schools’ doors. That would have led to some kids being returned to potentially empty homes, and all manner of chaos. The schools would have had no way to answer the question “Where’s my child?”
    As soon as the students were known to be in secured locations, the communication went out to parents: “We have a situation, but we’re on top of it and your kids are safe.”
    Our officials were handed a very complicated scenario, and in my opinion, absolutely nailed it.

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