School shootings are on our minds due to recent headlines, but we often assume these will occur elsewhere–Florida, Colorado, Virginia. It is too close to home when the headline reads “…Hostage Situation at Riverside School Ends in Deadly Shooting.” While the situation was horrific and ended with the police shooting the suspect, there were some lessons to be learned and some positive outcomes with minimal staff injuries and all students were kept safe.
This incident occurred this past Halloween to one of our ASCIP “family”. While Castle View Elementary School had a single point of entry and visitor protocols in place, an agitated parent ignored those and barged in, punching a school volunteer who attempted to intervene. The parent then grabbed a teacher holding her hostage in an empty classroom. Staff immediately reported the situation to administration, triggering the District’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) to activate following established emergency procedures including informing local police. Students were removed from the area and the school went into lockdown. The teacher was held hostage for six hours. Students and staff were safely evacuated to a city park one mile away, but most had to leave belongings behind. The park had no restroom facilities or shelter and no physical barriers to control student release.
What Went Well – According to Dr. Gary McGuire, Director of Pupil Services and responsible for emergency operations, the District had an emergency plan, an EOC team and good interaction in place with local authorities before the incident. All staff responded quickly. School buses provided quick evacuation for those who couldn’t walk the distance. Water and snacks were provided by Nutrition Services. Maintenance staff secured porta-potties and easy-ups for the park, and local neighbors opened their homes to individuals with urgent needs before resources arrived. Police provided support and surrounded the park for a secure boundary. It was a team effort to keep everyone safe.
School resumed one week later, but with a team of counselors, teddy bears for the students, t-shirts for everyone with “Castle View Courage” messages, and strong district level support.
John Preston, Director of Risk Management shared that only two workers’ compensation claims arose from this incident with neither litigated. John says that in these types of high-profile events, “don’t get stuck on process”. In other words, be compassionate and caring, don’t delay treatment waiting for UR approval; don’t deny coverage because a volunteer didn’t sign in; promptly provide expert care to those affected without worrying about MPNs, normal referrals, etc. In the end, claims costs are greatly reduced, employees, students and those impacted are cared for with compassion, and the process of getting back to “normal” occurs much quicker – and is less costly in the end.
What were the lessons learned? 1) Account for all students before releasing to parents; 2) Radios may not work so be prepared to use cell phones, have laptops and hot-spots to access information; 3) Include picture IDs for all staff at evacuation sites and ID for volunteers/substitutes; 4) Print attendance rosters each month and put with emergency cards; 5) Request police support ahead of time for crowd control; 6) All staff must know and follow intruder/disaster procedures; 7) Select multiple predetermined evacuation sites beforehand; 8) Include extra master keys for responders; 9) Keep students together by class/grade for reunification; 10) Have mobile evacuation supplies.
Hats off to the heroes at Riverside Unified School District who were prepared, responded quickly and compassionately and kept their students safe!