Getting Ready for a School Crisis

Shenandoah County Public Schools, Emergency Services, and Law Enforcement Collaborate with Tabletops and Simulations


Statistically, schools remain one of the most secure places for our children.   Jeremy Raley, Director of Finance and the division level administrator charged with school safety, wants to be certain that Shenandoah County schools remain safe havens for our children.  He also wants to be certain that we are as ready as we can be should a tragic event occur. 


As a basic preparedness step, each school has a Crisis Management Plan outlined in an easy-to-read guide book with a single page devoted to several different emergency categories.  The booklet includes basic steps for students, teachers, and principals to follow.   One of these booklets is posted in every room in every school, and teachers must know its location. 


Not content with just written plans and wanting to be pro-active, Jeremy Raley has sought additional, more realistic preparation.  Raley invited local fire and rescue and law enforcement officials to sit down with school administrators to talk about procedures for various scenarios that Capt. Tom Hodges of the Shenandoah County Sheriff's Department, had created.  This school year, there have been tabletop exercises on all three campuses.  Capt. Hodges' scenarios were life-threatening and have included active shooters on the school grounds, and students and teachers taken as hostages.  These mock exercises have served as a forum for dialogue between the different agencies.  Law enforcement, emergency services, and the school division have worked together to ensure that everyone is prepared in the event of an emergency situation.


In addition to the tabletop meetings, full scale simulations of emergencies have been conducted with shooters, victims, mock injuries, panic-stricken participants, etc.  A simulation is being planned for this summer.   Stonewall Jackson High School will become the site of a mock tragedy sometime during August. 


Fire Chief Gary Yew, Capt. Hodges, and other personnel from their departments bring their professional training and years of experience to the tabletops and simulations.   In addition, police and rescue have access to FEMA's "after-action" reports-official documents reviewing what worked and what did not work at Virginia Tech, for example.  They also attend regional safety meetings with neighboring counties and bring back ideas from these to school personnel.


If a real crisis should occur, someone at the school would call 911. Until emergency personnel could arrive, the school's principal and the school's resource officer would have to be in command of the situation.  To help them handle a crisis situation, all SCPS principals and assistant principals have attended training to learn what is called incident management practices.  When rescue crews arrive, Chief Yew explained that a unified command post would be set-up and priorities for each area - Fire and Rescue, Law Enforcement, and school administrators - would be established.  


Without question, all participants agree that these joint discussions and simulations have been valuable.   The people who would potentially be involved from fire and rescue and law enforcement have met principals and assistant principals and division level administrators.  Should a crisis occur, the "good guys" know each other more than by name.   


Basic plans for various scenarios have been made with the knowledge that each situation as it develops will require flexibility.  Reactions to different "developments" have been considered.  Very practical results have come about.  For example, all doors in the schools are now numbered on the outside and on the inside.


For additional information on school safety, please contact your school's principal or Jeremy Raley at the School Board Office.