The US Department of Education has come out with new guidelines formulated for schools putting a plan in place for emergencies. Interestingly, the guidelines for active shooter events have changed radically — from sheltering and hiding to taking a more proactive approach. Below we outline some of the major points from the section of the guide that addresses planning for active shooter situations.

Click here for the entire report, entitled GUIDE FOR DEVELOPING HIGH-QUALITY SCHOOL EMERGENCY OPERATIONS PLANS. The Active Shooter section starts on page 56.

“Active shooter situations” are defined as those where an individual is “actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area.”

The better first responders and school personnel are able to discern these threats and react swiftly, the more lives can be saved.

Some things that should be considered when coming up with an Emergency Operations Plan (EOP) are:

  • How to evacuate or lock down students, staff, and visitors, including those who are not with staff or in a classroom (e.g., in the hall, bathroom, break room). Personnel involved in such planning should pay attention to disability-related accessibility concerns when
    advising on shelter sites and evacuation routes.
  • How to evacuate when the primary evacuation route is unusable.
  • How to select effective shelter-in-place locations (optimal locations have thick walls, solid doors with locks, minimal interior windows, first-aid emergency kits, communication devices and duress alarms).
  • How the school community will be notified that there is an active shooter on school grounds. This could be done through the use of familiar terms, sounds, lights, and electronic communications such as text messages. Include in the courses of action how to communicate with those who have language barriers or need other accommodations, such as visual signals or alarms to advise deaf students, staff, and parents about what is occurring. School wide “reverse 911-style” text messages sent to predetermined group distribution lists can be very helpful in this regard. Posting this protocol near locations
    where an all-school announcement can be broadcast (e.g., by the microphone used for the public announcement system) may save lives by preventing students and staff from stepping into harm’s way.
  • How students and staff will know when the building is safe.

The planning process is not complete until the school EOP is shared with first responders. The planning process must include preparing and making available to first responders an up-to-date and well-documented site assessment as well as any other information that would assist them. These materials should include building schematics and photos of both the inside and the outside, and include information about door and window locations, and locks and access controls. Emergency responders should also have advance information on where students, staff, and others with disabilities as well as those with access and functional needs are likely to be sheltering or escaping, generally in physically accessible locations, along accessible routes, or in specific classrooms. Building strong partnerships with law enforcement officers, fire officials, and EMS technician includes ensuring they also know the location of available public address systems, two-way communications systems, security cameras, and alarm controls. Equally important is information on access to utility controls, medical supplies, and fire extinguishers.