Emergency Response Exercise Spurs Important Discussion

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Little more than three hours after Glenn Grana, an At Risk International Training Manager conducted a riveting tabletop exercise simulation of an active shooter incident at Newark Middle School February 13th with a couple dozen staff members and administrators, a lone gunman states away went on a deadly rampage at Michigan State University killing three students and seriously wounding five.

The parallel?

Grana, a retired Monroe County Deputy Sheriff who also teaches criminal justice at Robert Wesleyan University, stressed schools and colleges in the nation are at a point where they must do threat assessments fact-based, systematic processes designed to identify, assess
and manage potentially dangerous individuals who are at risk for violence against themselves or others.

A key goal of the threat assessment is to distinguish between an individual who makes a threat versus one who actually poses a threat.

Grana’s sobering, two-hour presentation had many of the participants talking about the building’s and district’s emergency response protocols and preparedness in the face of a significant emergency as in the simulation.

He also unveiled case study findings about a poorly-done threat assessment over a period of a bullied individual’s high school career that tragically failed to stop him from significantly harming the bully.

At the Four County School Boards Association’s School Safety and Security meeting November 15th, Hasenauer shared in an in-depth presentation she made along with Solan, Jose Otero, NCSD Director of Security and Steve Chatterton, Director of Security at Greece CSD who also works part-time for At Risk International, on how the NCSD came to employ a multifaceted approach six months ago to violence prevention including the implementation of a Behavioral Threat Assessment Team Model as a way to enhance building safety and security measures.

At that meeting, North-Rose Wolcott Superintendent Michael Pullen commended the NCSD team for “setting the bar” on proactive safety and security practices in the region.

The process began in June 2021 with the NCSD retaining At Risk International to conduct a thorough audit of the school district’s emergency response plans, as well as their resources and capability to respond to emergency situations. In its wake, many changes have ensued including the enhancement of both district-wide and building level emergency response plans to ensure consistency among all five schools; staff readiness to handle emergencies through extensive training; and local and state compliance.

Right after the Four County School Board’s Association presentation, Chatterton said the changes Newark has implemented have put the district in the top 5 percent of districts in the state in terms of safety and security practices.

And one of the most important components of the protocols is staff readiness, hence the table top exercises that will be held at each of the five district schools to ascertain how well-prepared staff is through practice simulations and threat assessment discussions like the one Grana facilitated Feb. 13th.

“I think the Middle School staff responded very well and appropriately and asked some great questions,” said Solan, whose job it is to make sure each school building has a good handle on the district’s threat assessment protocols and is properly carrying out threat assessments when needed.

“It's important for each building’s staff to understand and have knowledge of our safety plan,” she continued. “And when it comes to threat assessment, Glenn stressed the importance of
doing them right. His explanation of the case study in which a threat assessment was done poorly made me feel confident because everything he shared on how to do it right we are aligned with. I look forward to continuing to work with Glenn on threat assessment and ensure we are going above and beyond just due diligence.”

NMS School Psychologist Rebecca Battle, who is also the schools’ Building Level Threat Assessment Team Facilitator also thought the tabletop exercise Feb. 13th went well.

I was appreciative of the opportunity to have Middle School staff come together to reflect on our systems and preparedness to respond to a safety threat. It's so important that we learn from others' tragedies. The staff questions that arose during this tabletop discussion were insightful and point to areas where we need to strengthen our readiness.”

NMS Principal John Ginter agreed.

“I am very thankful for Glenn coming and leading us through this activity. These types of things help to ensure we are doing everything in our power to keep all of our school community safe.”

After Grana’s presentation, Superintendent Susan Hasenauer noted that similar emergency response tabletop exercises will be conducted at the district’s other four schools by the end of March and she expects they will be equally compelling and effective.

“When thinking of a comprehensive approach to safety and security, it is twofold,” Hasenauer said. “First, it is about having multi-tiered systems and structures in place that mitigate risk and are proactive in nature. Secondly, it's about being prepared and knowing how to react with confidence in an emergency situation. When you combine a threat assessment team model and partner it with tabletop exercises that test your emergency response plan, you are able to address gap areas as well as create a team where cross functional accountability occurs and all have the ability and knowledge to respond to a critical event.”