A year ago, the nation watched in horror as news from Parkland, Florida spread. Among the many aspects of that tragedy that warrant
No matter how good any emergency response may be, there are always things to learn. In fact, there are lessons from Parkland that apply to all kinds of emergencies, not just active shooter attacks.
Two students who were at Parkland during the shooting, Adam Alhanti
Top of the list: John and Adam both said that there must be better planning for getting information out – in real-time – to people in the middle of a major incident. Relying on social media for updates often results in inaccurate or insufficient details. Despite drills, students were scared, unsure of where to go or what to do, and were unsure how to determine friend from foe.
When I wrote The Communications Golden Hour: The Essential Guide to Public Information When Every Minute Counts, my goal was to help anyone responsible for emergency management identify the communications actions that are important in any emergency. Instead of binders full of scenarios, document the tactics, tools and intelligence that enable incident commanders and public information officers to make swift decisions, craft accurate messages, and get urgent information out – fast.
AVOID AREA OF DOUGLAS HS for ACTIVE POLICE SCENE. Do not call 911 unless an emergency. Nothing further.Police from the adjacent jurisdiction were on the scene and communicating faster than the Broward County Sheriff’s Office.
— Coral Springs Police (@CoralSpringsPD) February 14, 2018 2:34 PM
#BSO is working a developing incident regarding a report of active shooter located at 5901 Pine Island Rd, Parkland. Here’s what we know so far: deputies are responding to reports of a shooting at Stoneman Douglas High. There are reports of victims. PIO will be on scene 3:15pm.This was the Broward Sheriff’s office first tweet about the Parkland situation.
— Broward Sheriff (@browardsheriff) February 14, 2018 2:53 PM
Here are some of the lessons that the Parkland students told me that emergency responders should factor into their communications and emergency response plans:
- THINKING UNDER DURESS: The students worried about people who were not hiding or staying still during the attack. Perhaps we can build into our plans some kind of fast reminders about key steps for safety, such as a reminder to “stay quiet, keep away from windows, and don’t walk around.” No matter how many drills are ever done, it’s hard for people to do exactly what they are “supposed” to do under duress.
- NOT EVERYONE HEARS YOU: One of the students told me he was afraid that someone was going to be shot by police because they did not understand the command to not have anything in their hands when exiting. When the SWAT team arrived to rescue students and teachers who were hiding, their instructions did not account for students with disabilities.
- DESIGNATE A CLEAR AUTHORITY: The students told me that during the initial response, they were confused by tweets from different police departments. There was no single authority that the students relied on as they sweated out those horrifying minutes hiding from the gunman. The main sources of information were tweets from media outlets.
- PLAN AHEAD FOR OBVIOUS SCENARIOS: The Parkland high school’s campus is large and open. The students said that there should have been better pre-planning for evacuating each part of the campus in an emergency. This kind of pre-planning has made a difference in other emergencies, such as a shopping mall shooting in Texas last winter.
Police are working an active shooter scene, and ask that if you are in touch with your student you ask that they remain calm and barricaded until police come to their room, this is for everyone’s safety. Do NOT call our 911 or non-emergency number unless it is an emergency.Important instructions for worried family and friends — including what to relay to anyone inside they were in contact with.
— Coral Springs Police (@CoralSpringsPD) February 14, 2018 3:29 PM
This kind of post-event analysis is one of the most important practices for any emergency agency, and its widespread adoption is one reason why emergency plans in many communities have already been updated based on learnings from last year’s wildfires and the most recent mass casualty incidents, including the mass murders at Parkland and Las Vegas.
What have you changed recently? Should others follow your lead? Let me know, and I’ll compile some of the key learnings.
Here’s to being ready to save lives next time and every time.