It’s the words that parents of school-aged children don’t want to hear: “There’s been a shooting at a school.”
On Wednesday, 17 people, 14 of whom were students, were killed during a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Florida. According to an editorial by the Washington Post, the shooting was the fifth in 2018 that caused injuries during school hours. The report said claims by Everytown for Gun Safety group that there had been 18 school shootings this year were false.
But what if it happens at a school on the Coast? How will parents get accurate information from school and law enforcement officials about the shooting or any disaster?
“I think that most schools these days use an automated call system to alert parents when there has been a lockdown or an incident,” said Gulfport police public information officer Sgt. Clayton Fulks.
School policies for lockdown procedures vary from district to district. Most policies can be found in online versions of school handbooks or by asking school officials.
There’s been a lockdown. What happens next?
Erin Rosetti, director of public relations and advancement at St. Patrick Catholic School in Biloxi, said the school uses a three-tier system to notify parents in case of an emergency.
“In the event of a lockdown, school administration will notify parents through automated phone call, text message and email,” she said.
The three-part notification system is the same for many Coast schools, including St. Vincent de Paul Catholic School in Long Beach.
Monitoring social media
In the event of a lockdown or school crisis, another way for parents to monitor information is by checking social media. Most Coast schools have a Facebook page and website, and many are also using Twitter.
“In a shooter or disaster scenario, we would get our information from the law enforcement agency with jurisdiction,” said MC Price Barton, public information officer for the Gulfport School District. “We would then release that information through automatic calls and texts as well as our social media and school website page — we would also rely on local media to help us get this information to the parents and public.”
Getting information from law enforcement agencies
Fulks said a crisis situation, including a shooting, at Coast schools would be a joint effort between the school superintendent and law enforcement. He said most public schools have school resource officers that could be an independent group or a branch of the local police department or sheriff’s office.
“If there was a shooting, Gulfport police would send out a Tweet and we would notify the local media and we would then start briefing the local media with updates,” he said. “As the public information officer, I would dispatch the first bits of information and then Chief (Leonard) Papania would address the media through press conferences — we wouldn’t just put information on social media and be silent.”
Harrison County Emergency Management Director Rupert Lacy said his agency would aid in setting up a command center.
“We would help funnel information through the command center set up by the superintendent and local law enforcement,” he said.
What the hospital could tell you
In an active shooter situation, injuries and even fatalities could be a reality. This could create a situation where frantic parents are calling the local hospitals seeking information.
Memorial Hospital at Gulfport’s Communications Director Marti Schuman said the hospital also would set up a command center.
“We would have someone working with the police and school officials and we would have a person giving out information,” she said.
Although many parents would probably want immediate information from the emergency room, Schuman said the command center would be the best way to get updates.
“If a disaster happens at a school, many parents would want to call the ER,” she said, “but the ER will be limited in what it can say.”
Would you be allowed on campus?
The thought of their children being placed in peril could send many parents scrambling to get to a school during the crisis. But would you be allowed on campus during a lock down scenario?
The answer is, “no.”
“Parents and families will not be allowed on campus until emergency personnel confirm that the area is clear and free of danger, Rosetti said. “Once safe conditions are confirmed and all students are accounted for, parents and families will be able to reunite with students and we have two staging areas designated in the local geographical area. In the event of an evacuation, students and teachers will be transported to one of these areas once campus is free from danger and students and staff are accounted for.”
She said students are accounted for throughout a lockdown.
“During a lockdown, students are accounted for immediately and the administration is notified through an internal coding system — there is also a plan in place to notify administrators of any emergency situations within a classroom,” Rosetti said.
What’s in place?
Most Coast schools have upgraded their security measures in recent years. The upgrades included locks on doors in classrooms, increased presence of school security and systems for admitting visitors to the schools.
Barton said Gulfport schools, including the newly renovated high school campus, receive annual training for many types of emergency scenarios.
“Our staff goes through a lot of training to help better prepare them for emergencies including a shooter scenario,” she said. “We have many security measures in place, but we also want to encourage our students and parents to be pay attention to things they hear or see, even if it’s off campus or on social media — if you hear something or see something, say something.”
Biloxi schools superintendent Arthur McMillan issued a press release Friday afternoon acknowledging much the same for his district, including regular drills, fences around entrances and exits, ID badges for staff, and a visitor identification process.
“Our school resource officers serve as our very own police department within our district,” McMillan said in the press release. “They monitor our schools constantly, assessing all of our safety measures and looking for potential threats.”