Preparing for Crises in the Schools: A Manual for Building School Crisis Response Teams / Edition 2

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From Jonesboro, Arkansas, to Littleton, Colorado, the past several years have seen frightening and dramatic examples of violence in our schools. As these and other harrowing incidents–from natural disasters to suicides–have become sadly familiar, communities have begun to expect their schools to be prepared to immediately respond to the aftermath of these crises.

Authored by a group of school psychologists who have helped to implement crisis response plans in many school districts and facilitated numerous crisis response workshops, Preparing for Crises in the Schools presents a workable framework for a proactive response to tragedy. This completely revised and updated Second Edition reports the latest findings on initiating and implementing district-wide and building-level school crisis response plans.

This step-by-step guide aids counselors, school psychologists, teachers, and administrators in developing an action plan for responding to the multiple issues generated by school crises. This invaluable planning tool includes:

  • A chapter on the early detection of potentially violent students–with concrete ideas on how to proactively respond to the special needs of these youth
  • Anecdotal vignettes illustrating actual school crises and the responses by school personnel
  • A blueprint for crisis response training, including a complete in-service workshop designed to facilitate crisis intervention skill development
  • Guidelines for responding to the unique opportunities and dangers presented by media attention
  • Recommendations for helping to ensure student and staff safety and security before, during, and after crises
  • Suggestions for assessing crisis response plan readiness
  • Guidelines for debriefing and evaluating a school crisis response

The future of our children necessitates that they enjoy a stable, peaceful learning environment. With Preparing for Crises in the Schools, educators will have a first-rate outline for promoting and maintaining such an atmosphere, even when faced with adversity.

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Editorial Reviews

Presents a step-by-step framework for proactive response to violence, natural disasters, and other school crises, for counselors, school psychologists, teachers, and administrators. Offers suggestions for ensuring student and staff safety, recommendations for assessing crisis response plan readiness, and guidelines for responding to the media. There is also material on early detection of potentially violent students. A blueprint for crisis response training includes a complete in-service workshop designed to facilitate crisis intervention skill development. Brock is a school psychologist with the Lodi Unified School District in Lodi, California. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780471384236
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 1/16/2001
  • Edition description: REV
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 1,169,864
  • Product dimensions: 6.38 (w) x 9.69 (h) x 1.37 (d)

Meet the Author

STEPHEN E. BROCK, PhD, and SHARON LEWIS, MA, school psychologists with the Lodi Unified School District in Lodi, California, spearheaded the development of Lodi's crisis response team. Dr. Brock is also the author or editor of numerous publications on this topic, including Best Practices in School Crisis Prevention and Intervention.
JONATHAN SANDOVAL, PhD, University of California, Davis, is the author or editor of several other books on this subject, including Crisis Counseling, Intervention, and Prevention in the Schools. He is also a past president of the American Psychological Association's Division 16 (School Psychology).
All three authors have vast experience implementing crisis response plans and working with school administrators to evaluate their effectiveness.

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Table of Contents

Crisis Theory.

Getting Started.

Developing and Implementing a Crisis Response Policy.

Components of a Crisis Preparedness Plan.

Components of a Crisis Response.

Psychological Triage and Referral.

Crisis Intervention.

Media Relations.

Security and Safety Procedures.

Working with Potentially Violent Students.

Emergency Medical and Health Procedures.

Evaluating and Debriefing the Crisis Response.




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First Chapter



June 7, 1985, was an unusually hot, late spring day in California's Central Valley. A day that had begun with excitement for the students of a suburban Sacramento school district had ended in tragedy. On the way to an amusement park, a bus chartered for a sixth-grade graduation party had collided with a stalled truck and trailer rig on an interstate highway. The bus driver and several students were trapped in the wreckage for some time. Several students were hospitalized and, most tragically, one student was killed.


On the day of this bus accident, each of the authors were looking forward to a summer vacation away from careers as school psychologists. Suddenly, however, attention was refocused on professional concerns as the first media reports of this tragedy were received. It was impossible to avoid thinking about this accident as the media bombarded the public with reports and updates. As this drama unfolded, school psychologists were portrayed as playing a critical role in assisting families, students, and staff cope with this crisis. It was at this point that each of the authors realized that they could someday be placed in a similar position. This realization heightened sensitivity to crisis events and the authors became aware that such events occurred with frightening frequency. This growing awareness generated anxiety as some unsettling questions were encountered. How does one conduct a crisis intervention? What does the school crisis response involve? What was the school's role during times of crisis? Each of the authors faced these questions in different ways.

Dr. Jonathan Sandoval, in his position as an academic school psychologist, has actively pursued answers to these questions through study and research while, as practicing school mental health professionals, Brock and Lewis addressed these school crisis response questions first hand. (Brock & Sandoval, 1997; Brock, Sandoval, & Lewis, 1996; J. Davis & Sandoval, 1991; J. Davis, Sandoval, & Wilson, 1988; Sandoval, 1985a, 1985b, 1987, 1988a, 1988b, 1989, in press-a, in press-b, in press-c; Sandoval & Brock, 1996; Sandoval, Davis, & Wilson, 1987; Sandoval, London, & Rey, 1994).

Dr. Stephen Brock's first crisis response occurred after an accidental shooting. One day after school, two intermediate grade students went to the home of one of the boys where a loaded rifle was accessible. They began to play with it. Apparently, one of the boys was holding the rifle on his lap when it accidentally discharged into the head of his friend. The wounded child's life was gravely threatened. Initially, there were fears that he would not live, but fortunately, he survived and eventually made a complete recovery. In the meantime, however, each of the intermediate grade classrooms at the boys' school was significantly traumatized. Both boys were popular students, and many classmates considered each their friend. Rumors ran rampant. Issues of blame, questions of the intentionality of the shooting, and punishment of the shooter were common. Students needed assistance dealing with the reality of a critically injured peer. They also needed answers to questions of how to respond to the student who had fired the rifle when he returned to school.

Ms. Sharon Lewis' first crisis response followed the accidental death of a student in a horsebackriding accident. Besides dealing with the various rumors about this death, Ms. Lewis was also faced with the task of identifying and assisting the students most significantly affected by this crisis. It was quickly recognized that the friends of the deceased student needed special attention.

For both Dr. Brock and Ms. Lewis, these first crisis interventions were unsettling. They knew that they needed to intervene; however, they were not exactly sure how to proceed, as responding to such events is not routine for most educators. Although each had given some casual consideration to crisis response, no formal crisis plans had been made. Because there were no school resources that could be turned to for guidance and support, both felt very much on their own. Looking back on these crisis responses, rock and Lewis felt that they did an adequate job. However, as they realized they could have been much more prepared, the importance of crisis preparedness became more apparent.

Since the tragic bus accident 15 years ago and following a wide variety of professional crisis response experiences, each of the authors has invested significant time reading and writing about crisis theory, attending and giving numerous crisis response and intervention workshops and training sessions, and listening carefully to accounts of how other educators have helped their schools cope with crises. From these experiences, the authors have come to realize that it is not only possible to prepare for crises, but that it is necessary to do so. Having a crisis response plan in place significantly lessens anxiety about intervening during times of crisis. By providing a clear sense of direction, a crisis plan results in a more effective crisis response (Thompson, 1995). Systematic preparedness also helps to minimize the amount of trauma students may experience in times of crisis (Allen, Dlugokinski, Cohen, & Walker, 1999), and maximizes the likelihood they will adapt successfully to crises (Kline, Schonfeld, & Lichtenstein, 1995).


In the pages that follow, you are provided with the authors' views on school crisis preparedness and response, which have been shaped by a variety of crisis response experiences. One experience played a primary role in the development of our views: On January 17, 1989, a gunman walked on to a crowded primary playground in a neighboring school district. Dressed in camouflage, he began shooting. Before taking his own life, the gunman killed 5 children and wounded 30 others, including a teacher (Cox & Grieve, 1989).

Along with other members of the local mental health community, we spent the next two weeks assisting the Stockton Unified School District as they helped the students, staff, and families of Cleveland Elementary School begin to cope with this disaster. Our experiences immediately following the Stockton schoolyard shooting are ones that we will never forget. Reassuring second-graders that it is safe to go out to recess, running a gauntlet of reporters, and helping families deal with having a child shot are all unforgettable memories. Our attempt to make some sense out of this tragedy, to make some good come of this great evil, was to redouble our crisis preparedness efforts. In large part, this book is a result of our experiences at Cleveland Elementary School.


On May 16, 1986, at 1: 00 P. M., a husband and wife team invaded and held hostage approximately 160 students and adults at the Cokeville Elementary School. Reportedly, a ransom was demanded to help finance a "revolution." Two hours after it had begun, the siege ended when an explosive device was accidentally triggered. The bomb injured 80 persons including one of the hostage takers. Realizing that their plans had failed, the husband shot and killed his already wounded wife and then took his own life. Sandall's (1986) report of the school's response to this disaster further reinforced our view that school site resources should provide direct crisis intervention services and that outside crisis intervenors should remain behind the scenes. Additionally, this article verified our belief that the structure and routine of school can be reassuring. Returning students to school as soon as possible can be very helpful, and helping children talk about what has happened to them facilitates an optimal recovery.


In May, 1988, a 30-year-old woman walked into the Hubbards Woods Elementary School, shot six students (killing the son of a school board member), and then committed suicide (Pitcher & Poland, 1992). Dillard (1989, 1990, cited in Pitcher & Poland, 1992), the head of psychological services for the school district affected by this tragedy, made several suggestions that influenced our views on crisis response. Among them, that it is important for the school to be familiar with available mental health resources; that clear and honest information be provided about the trauma; that the school faculty be made aware of the symptoms of posttraumatic stress; and that a plan be developed for reactions on the anniversary of crisis events.


On March 24, 1998, two boys, 13 and 11 years old, opened fire on their middle school classmates as they assembled for a fire alarm. In less than four minutes, the pair had fired 22 rounds of ammunition, killing five and wounding 15 (Labi, 1998). The magnitude of this tragedy, and the national-level crisis response it required (Poland, 1998), emphasized the importance of multiple-level crisis response teams. While school site crisis teams can manage most school crises, some events are so overwhelming that outside crisis intervenors are necessary. This led us to consider the concept of crisis intervention mutual aid (Brock, 1998b).


In May 1998, the 15-year-old son of two schoolteachers discharged 51 rounds of ammunition from a semiautomatic rifle and two pistols. When the shooting stopped, two students had been killed and 18 others wounded. Later, both of the boy's parents were found at home shot to death (Hornblower, 1998). Paine's (1998a, 1999) articles on this shooting reinforced our awareness of the profound effects that responding to such a tragedy can have on caregivers. They also emphasized that recovery is an ongoing process, that media management is an essential part of crisis response, and that a cadre of trained crisis responders is essential. Paine (1998b) emphasized the importance of actively involving all affected individuals in memorial development.


The most violent and deadly act ever to occur on U. S. schoolgrounds took place on April 20, 1999 when two teens, aged 17 and 18, terrorized their entire school with a shooting and bombing spree that left 15 dead and 24 wounded. Before committing suicide, the killers fired approximately 900 rounds of ammunition from two sawed-off shotguns, a 9-mm semiautomatic carbine, and a semiautomatic handgun. More than 30 bombs placed throughout the school were later found by police (Gibbs, 1999). In addition to reinforcing virtually all of the other lessons learned about school crisis response, this event and the media attention that followed also suggested to us that media attention may have a contagion effect. It led to thoughts on the most appropriate and productive role for school personnel when working with the media in times of crisis (Lazarus, Brock, & Feinberg, 1999).


There has been an increasing interest in school crisis preparedness and response. In 1987, results of a national survey suggested that most school psychologists felt that crisis intervention was important and were interested in learning more about it (Wise, Smead, & Huebner, 1987). However, despite this interest, in the early 1990s, school crisis intervention was judged to still be in its infancy (Pitcher & Poland, 1992) and many school professionals reported that they had inadequate training for crisis intervention (Wise et al., 1987).

As with any infant, it is safe to say that early school responses to crisis events were reflexive in nature. From first-hand experiences, we observed that most school crisis responses were reactive. Very little prior planning had taken place. It was in response to the need for crisis planning that books, such as this volume's first edition, were written. Because of this increased attention, school crisis teams have begun to mature. Evidence of this maturation includes a growing school crisis response literature (e. g., Canter & Carroll, 1999; Fairchild, 1997; Johnson 1993; Petersen & Straub, 1992; Pitcher & Poland, 1992; Poland & McCormick, 1999). Perhaps even more convincing evidence of the growth and development of school crisis response can be found by observing media reports of school crises. The authors have observed that most of these reports end with words to the effect: "crisis counselors will be on hand to help distraught students."

As expectations for school crisis teams continue to increase, educators must further their ability to consciously reflect on the provision of these services. Soon it will no longer be acceptable to respond in a reflexive fashion to crisis events. As we enter a new century, the authors anticipate that school crisis preparedness will be expected.



Evidence supporting our suggestion that crisis preparedness will become "expected" can be found in recent state and federal legislative efforts. For example, at the state level in 1999, both Alaska and Virginia adopted legislation requiring their public schools to develop written school crisis emergency or response plans. In Alaska, SB 125, the School Crisis Response Planning Act, requires all school districts to develop a model crisis response plan for each of its schools. It further specifies the composition of each school's crisis response team, and details the specific components of plans. Finally, the Act requires annual review of the plan and annual crisis response team training. In Virginia, SB 827 amended its code relating to school safety (Code of Virginia, § 22.1-278.1) to include school crisis and emergency management plans. As with Alaska, this amendment requires each school district to develop a written crisis plan. It also specifies the range of critical events or emergencies that may require a crisis response.

Taking a more conservative approach, California's School Violence and Response Act of 1999 (AB 1366) authorizes funding to create a School Violence Prevention and Response Task Force. This task force will analyze and evaluate current statutes and programs in the area of school crisis prevention and response and then make appropriate policy recommendations. In Illinois, the "Safe to Learn Initiatives" sponsored by the Attorney General's office includes recommendations for the development of a School Emergency Response Team. This state-level team will assist schools during and following crisis events. And finally, a resolution by the Kansas legislature (House Concurrent Resolution No. 5018) "strongly urges every public and private elementary and secondary school to create a school crisis plan tailored to that school."


Two federal legislative efforts may also be seen as developing an expectation for school crisis preparedness and response. First the School Safety Enhancement Act of 1999 (H. R. 1898; S. 973) proposes the establishment of the National Center for School and Youth Safety. Among the duties of this Center would be emergency response (designed to assist local communities respond to school safety crises), and information and outreach (designed to compile and share information about the best practices in school violence prevention, intervention, and crisis management). Also, the School Anti-Violence Empowerment Act (H. R. 1895) would authorize the Secretary of Education to provide grants to school districts to help them establish or enhance crisis intervention programs.


With the growing expectations and mandates for crisis response in mind, this book shares the knowledge we have gained developing and implementing our own school crisis response plans. This book is not intended to be a theoretical treatise. Rather, its primary goal is to provide school personnel with the practical information needed to meet the growing expectations for school crisis preparedness and response. It is anticipated that the information provided will be applied in the development of local and regional school crisis response teams.

Chapter 2 of this book presents a brief review of crisis theory. Following this discussion is a review of techniques or strategies found helpful in getting crisis response planning started (Chapter 3). Specifically, the processes schools may go through in educating themselves about crisis response are reviewed. Also reviewed are strategies designed to increase a district's receptivity to crisis preparedness. This discussion investigates the process of team building and includes suggestions for forming a Crisis Response Planning Committee, identifying priorities, conducting needs assessments, creating a tentative plan, and obtaining a consultant. After presenting suggestions for getting started and for creating an environment receptive to crisis preparedness, we review recommendations for securing a commitment to crisis response planning (Chapter 4). Here we examine strategies aimed at developing and implementing a school district crisis response policy.

Chapters 5 through 13 examine the specific components of a model crisis response plan. These components include planning for crisis responses; delineation of specific crisis intervention procedures; risk screening or triage procedures; crisis intervention; working with the media, security, and safety issues; identifying and preventing student violence; emergency medical and health procedures; and evaluation of the crisis response.

Although an important focus of this book is on preparing for and responding to the immediate mental health needs of students and staff, this volume also addresses multidimensionality of crisis response. Given this reality, we distinguish between the terms crisis intervention and crisis response. You may be more familiar with the term crisis intervention as a descriptor for the team that intervenes following traumatic events. However, we describe such teams as crisis "response" teams because of our observations that the direct crisis intervention services provided to traumatized individuals are only a part of the crisis response. As will be described later, crisis response involves much more than crisis intervention. Thus, crisis response is used as a more inclusive term designed to refer to the variety of activities required to manage the aftermath of a crisis event. The term crisis intervention is reserved for those psychological first aid and mental health activities that involve provision of direct intervention services to traumatized individuals. Additionally, although not a primary focus of this book, we also address the important role schools can play in the prevention of crises in the first place (primary prevention), and in providing the long-term follow-up often required by crises (tertiary prevention).

It is our hope that this book will assist school districts in completing crisis preparedness plans, which can benefit both students and staff. Crisis response plans not only allow educators to provide students with more effective support, but they also make the process of crisis response less anxiety provoking for educators.

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