“The bad guy doesn’t follow steps one, two, three and four,” said police sergeant Jay Brennan, referring to the unpredictability of a potential violent intruder. “Forget about your place. What matters is the process.”
Brennan should know. Co-founder of Synergy911, which provides emergency response training, Brennan was in emergency management operations in Boston during the Marathon bombing and subsequent terrorist manhunt in Watertown, Mass. With a list of notorious events – from airports, to schools, to places of worship, concerts, a movie theater, night club and other venues – he talked with South Jersey Catholic school administrators about strategies to survive violence wherever it might occur.
He also said 69 percent of violent incidents end in five minutes or less, reinforcing how important it is to think and act quickly.
Brennan broke the process into four L’s: locate, lockdown, leave and live. He provided practical suggestions for identifying and communicating intrusion, warning and helping others, and calling 911.
Principals and other school administrators found the hands-on experience of building barricades during lockdown to be particularly helpful. They were given a minute and a half to complete the exercise. With associates from Ratio Risk Services, which provides risk management programs and training in safety and security, Brennan used hallways, classrooms and the parking lot to simulate attempts to escape a dangerous situation, all with the objective of helping as many people as possible live.
All South Jersey Catholic schools are required by the state of New Jersey to have monthly drills and detailed plans for what to do in a variety of emergency situations. Brennan brought strategies and new ways of thinking to enhance those plans so administrators can equip teachers to think strategically and logically in certain types of emergencies. The training was staged in classrooms and on the grounds of Holy Angels Catholic School in Woodbury, where administrators gathered for their first meeting of the new school year.
Saint Vincent de Paul principal Linda Pirolli knows the difference between executing a drill and being caught off-guard by the real thing. Although the Mays Landing school was never in danger, local police issued a lockdown on the heels of a community incident in the spring of 2018. The school received the alert and learned first-hand the value of their routine drills.
“It lasted 20 minutes, maybe a half hour,” said Pirolli. “We were in classrooms, and one student was in the bathroom. He knew to stay there in the stall.”
Pirolli acknowledged it was nerve wracking not knowing what was happening or why they were in lockdown, but she said everyone remained calm and did exactly what they were supposed to do until they received the “all clear” from the police. She said the violent intruder training gave her a new perspective on steps teachers and other leaders might be able to take in a lockdown that involves an outsider on the premises.
“It makes so much sense to teach teachers to feel prepared,” said Susan Tarrant, principal of Our Lady Star of the Sea School in Atlantic City. Tarrant and other principals said they felt equipped to take the training back to teachers in their schools. “Sometimes you have to make out-of-the-box decisions. We’re empowering school leaders to make life-changing decisions on the spot,” said Brennan.