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Responding to Critical Incidents in Schools. A Behavioral Health Plan October 22, 2010 Paul Deignan Department of Health and Human Services. Scenario. You are in your office on a quiet Monday It's early morning. School has just begun for the day.

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Responding to Critical Incidents in Schools

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Responding to Critical Incidents in Schools

A Behavioral Health Plan

October 22, 2010

Paul Deignan

Department of Health and Human Services


  • You are in your office on a quiet Monday

  • It's early morning.

  • School has just begun for the day.

  • One school bus is late arriving due to ice on the roads.

Details of the Incident

  • The bus has 26 students from the middle and high schools on board (ages 10 - 17).

  • As the bus arrives, the driver is unable to stop the bus. The bus skids and then crashes through the wall of the music room. There are 25 students in the music room.

  • Two students are killed and 19 students are injured - four of them severely.

  • What steps would your school would take to activate your emergency response plan?

  • Which students & staff are most at risk?

  • What types of services would facilitate the recovery process?

  • How would they be delivered?

Purpose of the Plan

  • To enhance existing school emergency response plans

  • To expedite the assessment and response to a critical incident

  • To clarify roles of responders/helpers

  • To enhance a school`s capacity to respond to critical incidents in an effective and compassionate manner.

“Critical Incident”

“Any incident that might impact the emotional functioning of members of the school community:”

  • Students

  • Faculty

  • Parents

“There cannot be a crisis this


My schedule is already full.”

-Henry Kissinger

Types of School Events

  • Student deaths

  • Staff deaths

  • Accidents

  • Suicides

  • Violence in schools or community (assaults, murders, drive-by shooting)

  • Natural disasters (tornado, earthquake, hurricane, ice storm, etc.)

  • School shootings

Probability of Event

Goals for Managing a Critical Incident Planning Phase:

  • Have a school or district-wide behavioral health response team in place

  • Identify external community behavioral health resources and build relationships

  • Provide staff training on ………………………..

  • Include behavioral health issues in school based exercises and drills

  • Update contact information regularly

Goals for Managing a Critical IncidentResponse Phase:

  • Ensure safety of staff and students

  • Maintain stability of school operations

  • Maintain consistency of information

  • Address the emotional needs of students, parents, faculty and staff

  • Collaborate with external resources

Recovery: Key Components

  • Physical/Structural Recovery

  • Business/Fiscal Recovery

  • Academic Recovery

  • Psychological/Emotional Recovery

Academic Recovery

Youth exposed to violence and trauma have been shown to have:

  • Lower grade point averages (Hurt et al., 2001)

  • Decreased reading ability (Delaney-Black et al., 2003)*

  • More negative remarks in their cumulative records

  • More reported absences from school (Hurt et al., 2001)

  • Increased expulsions and suspensions (LAUSD survey)

  • Decreased rates of H.S. graduation (Grogger,1997)

*Source: Delaney-Black, V., Covington, C., Ondersma, S.J., Nordstrom-Klee, B., Templin, T., Ager, J., Janisse, J., & Sokol, R.J. (2002). Violence exposure, trauma, and IQ and/or reading deficits among urban children. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 156 (3), 280-285.

Restore the Learning Environment

  • Act to re-establish a sense of safety

  • Return school to routines & schedules

  • Support the emotional stabilization of students, faculty and parents


Public Health

Local Government

School District

Mental Health

Public Safety

Law Enforcement

Emergency Management

Psychological/Emotional Recovery: Internal and External Resources

  • Consider local mental health resources

  • Develop a structure for support

  • "Outside" vs. "Inside" help

Needs of Various Groups

  • Administrators

  • Faculty

  • Students

  • Parents

  • Community

Strategic Assessment

Assessment Tool (Appendix A)

  • Assess damage

  • Assess internal and external resources

  • Create a strategic plan of response

Responding to the Critical Incident

  • Day One

  • Day Two

  • Day of the Funeral

  • Post-Memorial Services

  • Anniversary


  • Policy for memorials

  • Temporary memorials

  • Living memorials

  • Scholarship funds

  • Candlelight vigils

  • On-line memorials

  • Pictures/plagues

  • Memory books


  • Superintendent

  • Principal

  • School based response team

  • Public Information Officer

Sample Letters/Phone Calls

  • Letter to Faculty – death of student

  • Letter to Faculty – student suicide

  • Phone call to Parents – suicide or murder

  • Phone call to Parents – suspected suicide

  • Phone call to Parents – sudden student death

Other Issues Addressed In Plan

  • Sample After Action Report

  • Working with the Media

  • Military Kids

  • Suicide considerations


  • Community resources

  • Handouts

  • Web sites

First we have the test


then we have the lesson


Paul Deignan,DBH Coordinator

Cell: 419-0074, Work 271-4462

Mark Lindberg, DBH Liaison

Cell: 991-3366, Work 444-5358

Joan Haskell,DBH Liaison

Cell: 566-3523, Work 889-6147

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