Protocols are in place. Plans have been made with the hope they never have to be used.
But what happens if they do?
Before Columbine, police protocol held the first officers on the scene of a school shooting outside until the SWAT team arrived. Post-Columbine, police began to send in rapid response teams that initially had no less than four members, said Chief Christopher Raubenstine of the Silver Spring Township Police Department.
Now, it can be a single officer.
If there’s a student resource officer on the scene, his first responsibility is to transmit any information he has so that everyone else knows what is happening. If backup is seconds away, he can wait. If backup is further out, it’s a judgment call, Raubenstine said.
“Most likely, the judgment is, if he’s hearing shots, if any of us are hearing shots, we’re going in,” he said.
Wes Schmidt, student resource officer in the Cumberland Valley School District, said communicating the location of the incident is vital, especially in a building as large as Cumberland Valley High School. If an officer responds to the wrong part of the building, he could miss the entire incident.
“If we have an active incident at the school and it goes out, within five, 10 minutes, we are going to have a minimum of 15 different agencies on scene, Raubenstine said.
On its best day, the Silver Spring Police Department might have 10 people working, Raubenstine said. Half of those who end up responding to an event will be off-duty officers from Silver Spring and its surrounding townships who may not be as familiar with the building as the officers who walk its halls routinely in training.
“We really need to know our stuff because they’re going to be coming to us for direction,” Schmidt said.
As an SRO is deciding whether to enter the scene, the phone will ring at the county’s 911 center.
The first order of business is to assure that it really is some sort of active assailant, rather than someone walking along the edge of the woods with a gun during hunting season, said Michele Parsons, emergency operations manager for Cumberland County.
“As soon as they’re able to confirm that it’s some kind of active assailant incident, anything that’s going to incur large injuries or fatalities, they have a predisposed box card that establishes who is to be sent,” she said.
The next step is to make sure all of the responding units, whether from inside the county or out, can communicate with each other. The county has already identified talk group channels for responders and know which patches need to be made to assure all radios work with each other.
“Communication is going to be a bugger no matter how small or large any event is. What we have tried to do is identify the known issues, and how we can mitigate them and make them a little easier,” Parsons said.
The county’s emergency operations center will begin to ramp up even as emergency personnel make their way to the scene.
The center’s mission is to provide aid to those involved, including the schools, responders and hospitals, as well as to provide support to the 911 center that will be inundated with phone calls. Some of those calls will be related to the school incident. Others will continue to be the routine day-to-day calls for assistance. Still more will be parents or the press looking for information about what is happening.
The EOC coordinates everything involved with responding to the incident. Long tables preset with computers are labeled with the role that person will fill when the center is in operation. Binders at each station contain all the contact information and procedures the person working that station needs to know to do their job.
Large screens at the front of the room display predesignated channels including local and national news channels as well as a channel for weather.
“You don’t think about it, but the first responders need to know what the weather is. They need to know if there’s a thunderstorm coming, if there’s snow coming, ice coming, because it’s going to have a direct impact on what they’re doing there,” Parsons said.
Every school in the county has an emergency plan on file with the county. If something happens, the EOC immediately pulls out the plan to begin coordinating details such as where the center to reunify parents and students will be located and where the media will be staged.
In the midst of all this activity, the county’s communications team would start working on the release of confirmed information about the event as well as keeping up with phone calls and coordinating the message from each of the entities involved in the incident.
“Every single responder, response agency and the school are all going to have something to say to the media, and the last thing we want to do is have a contradiction,” Parsons said.
The team has to be careful also with what types of information it releases due to privacy issues as well as the fact that the school is now the site of an ongoing investigation.
“The last thing we want to do is be responsible for the wrong information to get out that could prevent somebody from being able to go to trial and get a good conviction,” Parsons said.
The incident begins with a call for the people running the EOC, but it’s ending is far less certain.
“We know this is going to be a multiday event for the investigation, at a minimum. From the get-go, we are looking at no less than six hours is my initial time frame for my emergency responders to be committed,” Parsons said.
The EOC also sets in motion plans to manage traffic, as most of the county’s schools are on main roads, Parsons said.
“If we don’t manage that traffic from the start, that’s going to get bogged down, and emergency services, ambulances aren’t going to get in. The fire trucks aren’t going to get in. Some of the police officers aren’t going to get in if we have private or commercial cars that are coming in because they feel they have to be there for some reason,” she said.
As the EOC does its work, Parsons also keeps a close eye on the welfare of the employees. She has to make sure the dispatchers can keep doing their jobs despite what they may have heard on the other end of the line or what their personal connections to the school may be.
“We do have some staff here that their kids do go to local schools. How do I take care of my dispatcher who just took a phone call for his child’s school and he can hear shooting in the background?” Parsons said.
If the dispatcher can’t continue, Parsons then runs through the questions. What support do they need? Do we drive them to the school because we know they won’t go home? Do we sit them in the EOC? Do we bring in a mental health professional to be with them?
“The last thing we want to do is send anybody home. They’re alone and they’re going to dwell on it,” Parsons said.
Back at the scene, first responders are descending on an incident that may already have come to an end.
Adam Lanza entered Sandy Hook Elementary around 9:35 a.m. in December 2012, and shot himself about five minutes later, according to the state attorney’s report on the killings. The police timeline from Parkland says Nikolas Cruz, the alleged gunman, was in the building for only seven minutes before he ran away from the scene by mingling among evacuating students.
“The initial thing is going to be done in minutes, and we’re going to do that on instinct. We hear the gunfire. We go to the gunfire. We try to help,” Raubenstine said.
As police response training has evolved, it has changed from only moving past the wounded in search of the assailant to having teams that work with the EMS and fire personnel. These teams go into a “warm area,” an area the assailant may have already passed through, to start treating the wounded while the police maintain cover, Raubenstine said.
Raubenstine said police have also worked with staff and personnel at the district to help them understand what they may see when police respond to an incident. Officers walk a fine line between revealing too much about their protocols and making sure that people understand they will be staring at guns, and that the police will not know who is an assailant and who is a victim at first.
“Until we can find these things out, you need to shut up. You need to do exactly what we say. Don’t argue. Don’t ask questions,” he said.
The students? They’re different. This is all they know, having grown up in the post-Columbine era.
“The kids will react better than the adults,” Raubenstine said.
Parents pose a different challenge in securing the scene.
“Every parent in the history of the world is showing up, and how do you keep them away?” Raubenstine said.
The district will send out notifications of an active incident through its communications systems, and direct parents to a reunification center to pick up their children. Since parents want most to be where their child is, most will go to that location.
Still, some will go straight to the school. It’s easy enough to block off the driveway to the school, but then parents will park on side roads and walk across the fields. The question, then, is how many of them in this day and age are going to be bringing their own guns, Raubenstine said.
These parents, too, need to make sure to follow the orders of police.
“I get a call for a man with a gun. I don’t know who’s who. You, in your mind, know you’re the good guy. If I tell you to put it down … listen to what I say,” Raubenstine said.
Once police determine what is going on, the gun would be returned — unloaded.
When the assault on the school comes to an end, students and their parents are finally reunited.
The district would work quickly to set up a reunification center where web-based systems can be accessed to show school personnel who is permitted to pick up a student, said Dr. Richard Fry, superintendent of the Big Spring School District. The locations of those centers are set in the school’s safety plan.
One of the biggest challenges in reunification is getting everyone to follow directions.
The parent is torn between a child who is texting them from the scene, and the district that is telling them to go to the designated reunification center. It’s vital that the parents go where the district tells them to go. Think about the gridlock that happens if the parents don’t follow directions, Fry said.
Parents arriving at the reunification site want to be able to take their children home. Some will. Others won’t.
Through its web-based hospital incident management program, the EOC will start alerting hospitals to the incident soon after the call comes in. The emergency room responds to that notification with information about what they can handle. For example, Geisinger Holy Spirit might say it can take three patients with life-threatening injuries and 15 of the walking wounded, Parsons said.
That information is transmitted to the ambulances so they can make an informed decision about where to send the injured.
The center will also communicate with ambulances to know who was transported and where they were taken. The center has the capacity to coordinate with hospitals outside the area in the event that someone is stabilized at a local hospital and then taken to a different hospital for specialty care.
“Then, we can help feed that back to the schools. That way, they are able to know where all of their students went to, and we can also help to identify who went to what facility so we can let the parents know what facility their student is probably going to be at,” Parsons said.
Districts have also considered, and planned for, the worst case scenario of telling a parent that their child has been killed in an incident at the school.
Big Spring has established protocol for who and how it will man a reunification site, and questions of how to tell a parent and who will support them as they receive the news have been “absolutely considered within the make-up of our team or teams,” Fry said.
Bringing students and parents back together ends the crisis phase of the incident. Next comes the recovery phase, and an investigation into what happened and why. That can take some time, and will be difficult for those involved.
During a training session, Raubenstine met the man who led the investigation after Sandy Hook. In that session, he shared everything he learned in the aftermath of the massacre.
“I don’t envy him the nightmares he has,” he said.
“We do have some staff here that their kids do go to local schools. How do I take care of my dispatcher who just took a phone call for his child’s school and he can hear shooting in the background?” Michele Parsons, emergency operations center manager
“Most likely, the judgment is, if he’s hearing shots, if any of us are hearing shots, we’re going in.” Chief Christopher Raubenstine, Silver Spring Township Police Department
Creating solutions to school violence first requires consideration of the cause of the violence itself.
The knee-jerk reaction is to look for a single trigger — to blame guns for being too easy to get, the lack of a cohesive mental health system, disengaged parents, the speed of the first responders and violent video games or movies, alongside many other potential causes.
That’s oversimplifying the problem.
“In trauma, people look for a reason, an easy-to-digest reason, and there is no easy-to-digest reason,” said Dr. Frederick Withum, superintendent of Cumberland Valley School District.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says school assailants tend to follow behavior they see at home or in their neighborhood as well as in movies, television or video games.
There’s no doubt kids can become “neanderthals” when playing certain online games, but the majority know how to revert back to normal life when the game is over, said Chief Christopher Raubenstine of the Silver Spring Township Police Deparment. There’s a difference, perhaps, when the video games become the babysitter for an 8 to 10 year old.
“Most people can understand, but the kid who’s playing it for four hours at a time every day, is he really understanding? It makes you wonder,” he said.
The CDC also points to rejection by a student’s peers and bullying as factors that could contribute to a student becoming violent. This is part of a number of factors the agency identifies as risk factors that are not causes of school violence, but contribute to the likelihood of school-related violence.
These factors include individual factors such as a history of violent victimhood, early aggressive behavior emotional distress, antisocial beliefs and drug, alcohol or tobacco use.
Family situations such as low parental involvement, low parental education or income and low emotional attachment to parents can be as much a risk factor as community traits like diminished economic opportunities and a high level of family disruption.
In the wake of the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, far-ranging solutions have been offered to address the issue of school violence. Some, like students around the country, have called for stricter gun control laws. Others have looked to visible security measures like metal detectors. Still others recommend arming teachers or having armed security on campus.
The solution, however, isn’t likely to come from one solitary action.
“It’s never, never going to be that simple, and if we keep trying to find simple explanations, we are never going to find a complex solution,” Withum said.
Both Dr. Richard Fry, superintendent of the Big Spring School District, and Withum point to limitations and challenges associated with installing metal detectors.
The rural nature of the Big Spring School District, particularly its high and middle schools, would create a huge choking point as 40 buses drop off students every morning. Between 400 and 500 students would be coming in at the same time in all kinds of weather to create to go through the equivalent of the security line at the airport every single day.
“A lot of times schools that have those are a little more urban with public transportation and walking traffic that it’s more sporadic,” he said.
Bus arrival times could be staggered to prevent a backlog of students entering the building, which itself creates a security issue, Withum said. Correspondingly, students would be sent home at staggered intervals, which creates difficulties for parents when it comes to child care and for the students in upper grades who are involved in school activities or hold an after-school job.
Metal detectors would have to be used every time the building is open, not only at the beginning of the day, to prevent someone intending harm from stashing a weapon for use later, Withum said.
One question the community would have to consider is what the presence of the metal detectors does to the learning environment. Fry said he feels safe when going through those airport protocols, but wondered what a five-year-old child would feel going to school every day through those protocols.
“At the end of the day, it’s all about creating a safe learning environment. We can’t institutionalize our schools to the point that our students are uneasy because of various systems we have in place,” Fry said.
Student Resource Officers like Officer Wes Schmidt, who works in the Cumberland Valley School District, can be key not only to reacting to a problem when it happens but also to identifying potential issues before they erupt in violence.
Schmidt wears a different uniform than the Silver Spring Township Police, and is comfortable with students. More importantly, perhaps, in the long run, they are comfortable with him. They often joke with him when Raubenstine walks the halls with him, saying that he brought the “real cops” along to school.
Schmidt always protests, “I am a real cop.”
That relationship helps Schmidt be able to see areas of potential concern and reach out to the family and the district, Withum said.
The SRO is vital, but it has to be the right person. It’s not the place for someone who is not comfortable around children, and it is not the place to hide someone until they can retire, Raubenstine said.
Big Spring also has an armed SRO on campus each day. Some of the discussions with the board and the community in the coming months will involve potentially expanding the coverage to other buildings and determining what that coverage should be.
“The role of the SRO is to create a respect for law enforcement from our students and a willingness to cooperate and collaborate and work together, but obviously serves as a deterrent as well,” Fry said.
Another key to preventing violence is ensuring open communication with students so they feel comfortable reporting potential issues, Fry said. A district can implement all the systems in the world, but it comes down to students knowing students. Big Spring has an anonymous reporting system that both staff and students are aware of, and use as needed.
“If something is building, our kids let us know. But we need to continue to emphasize that if you hear, you report. Then, we need to stay vigilant to that,” he said. “We are our own best protection.”
Cumberland Valley, too, received timely, reliable, concerned information from its students to help their friends and family members. This open communication between students and adults has been a continual help to the district, Withum said.
“We have to find ways that we can foster that communication with other agencies and other groups in order to best support kids before we even get to the point where someone would consider doing something like this,” he said.
School administrators, local law enforcement, board members and legislators met with the Pennsylvania director of Homeland Security to talk about school threats recently at a meeting arranged by Rep. Greg Rothman. The officials discussed the gap between identifying someone who may do something foolish, and that student actually doing it. How that gap is addressed is essential.
“That space is where we really need to focus our community efforts in order to intervene and avoid these terrible situations,” Withum said.
A new terroristic threats policy at Cumberland Valley attempts to step into that gap. The policy had been in the works even before Parkland. It requires any student who makes a terroristic threat go through a series of steps with the administration, including an evaluation that helps to stave off further issues by getting the student the assistance they need before something goes too far, Withum said.
Cumberland Valley has also partnered with Laurel Life, an organization specializing in behavioral health services, that can help parents get the insurance they need or work with the insurance company, and then provide counseling services for the student there at the school, eliminating a hurdle for working parents.
Getting to a potential solution to school violence in the post-Parkland era may not be an easy road, but the discussions underway in school districts across the country have continued longer than in the past.
“Parkland is creating far more of a sustained conversation. Maybe it’s not Parkland by itself. Maybe it’s the culminating effect of all of these and Parkland was the tipping point with the students. The conversation is much more robust at every level,” Withum said
School officials are reviewing everything, but those reviews fall short in light of the number of bills on the state and federal level that have been introduced or are expected to be introduced. If a district commits to a certain program, it could be forced to change depending on where the state puts funding, Withum said.
Imagine adding an SRO to every building, or passing legislation that would allow retired police officers to carry a gun in campus. Those options could be a game changer, and must be taken into account as districts go through the post-Parkland reflection process, Withum said.
Yet, these multifaceted approaches are exactly what is needed for a multifaceted problem.
“It is going to require legislative, social, personal, political, financial — all of those things have to come together and we have to decide how we are going to address this,” Withum said.
Thousands filled the streets of downtown Carlisle Saturday afternoon for the 19th Amani Festival, a one-day multi-cultural event celebrating diversity through unity, acceptance and tolerance.
This year’s event offered 80 food and craft vendors, community groups, live music acts, a petting zoo and a children’s alley, all creating a mix of scents, sounds and sights throughout the area. Highlighted nationalities included Irish, German, Thai and Nepalese, as well as West, East and South African.
“Our goal (of the festival) is to raise awareness of the diversity and culture we have here in central Pennsylvania and to show that Carlisle is not only in the middle of that, but also is a leader,” event chair Tanis Monroy said.
This has mostly worked well for organizers since they re-started the event. Festival attendance continues to grow, and Monroy estimated that Saturday’s attendance was upward of 3,000 by noon. Just two hours into the day, this already matched respective end-of-day totals for 2016 and 2017.
New this year was a beer and wine garden situated in a new borough pocket park on West High Street that featured two Carlisle venues, Market Cross Pub and Castlerigg Wine Shop.
“We’ve been very busy today,” said bartender Chris Prince, who was working the Market Cross Pub with owner Ashleigh Corby. “It’s been really nice. The customers here are great.”
Also new to the festival this year was an animal lovers section, including Goat Yoga PA and its live goat pen. The business was started last year by Christine and Darby Miller at Healing Acres Farm in Middlesex Township.
“Goat yoga is a combination of yoga with animal assistance and a goat happy hour when people can cuddle with them,” Christine Miller explained. “It’s therapeutic and it’s fun.”
Across the way, a group of curious children and adults had gathered at CDE Exotics, noted as “Your reptile specialty and educational facility.” The Hanover business is owned by Cameron English, who, of course, wore a sizable snake around his neck for children to see. Nearby, buddy Paul Tereska tended to a 14-foot albino Burmese snake. The booth also sold rats.
“I’ve sold about four or five rats so far. I’ve sold as many as 40 at the Bloomsburg Fair, but that’s a whole week long,” English noted.
At the Passage to India booth, cook Jason Heagy said the day’s most popular delicacy was a chicken tikka masala, a spicy red sauce with chicken pieces. Samosa, a dumpling filled with seasoned potatoes, was another customer favorite.
Another booth featured books penned by Tanzania native Joseph L. Mbele, a self-described “cultural consultant,” and professor of English and folklore at St. Olaf College in Minnesota. One of his books, “Africans and Americans Embracing Cultural Differences,” was written with humor so that each nationality could laugh at themselves, he said. For example, one of the book’s chapters is titled, “Time flies, but not in Africa,” noting that Americans strive for punctuality while Africans are polar opposites.
Monroy said it takes a 10-member committee nearly a year to plan each Amani Festival. Upward of 30 volunteers are needed for each year’s setup, booth assistance and cleanup.
But it’s a popular festival, Monroy believes, because “Everyone wants to have a moment of time of peace. People want to get to know their neighbor. They want a chance to express themselves. Amani gives them that opportunity.”
To some, he was known as Bubby. To others, he was Jim, Jimmy or Wash.
All called the late Jim Washington friend.
On Saturday morning, these friends gathered to remember Washington’s life nearly a year after his death.
Washington died in May 2017 at the age of 65. He had become a fixture in the Carlisle community as the executive director of Hope Station, a nonprofit organization on West Penn Street that works to lift up the community through a variety of programs, focusing largely on children.
A veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, Washington also served the community through the years working with such organizations as the Marine Corps League, Sons of the American Legion and the Haines-Stackfield American Legion Post, where he was a past commander.
“He was one of the finest not only Marines, but one of the finest gentlemen I’ve ever met. He cared about the Marine Corps, but he really, really cared about Carlisle,” said Lt. Gen Ronald S. Coleman.
Coleman met Washington when both were stationed in Okinawa in 1977. He recalled it was Washington who convinced him to give up alcohol for Lent, a practice Coleman kept up for many years.
Though retired, Col. Neal Delisanti, director of veterans affairs in Cumberland County, couldn’t be at the ceremony, he sent a letter that former Mayor Kirk Wilson read. The letter spoke of Washington’s work with the veterans community in town, especially his work with the Joint Veterans Council and the annual Toys for Tots campaign.
“He loved Carlisle. He believed in Carlisle, and he gave his all to Carlisle,” the letter said.
Christopher Gulotta, former executive director of the Redevelopment and Housing Authorities of Cumberland County, recalled that Washington gave him a hard time about the authority demolishing his boyhood home in the 300 block of North Pitt Street in their first meeting.
Washington showed his love for the community in good and bad times, Gulotta said. He pointed to three trees next to Hope Station that were planted in memory of three children who died in a fire in the neighborhood about 20 years ago. Washington also worked to create home ownership opportunities for those in the neighborhood though projects like Pitt Street Pride and the Pride of Carlisle.
“His work with Hope Station was the culmination of his life’s work. Jim realized that this neighborhood and the people who lived here deserved better,” he said.
Though Washington was known for his work with children, Gulotta noted that he was also an advocate for senior citizens in the neighborhood who need to be respected and revered.
“He believed that good things could be accomplished if people worked hard enough and cared enough,” he said. “His life was a life well-lived.”
Safronia Perry, executive director of Hope Station, said it was hard to write her remarks for the ceremony so she spoke without notes, telling the gathering about how Washington drew her into the work of Hope Station step by step.
“Jim had this way of making you feel like you couldn’t say no,” she said, drawing a laugh from the crowd.
She recalled Washington’s interaction with the children, and how he kept tabs on them. When he was ill, the children in the homework club made get well cards for him and waited for him to come back.
His influence made Perry want to continue to do this work.
“I hope that I’m making him proud. I hope that he’s looking down and feeling good about the things I’m trying to do and trying to continue,” she said, adding that Washington continues to be missed at Hope Station.
Perry was joined by Washington’s niece, Toni Hodge, to unveil the plaque, which includes an image of Washington and a description of his role in the community.
“He’s truly missed by his family and the community. With that being said, you’ve got to keep moving and keep Hope Station going for him. This is what he lived for,” she said.