In the immediate aftermath of the Fern Creek High shooting on Sept. 30, a lack of coordination and mixed signals about who was in charge created confusion in the response, an after-action report from JCPS found.
The turmoil caused slowdowns and communications issues that need to be addressed, the report noted.
While large swaths of the report are blacked out under an exception that allows schools to redact information that could reasonably threaten public safety, the document nonetheless details several concerns and breakdowns, and lists several steps that should be taken to improve the process and training in the event of another major emergency.
For one, the report notes “a failure in command and coordination” among school personnel and emergency responders “due to failure to use the Incident Command System protocols.” Staff on the ground were unclear of who was running operations, or if special teams, such as a student evacuation team, had been created.
Fern Creek Elementary, which sits on the same campus as Fern Creek High, was not immediately given notification of the shooting, and was only told informally through a police officer calling a staff member, the report said. While the district’s operations center called a few minutes later, the report noted a need to have a protocol for schools to immediately inform their sister campuses of emergencies.
At one point, a messenger from the command post told Fern Creek Elementary that it could start releasing students who were being picked up in cars. However, “the information was not relayed to police” stationed at the elementary school.
JCPS’s own security staff was spread too thin during the emergency, the report said, saying that all security officers were involved in the Fern Creek response in some way but that “there still wasn’t enough manpower” to handle various security needs at the district, including helping at bus stops. It said that JCPS security staff had trouble getting through traffic and through police roadblocks.
There were some high points in how communication went, the report said. For instance, it said that communication with traditional media was good, and said that telling the public that the one injured student was already at the hospital with his family helped calm other parents.
But it said communication on social media was not strong, and noted that many parents did not get One Call alerts, in part because some had earlier opted out “when trying to stop unwanted alerts.”
The report also applauded the school’s resource officer, who responded to the shooting within one minute, the report said. “This may show the value of having an SRO in the school,” the report said. “Would the perpetrator have continued to pursue his intended target instead of fleeing, if the school didn’t have an SRO?”
The report lays out a number of suggestions and action items, including having an emergency bus loading plan, putting emergency lights on JCPS security vehicles and setting up a separate parent information and reunification site to reduce traffic around the school and the alternate site.
The report also suggested researching the feasibility of a standardized, security-oriented dress code for all students districtwide to reduce the risk that a student could walk around school with a gun “unchallenged for approximately two hours.” However, dress code decisions are made at the school level, a JCPS spokesman later said.