Harrisburg Shooting Reflection Delivers Conflicting Messages

By  Erin Mairose Aug 5, 2016 at http://listen.sdpb.org/post/school-administrators-reflect-harrisburg-shooting#stream/0   (this article refers to an incident that occurred in 2015)

“After a student shot Principal Kevin Lein in his office, Assistant Principal Ryan Rollinger  tackled the student while waiting for law enforcement. Rollinger says school administrators are the people who teach school drills. But it’s important for administrators to consider what actions they would take in case of an active shooter.

“Since I’ve been through this situation I’ve had a lot of professionals come in and talk to me about the fact that maybe thinking about that ahead of time caused us not to have to think so much, but to just react to the situation,” says Rollinger.”

Principal (remember, the principal is your pal) Lein was fortunate secondary to the actions of Assistant Principal Rollinger.  This is a clear demonstration of sensemaking (Karl Weick’s Conceptual Framework) and I doubt the safety protocols at this school included “tackle the intruder”.  Not to downplay the high-stakes decision made by AP Rollinger, but this was not a practiced response as much as capitalizing on opportunity.  How was AP Rollinger and the administrative team trained on high-stakes school safety decision-making?  Please share – with everyone!

Let’s change the perspective.  First, I struggle to understand the statement “Rollinger says school administrators are the people who teach school drills.  But it’s important for administrators to consider what actions they would take in case of an active shooter.”

The first quoted sentence is a fact obvious to anyone that has been a student.  The second sentence implies that the school’s intruder protocol includes physical intervention with an intruder.  My assumption would be that AP Rollinger’s actions were not per intruder response protocol.  More likely, it was AP Rollinger deploying sensemaking and reacting in a manner (tackling the intruder) that he deemed would end the attack.  Makes sense per the context and situation encasing AP Rollinger, but what is the message of this article?  Is it OK to tackle intruders?  When is it OK to attempt to attempt to tackle an intruder?  This was an effective decision, but was it the best decision? 

Had AP Rollinger been acting from previous training, he would not have tackled the intruder.  He was acting from sensemaking – or guided by his “gut feeling”.  This was effective in this situation, but it probably wasn’t protocol and I think it is important to make that distinction.  Hence, the article could have stated that AP Rollinger acted upon sensemaking and “gut feeling” opposed to the higher probability that the adults would not be in a position to attempt to tackle an intruder.  AP Rollinger’s role during an intruder situation most likely is ensuring that a lockdown announcement was issued and that staff and students were in lockdown positions – typically behind a locked door. 

The closing sentence of the article doesn’t match the intruder event.

“Changes to the school include how people enter the building, and more panic buttons to alert people outside the school if there’s an emergency.” 

OK – secure entrances should be in every school to account for who is allowed access to the school (non-custodial parent, etc.).  As for the checkpoints and buzzer at the front office…  In this situation, it was a student that entered the building – just as hundreds of other students.  He would have passed by the checkpoint just as a leaf falling from a tree in fall.  So, why the change to how people enter the building?  Why was that a priority versus examining the “leakage” detection system?  Panic buttons to alert law enforcement are logical and should be present at primary points of entrance for a school.  Such “buttons” might also apply to the scenario for a (non weapon carrying) parent or relative threatening harm to self or others.  The article indicates that the first law enforcement officer was on scene in less than a minute.  A button wouldn’t have changed that –


The questions remain:

  • What were the contributing factors that brought this student to the point to feeling that his best option was to bring a gun to school to shoot an administrator?
  • How robust and diverse is the school’s threat reporting system?
  • Was anyone else aware of the probability of this event?  We know that most school shooters do not act alone – they have attempted to either recruit others or have made statements, produced evidence, that would have alerted others that this student was considering harm to self or others.

Reflecting is not the same as forensic analysis.  Is the school “more prepared” today for an intruder? 


1 Comment

  1. Jim on December 9, 2016 at 2:04 am

    I couldn’t refrain from commenting. Very well written!