January 18, 2002
Prof prepares schools to deal with crisis
Most of the time, a school crisis doesn't
become a Columbine-level national disaster. But a CSUS school
psychology professor and national expert on school crisis
response says that regardless of the cause or severity of
a crisis, efforts to limit the impact should start before
an event occurs.
Stephen Brock, author of Preparing for Crises in the Schools:
A Manual for Building School Crisis Response Teams, says,
"I view crisis response not just as responding to the
aftermath but crisis prevention - doing what you can to prevent
the crisis in the first place," he says. "Planning
helps reduce the anxiety created by a crisis situation. If
you're anxious, you don't have as much attention to devote
to others who need it."
Brock's push for preparation is backed by over a decade of
experience in assisting with school crisis response, including
representing the U.S. Department of Education in the aftermath
of last March's pair of school shootings near San Diego. He
also wrote several chapters in the Handbook of Crisis Counseling,
Intervention and Prevention in the Schools and edited
the just-published Best Practice in School Crisis Prevention
"The essence of crisis preparation is the key players
have to acknowledge that school crisis is not just a possibility
- it's a reality. That's not a fun thing," Brock says.
"Those involved in the discussion must decide what procedures
you will follow in a crisis so that when it does happen you're
not caught with your 'plans' down."
Prevention efforts can include training in social skills,
anger reduction, conflict management and identifying youth
at risk of violence. Part of prevention is preparedness -
determining where crisis events are likely to occur and having
a general safety plan in place to deal with potential situations.
Brock first became involved with school crisis preparation
and response as lead psychologist for the Lodi School District.
While it is now common for counselors to be on hand to help
students and faculty cope with a tragedy, that wasn't always
the case. An off-campus accidental shooting at one of the
schools in his district "hit the school like a ton of
bricks," he says. "It was my first real-life experience
responding to such an event and as it ended, I realized I
could've been much better prepared."
He began putting together district-wide policies, practices
and procedures. This planning proved crucial for a neighboring
district when a gunman took aim on the schoolyard at Cleveland
Elementary School in Stockton, killing five and wounding 25.
Brock offered help and was soon working with local mental
"It served as a powerful impetus for training and preparation,"
he says. "Within the year the district had a policy on
how to respond and had procedures in place."
The next step in Brock's research will be to study the effectiveness
of school crisis responses. "We need to ask 'what are
the desired outcomes following a crisis?'" he says.
"These desired outcomes should probably include maintenance
of normal school attendance and achievement patterns, and
avoidance of a rise in school discipline problems, as well
as the identification of those at risk for severe psychological
trauma. We need to clearly specify the goals of school crisis
response and begin to document how effective our interventions
are at obtaining these goals."
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