On May 24, 2022, a horrific event unfolded at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, shattering the lives of families and communities forever. An 18-year-old gunman, armed with an AR-15 style rifle, entered the school and opened fire, killing 19 children and two teachers before being fatally shot by police. On January 18, 2024, the Department of Justice released its preliminary findings on the incident. The detailed report included findings that can be significant for police departments, first responders, and schools. Below are the findings specifically helpful for school administrators.

ACRONYMS USED IN REPORT:

TXDPS - Texas Department of Public Safety

UPD - Uvalde Police Department

UCISD - Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District

USCO - Uvalde County Sheriff’s Office

ZCSO - Zavala County Sheriff’s Office

OBSERVATION 1: TXDPS did not maintain a log for the investigative command post. As a result of this oversight, there is no record of which agencies or individuals were present at various times throughout the crime scene investigation.

JOFFE RECOMMENDATION:  Documentation is critical at all levels to ensure an accurate record is kept and can be used for public information and litigation purposes. This can be as simple as a sign in log for all individuals who arrive at the scene to the other extreme of a meticulously maintained documentation detailing each presence at critical junctures of the investigation.

OBSERVATION 2: The Texas Rangers Crime Scene Team processed and exhaustively documented an incredibly challenging crime scene that put their training, policies, and procedures to the test. The team conducted an after-action review to examine their efforts and learn as an organization.

JOFFE RECOMMENDATION:  Organizational subunits should conduct after-action reviews and debriefs, particularly in the wake of critical incidents that provide a real-world test to their training, policies, and procedures.

OBSERVATION 3: Inaccurate information combined with inconsistent messaging created confusion and added to the victims’ suffering, both on the day of the incident and in the days after the mass shooting. UPD posted the first public message 10 minutes after the subject entered Robb Elementary School, a strong start for public messaging. However, the post was edited four times over the next 73 minutes. Since the Facebook algorithm does not recognize the edits as a new post, it did not reach as many users.

JOFFE RECOMMENDATION: An emergency notification system and a Public Information Officer are critical to ensure all agencies, families, and the public are being thoroughly communicated with. This is essential for real-time updates as well as directions after the incident to reunite families. Misinformation can be minimized by verifying information from multiple sources and giving consistent, timely updates. 

OBSERVATION 4: Family members encountered many obstacles to locating their loved ones, getting access to the hospital, and getting information from leadership, law enforcement, and hospital staff in a timely manner. This includes initial information posted by UCISD on the reunification site followed by a series of contradictory posts between UPD and UCISD on reunification. This added to the confusion, pain, and frustration.

JOFFE RECOMMENDATION: A reunification plan and communication plan are critical to ensuring a smooth transition from response to recovery. By communicating these plans before an incident and testing your emergency notification system, you will be able to reunify faster and provide resources promptly.

OBSERVATION 5: All social media public messaging was posted in English. The one exception to this was the FBI San Antonio Field Office’s messaging starting on May 25. Attending to the cultural needs of different community members is of the utmost importance and requires extensive effort to understand the community, familial, and individual impacts of cultural influences on victims. Local law enforcement and other responders in Uvalde rarely ensured that those impacted were given information in their primary language (Spanish). Behavioral health supports that were offered did not take into account cultural considerations that may have helped those impacted to accept behavioral health supports and seek help for other case management-type needs.

JOFFE RECOMMENDATION: Cultural competency is necessary to ensure your community can understand and utilize all available information and resources. This will be imperative for reunification and financial and mental health resources during recovery from the traumatic incident.

OBSERVATION 6: Once the children and adults were rescued from their classrooms during the evacuation process, they received limited instruction and direction on where to proceed. Due to the chaotic nature of the evacuation, children and school personnel were not adequately evaluated medically prior to being transported to the Reunification Center. As such, injured victims had delayed medical care and were at risk of further injury. At least 91 children were evacuated from the school and hid in the back chapel of the funeral home (which was an active crime scene) with funeral home staff, teachers, and some parents. They were held there for hours. At the same time, law enforcement personnel, many of whom were aware of the children and staff present, moved in and out of the front of the funeral home and throughout the perimeter. At least one child in the back chapel was bleeding and required medical attention. Parents and guardians were outside of the funeral home demanding access to their children.

JOFFE RECOMMENDATION: Multiple evacuation and reunification sites should be identified before an event to ensure plans are in place and can be executed at a moment’s notice. Medical attention should be outlined as a vital step when moving students from the school site to the reunification site and should be addressed as soon as possible. The longer students are exposed to an active crime scene without medical or mental health attention, the higher the likelihood of long-term traumatization and effects (Stanford University, 2022). 

OBSERVATION 7: The UCISD School Safety and Security Committee has not had any participation from the UCSO, which is the largest law enforcement agency in the county and had more than a dozen members respond to the active shooter incident at Robb Elementary. Additionally, ZCSO—which had four members respond—does not participate in the committee, despite being the local law enforcement agency for one of UCISD’s eight campuses.

JOFFE RECOMMENDATION:  We recommend that all agencies, including administrators, meet at least yearly with local law enforcement to discuss the emergency operations plan and response to any emergency that may happen on their campuses. 

OBSERVATION 8: UCISD’s campus safety teams met infrequently, and annual safety plans were based largely on templated information that was, at times, inaccurate.

JOFFE RECOMMENDATION: Internally, a safety committee should meet district-wide at least once a quarter and school-wide once a month to go over any safety concerns or practice tabletop scenarios of likely emergencies.

OBSERVATION 9: The district Threat Assessment Team has been complacent and in need of strong oversight of its implementation. The new district leadership, including the school police chief, has expressed a stronger commitment to ensure they become fully operational as soon as possible. As of June 8, 2023, the UCISD threat assessment team does not have standard operating procedures and has been noncompliant with Texas Education Code. Teachers and school staff at UCISD received no training on developmentally appropriate responses to students with behavioral problems, although they were required to document and report immediately to administrators any student whose behavior posed an obvious threat or safety risk.

JOFFE RECOMMENDATION: A behavioral threat assessment team should be established with protocols and trained on at least a yearly basis to be effective. This team can consist of administrators, counselors, and mental health professionals with the cooperation of the student and their family. Teachers and school staff should have a detailed understanding of what this team does and how to report student issues.

OBSERVATION 10: UCISD had a culture of complacency regarding locked-door policies. Both exterior and interior doors were routinely left unlocked, and there was no enforced system of accountability for these policies. Door audits were conducted, but not done systematically, nor were they documented. On May 24, all of the exterior doors and at least eight interior doors of the West Building, where the incident took place, were unlocked. The exterior and interior doors require a UCISD staff member or student to expose themselves to a threat to check that a door is locked or to lock a door in the event of a school lockdown.

JOFFE RECOMMENDATION:  A door-locking policy should be established and adhered to. This should be recorded and audited regularly to ensure protocols established are being followed. Doors should also be able to be locked from the inside without a student or staff member having to exit the room to lock the door. An alternative to keeping doors unlocked but still allowing easy access throughout the day for students is installing magnets or lock blocks that can easily be pulled when going into lockdown. 

OBSERVATION 11: Law enforcement arriving on scene searched for keys to open interior doors for more than 40 minutes. This was partly the cause of the significant delay in entering to eliminate the threat and stop the killing and dying inside classrooms 111 and 112.

JOFFE RECOMMENDATION: For response and recovery purposes, at least one Knox box should be located on campus for access by first responders. This is a box that holds keys for the campus. This can be helpful for firefighters gaining access to locked rooms to rescue people or for law enforcement officers assisting in locating students/staff after a lockdown has been lifted.

OBSERVATION 12: The rollout of the Raptor system caused some confusion in emergency alert procedures and some UCISD staff did not find the training helpful. Some teachers were under the belief that the Raptor system was supplanting the traditional PA system. The poor reception (Wi-Fi and cell) issues at Robb Elementary are well documented. While the Raptor alert was promptly initiated through the system, it was not received by all teachers and staff.

JOFFE RECOMMENDATION: A reliable emergency notification system is an integral part of a school’s emergency response. This system should be tested multiple times a year and all contact information should be updated regularly to ensure the community is able to receive all notifications.

OBSERVATION 13: UCISD drills are typically conducted inside classrooms. On May 24, there were several classes outside of their classrooms at the time the incident began.

JOFFE RECOMMENDATION: Emergency drill practice should vary in time of day and activity to ensure students and staff know what to do in any situation. 

OBSERVATION 14: Lockdown procedures are predicated on a locked door, impenetrable doors and walls, and other physical security that did not exist at Robb Elementary. One teacher at Robb was shot through several walls and many other teachers and students were at risk of the same fate, given the high-powered rifle used in the attack.

JOFFE RECOMMENDATION: A multi-option approach is best when considering lockdown situations. Although a perpetrator shooting through a wall is rare and many schools do not have the budget or the engineering to create an impenetrable fortress, alternate options to lockdowns should be established. For example, if the threat is in the building, then students who are outside are better off evacuating than going back toward the emergency. The caveat to the multi-option approach is the age and developmental levels of students. Through research, we know that the safest place for anyone in a school shooting is behind a locked door in the 2000+ school shootings that have occurred since 1970 (CHDS, 2022).

The occurrences of that day continue to evoke strong emotions and present intricate challenges, characterized by sorrow, grief, and ongoing discussions about law enforcement’s actions. The incident at the Uvalde school stands out as a poignant illustration of the harmful consequences of firearm incidents and highlights the pressing necessity for comprehensive initiatives to tackle issues related to gun regulation, mental health resources, and school safety protocols to avert similar tragedies in the future.

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