Spotlight Discussion on Swatting:
Franklin School District
featuring Real-Life Lessons Learned
On October 24, 2023, we hosted a live webinar with staff from the city of Franklin, New Hampshire, and Franklin School District. The discussion focused on the city and school response to a swatting incident they experienced in 2022.
This spotlight, comprised of excerpts from the live discussion, offers valuable insights for those preparing to address potential security issues in their school district.
Below are eight lessons learned from the Franklin team.
Ben Jennett, NCSS School Safety Specialist: Swatting is a false report of an emergency or threat that’s intended to prompt a law enforcement response, especially a SWAT team. Franklin School District is a small district in central New Hampshire that serves about 925 students across three schools. On December 8, 2022, the city experienced a hoax call involving a potential active shooter at one of the schools. There had been another similar call that morning to a city nearby. Here are some key takeaways from city and school personnel about their experience.
#1 – Communicate With School Safety Partners
Barbara Slayton, Coordinator of School Wellness: Part of our grant, as I mentioned, was to develop a behavioral threat assessment team. And we were fortunate before we received this grant, we had had some other mental health related grants. So we already had a community management team. So we already had really good relationships with our community partners. What the STOP grant did was really bring the fire department and the police department closer into that closed circle as we were developing our threat assessment team. So we were already meeting at least monthly, had done a number of joint trainings just on the threat assessment model.
So to emphasize what Dan was saying a few minutes ago, the relationships were already there. And so I’m not sure, we are a small city, but I’m not sure there are a lot of communities where people are just kind of picking up the phone and texting and saying, hey, don’t forget, we need to be on early.
David Goldstein, Chief of Police: So communication is probably, outside of just responding and doing what you got to do, communication is probably the next most important thing of all and then go from there.
#2 – Understand First Responders’ Personal Connections
to the School
Mike Foss, Fire Chief and Emergency Operations Director: When something like this happens, it doesn’t only affect like the students and the parents, it also affects your first responders who also have kids in the schools. And for example, that particular morning, one of my fire captains here who had to respond to Franklin, he was listening to what was going on at the other school system because his son belongs to that district. And so he already was like, “Hey, I might be heading out here in a minute.” And when we needed him here, though he was able to focus and engage, his mind was still on what’s going on in the city of Concord in that school system.
So that’s one thing I would caution any district, any fire police agency: your first responders or teachers maybe even, they’re gonna have ties to that school, like personal ties as well. So that’s something that you gotta be kind of aware of that, hey you may need to address that.
#3 – Encourage the Use of Official Communication Channels
BS: We have an app that we encouraged and encouraged especially after this incident. That was one of the things we really highlighted in the after-action and the communications to parents was to get on the app. Information went out to all parents by email. I think it all went out by phone calls as well. So we had those official channels of communication going out, and then of course we had the unofficial channels which were not as helpful. So we had students at the elementary school or the middle school being concerned that, hey, my brother or my sister is at the high school. We had students texting directly to their parents. We had students texting directly to their siblings. So there was a lot of information that might not have been correct and a lot of heightened anxiety that was created around that.
So we really do encourage the community and parents especially to make sure that we have their updated information so that they can get the actual information and get the instructions about what to do in the event of an emergency so they know where should I go to pick up my child, for example.
#4 – Engage the Community in the Debriefing Process
Daniel LeGallo, Superintendent: Yes, we had been planning a forum that we were gonna have. Initially it was gonna be, I can’t remember if it was the end of January or in February. But we put another message out that said we were gonna have the forum the following week. This was a forum with the school board and with both the fire chief and the police chief and all the players. So parents knew right away that we had something scheduled where they would be able to come in and hear from us, but also be able to ask questions about all that was happening in the district at that time, including this event.
So we put that out right away, which was a good move on our part so people knew that there was gonna be a venue for people to come in and ask the questions they needed to ask and get the answers that they were looking for.
#5 – Ensure Trauma Supports are in Place
BS: We sadly have a population of children who have experienced adverse childhood experiences at a higher rate than most. So we have a population of students and teachers who are primed to sort of a trauma response. And as Dan mentioned, we had been dealing with some threats, written threats on the bathroom wall at the middle school and some other things that were happening in the community. So we are always careful after any type event like that to debrief with teachers, to give them permission, remind them we’ve done a lot of trauma responsive and trauma informed care training in our district. So remind them of what typical trauma responses are, how to take care of themselves. But really in the mindset of doing that so that they’re prepared to take care of their students or their own children or their own families that they are going home to.
We are also fortunate that we have excellent relationships with both our community mental health center and our federally qualified health center. They both serve on our STOP behavioral threat assessment team. So we’re able to pull in those partners as well and very quickly identify students and or teachers who might need extra support. So that advanced preparation, I think is really what poised us to be in a position to respond more effectively after the fact.
#6 – Select an Appropriate Location for Incident Command
MF: One thing I’ll just echo that one mistake we made was our gut reaction was go right to the school, go right to the scene, put your unified command post right there. We all went to the school and then we when we did a face-to-face, we were like, “Hey, you know what? We should actually probably not be right here just in case.” So we actually had to pull back and go down the road to a safe location.
And I would just say to anybody in command, as much as you want to be right there with everybody, you’re gonna be a lot more useful if you’re physically not in the hot zone. So and that was the only other takeaway that I wanted to pass on. So, good relationships and then have places that you’re gonna meet that are out of the hot zone.
#7 – Confirm Reunification Plans are Up-to-Date
DL: There probably wasn’t enough training to be honest about the reunification with the entire school. It was probably just with administrators and it was probably something that we would do in the summer during the downtime. But since we’ve had to have more robust training at teacher faculty meetings and whatnot to go through and that’s one of the outcomes of having this kind of event is what do we need to do more of and what do we need to get better at?
And that was definitely one of them is to talk about what does reunification look like? So they’re used to doing fire drills and accounting for kids. So it was just taking that next step to say, “Alright, what is this gonna look like if we have to go to our reunification sites at all three schools?” You know, we had this experience at the high school, thankfully everybody stepped up and it went well, but what would we need to do to purposefully make this happen and be prepared for this in the future? So that’s the responses we’ve taken over the last 10 months.
#8 – Training is Key
DG: Train, train, train, educate, educate, educate. Keep working at it. Never get complacent, that’s when we’re gonna have a lot of trouble for ourselves and the people that we’re sworn to protect.