Friday, October 16, 2009

Carolina Forest High School: Not By the Book

There was a school shooting in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina this morning, and a 16 year old boy is dead. That, by itself, is very upsetting, certainly to the people who were there, but also to society as a whole, as we reflect on what our world has come to that someone can be shot in school. And that's where it gets, well, weird.

The details are still dribbling in, but as best as we can tell, Trevor Varinecz, a junior at Carolina Forest High School, asked to see the school resource officer -- a police officer stationed at the school -- at about 8:25 this morning. The door to the room where the two met was closed, so no one knows for sure just yet, but it appears that Varinecz stabbed Officer Marcus Rhodes and Rhodes shot Varinecz in self-defense. Rhodes is in the hospital. Needless to say, if there is such a thing as a "typical school shooting," this is not it.

When you train as an early crisis responder, you learn that there are certain patterns that different types of incidents fall into. While each incident is different, there are predictable themes that come up. Suicides cause one set of reactions, natural disasters another, domestic violence yet another. You can expect different things from those who have been involved in car accidents than from those who witnessed a mass shooting. No two incidents have exactly the same reactions, but you can prepare. From time to time, as a responder, you work on an incident and come out saying, "that was page 73 of the textbook." Sometimes it is that cut and dried.

A good Critical Incident Stress Management Team knows what to expect from an officer involved shooting. They know what to expect when an officer is injured. They know the patterns when a child dies, and those from violence in a school. They even know that sometimes two types of incidents combine into one event.

All that having been said, I don't think there is a team in the country that feels truly prepared for what happened at Carolina Forest High School today. There is no page in the textbook for the injury of an officer at a school in an incident resulting in an officer involved shooting of a child. As a school CISM Team Leader myself, I look at this incident and have to take a few moments just to swear under my breath before I can even consider where I would start.

This is just one more reminder that emergency preparedness isn't just about practicing for every awful event you can imagine. It's also about developing a tool kit of skills and the creativity and flexibility to use them in new ways, when those things that you can't possibly imagine in a million years happen on your watch.


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Naomi Zikmund-Fisher
is a clinical social worker, former school Principal and a Crisis Consultant for schools and community organizations. You can learn more about her at
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