How will Omaha Police Officers and School Districts handle our special needs kids during emergencies?

How Omaha Police and Schools Handle Special Needs Kids During Emergencies

Do you know what your police officers and teachers are trained to do in the event of an active shooter incident in the Omaha area, or how our First Responders have been prepared to identify and interact with special needs kids during emergency situations?

After watching this video about how the police interacted with the special needs classroom during the attack in Parkland, Florida, we wondered if Omaha police might respond in a similar manner.  The ASD Clubhouse located a number of local and online resources to get some answers, and now we gladly share them with the Clubhouse community.

Our Schools follow the Standard Response Protocol (SRP)

We were happy to learn that all of the public school districts in the Omaha, Lincoln and Council Bluffs areas have adopted the nationally-recognized program called “Standard Response Protocol” or SRP.

SRP was developed and promoted by iloveuguys.org after the tragedy at Platte Canyon High School in 2006 to better prepare our schools to handle active shooter situations.  You’ve probably seen posters produced by their Foundation on the walls of your kiddos’ school to remind students and teachers about the steps of the SRP to follow during an emergency.

The 4 actions of the Standard Response Protocol

What is supposed to happen according to the SRP?

The primary actions of SRP that our teachers are trained to follow are:

  1. LOCKOUT– This is called when there is a threat outside the school building.  Any students outside the building are recovered inside and teachers are instructed to continue “business as usual.”
  2. LOCKDOWN– This is called when there is a threat inside the school building.  Students are instructed to hide and remain silent.  Teachers are trained to lock the classroom door, turn out the lights and move out of sight, take a roll of their students and wait for First Responders to arrive.
  3. EVACUATE– If it is deemed necessary, students and staff are moved from one location to another.  Students are instructed to “show your hands” and “be prepared for alternatives during response.”  Teachers are expected to lead the students to the evacuation location, keeping an active roll of their students.
  4. SHELTER– Perhaps the more traditional response that we as parents are used to, this is used to move our kids to shelter in the event of natural events like tornadoes, but the expectations on students and teachers are the same:  evacuate to a shelter area, seal the area off from the outside and keep an active roll of their students.

Once the crisis has passed, the Standard Reunification Method (SRM) will be implemented to ensure a safe transition of students back to their families “with greater accountability and less uncertainty.”

Which school districts have adopted the SRP?

Officer Michael Pecha of the Omaha Police Department told us that “[the OPD] brought John Michael Keys, founder of the SRP (from iloveuguys.org), to Omaha to teach to all schools in our jurisdiction. So far, all school districts, except OPS, are fully implemented, including all Sarpy and all Lincoln schools.”

You can learn more specifics about each district’s plans by clicking on these links:

(The Papillion-LaVista Public School website did not reference SRP, but did mention that “each school principal will develop the plan” to handle an emergency.  We were not able to find specific information about the Elkhorn Public School Emergency Response Plan on their website.)

Most school districts, as well as the Omaha Police Department, referred us to iloveuguys.org to obtain more information, and we encourage you to do the same.

What does the SRP say about special needs kids?

SRP resource materials provided by iloveuguys.org to the OPD and our school districts do not target any particular group of students, including special needs kids.  Instead, they focus on training different age groups.

The Omaha Police Department and local school districts redirected us to other national associations for additional information on how our teachers and officers have been trained.  The OPD provided us a copy of a report from the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) and National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO) called “Best Practice Considerations for Schools in Active Shooter and Other Armed Assailant Drills.”  In this report they outline a response recommendation that mirrors the SRP adopted by our school districts along with recommendations on how to safely practice those procedures through planned drills.

The report included numerous recommendations specifically for kids with special needs including:

  • “Helping students and staff understand the decision-making-criteria is crucial.  It is also important to consider the special needs of students with disabilities, both in terms of a drill and the expectations for their functioning in the event of real emergency.”
  • They dedicated an entire Appendix to focus on special needs kids.  They highly recommend “the school crisis team should consider including a disability specialist as a member of the team” in order to prepare for physical disabilities that might impede mobility, access to instructions, heightened distress in their reactions or impede responses to instructions, and basic understanding of a situation.

We found the Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools (REMS) agrees, recommending that as school districts prepare their emergency response plans, they should include members of their administration who deal directly with special needs kids, including teachers, psychologists, therapists, etc.  That way their input on handling kids with various disabilities will be properly included in any planning and development of procedures.

Since the SRP does not address special needs kids directly, it is imperative that our school districts develop their plans with direct input from their teachers, para-professionals, therapists or psychologists to ensure that our kids’ needs are met and their circumstances considered when developing procedures and testing with drills.

How are the Omaha Police Trained to Work with Special Needs Kids?

The ASD Clubhouse asked the Omaha Police Department what training they have received to approach and interact with special needs kids during active shooter incidents or their daily patrols.  Officer Michael Pecha of the OPD started by stating that:

“[Omaha Police] Officers are trained to interact with people of various cultural and social backgrounds, as well as those with special needs.”

He went on to say that the OPD is currently working with the Autism Action Partnership to bring in additional training, but he was not sure when that training will happen.

As far as how the OPD could interact with special needs kids during active shooter situations in our schools, Officer Pecha was less specific.  “It’s hard to say exactly what officers might do,” he said, “because every active shooter situation is different.”

Officer Pecha went on to say, “the first and main job of officers arriving is to respond and stop the threat.”

So, if the Omaha Police Department, like the Parkland, Florida Police, enter an active shooter situation and focus on eliminating the threat, it’s possible that they will be challenged to independently identify a special needs kiddo and interact them in a manner that will promote compliance with their commands as well as best ensure their safety.

Therefore, it is imperative for the teachers and adult supervisors to assist police officers when interacting with their special needs kids during a crisis.

What should you do next?

While it’s comforting to know that our police department and school districts have been working hard to prepare themselves for emergencies, we have a few suggestions on things that you can do to help assist our teachers and First Responders before the SRP must be enacted:

  • Coordinate with your teacher(s) how to best ensure your kiddo’s cooperation during a crisis.
  • Plan ahead on how your child will be instructed to move within their school.  This includes providing ideas on managing your kids’ mobility-assistance devices like crutches or wheelchairs.
  • Provide a means of quickly identifying your child’s special needs to a stranger.  Perhaps a wrist band or badge on their backpack.  If you could include specifics on how to interact with them, that would be exceptional.
  • Meet with your School Resource Officer (SRO) and introduce them to your kiddo.  Almost every school in the Omaha area has a police officer assigned to them as an SRO.  As the delegated officer for your school, they can provide invaluable information about your kiddo and their needs to First Responders.  Reach out to your school principal or check the school district’s website to learn the name of your SRO.
  • Join the Autism Action Partnership and visit the Omaha Police Department Southwest Precinct on Sunday, April 8.  Tell them about what you read here and see what they say.
  • Learn the SRP procedure and consider teaching it to your kiddos.  We recommend reading the PK-2 version of the instructions which provide some great introductory advice for how to handle each situation as well as identify First Responders, or you can read the K-12 version.
  • Reach out to your school principal or district Safety Director and ensure that special needs kids have been represented and considered in their planning by including a number of teachers or other staff in their discussions.

We hope that the OPD and other First Responders obtain additional training to prepare them to interact with special needs kids, during emergency situations as well as innocent, daily activities.

Our thanks to Autism Action Partnership for helping to get that process started in 2018.

For now, we can place our trust and faith in our school systems and their employees to continue to ensure the safety of our students alongside their countless efforts to educate our special needs kiddos.

References we used:

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