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Dunblane advice for school crisis teams

Killings were 'a lasting storm that does not blow itself out'

STIRLING COUNCIL staff who were at the heart of the Dunblane tragedy have revealed their experiences to other local authorities for the first time in the belief that lessons can be learnt, although all emergencies are unique.

A seminar at Stirling Royal Infirmary, where the dead and injured from Dunblane primary were brought on March 13, 1996, heard that every school should have an emergency plan and that all staff should receive training.

Keith Yates, Stirling's chief executive, said: "We are seen to be the experts but there is no textbook, only learning by experience."

The seminar took place a week after the shootings at Columbine High in Denver that left 15 dead.

Margaret Doran, Stirling's head of school services, said that when an incident occurred staff needed to be informed honestly and openly of what was known and what could be factually passed on to parents or children. Speculation only bred misinformation and could lead to accusation later.

The aftermath of an emergency could exacerbate difficulties in school relationships. With hindsight an external facilitator might have helped the Dunblane primary management team. Staff at the school tended to bond depending on how close to the site of the tragedy they had been. Many found it distressing to cope with terms like "back to normality".

Colin Findlay, a pupil support officer, said Dunblane was "a lasting storm that does not blow itself out". Some tragedies were such that no good could ever come from them.

Gordon Jeyes, Stirling's director of education, said that in an emergency staff worked at "a heightened state of effectiveness", but that did not mean poor decision-makers became decisive or management weaknesses would disappear. "Poor parental liaison, for example, will remain poor."

Planning for emergencies should involve everybody and be multidisciplinary. The value of local government that sought to share information and decision-making as widely as possible was most clearly demonstrated in an emergency. Adapting the Prime Minister's slogan, Mr Jeyes said that the watchword should be: "Communication, communication, communication."

Oonagh Aitken, social strategy manager in Fife, suggested that new community schools would bring problems of access and security. Mr Jeyes said that extra staff might be needed to ensure security, but the community should be involved in deciding what was appropriate.

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