Area leaders get tips on averting crisis

| Saturday, Jan. 12, 2013, 8:55 p.m.

School shooters have no “universal profile,” a former FBI hostage negotiator said on Saturday.

But the shooters often show signs — “tools” — that can be used to try to thwart school tragedies, Timothy Maloney told about 50 school leaders, police and emergency responders in the Hempfield Township Emergency Management building.

“Total prevention may not be possible, but if we are prepared we can mitigate,” Maloney said.

Hempfield officials hosted the seminar, which involved the University of Findlay in Findlay, Ohio, and other colleges and universities in the Rural Domestic Preparedness Consortium.

Maloney, a former probation officer, prison counselor and Erie County detective, led the eight-hour seminar, which focused on manmade and natural disasters.

Robert Gerlach, Hempfield emergency management director, said township officials began planning the seminar last summer — months before the Dec. 14 shooting in a Newtown, Conn., elementary school that ended with the deaths of 20 children and seven adults, including the shooter..

Attendees came from Washington, Somerset, Indiana, Butler, Allegheny and Westmoreland counties, Gerlach said.

“We're trying to identify a threat before it becomes unmanageable,” Maloney explained during a break.

He said research shows the following about school shootings:

• Shooters plan their attacks, and others usually know about the plans ahead of time.

• Attackers show some form of behavior that causes concern beforehand.

• Attackers have some level of difficulty coping.

Getting control of bullying is important but more difficult to do now, Maloney said. With the advent of the Internet, Facebook and texting, he explained, bullies don't have to be face to face with their victims.

“It's gotten catastrophic because of the ability to bully 24/7,” he added.

Maloney urged seminar attendees to do what they can to stop bullying.

“You are in charge of that,” he said. “You must change your culture.”

He suggested firm, fair and consistent enforcement of school disciplinary policies. Peer mediation, conflict resolution and active listening — hearing what is said and how it is said — are important, Maloney said

Hempfield Area Superintendent Andy Leopold praised the forum for offering new ideas and refreshing old ones.

“I think it's helpful,” he said. “It's always important to be prepared for a crisis.”

“I thought it was very informative,” added Todd Brant, Southwest Greensburg emergency management coordinator and a borough police sergeant.

John Shingle, a Norwin High School assistant principal, said he liked talking to emergency responders.

“Networking is a good idea,” he said. “To sit down with emergency management and police is good.”

Township Supervisor Doug Weimer liked that so many attendees came from different backgrounds.

“We're all partnering together to try to prevent a crisis from occurring,” he said.

Bob Stiles is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-6622 or

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