Findlay City Schools Issues Statement On Recent Swatting/Hoax Incident

(From Findlay City Schools)

On April 16, 2024, the City of Findlay Police Department received a phone call at 9:31 AM, from a person who stated they were armed and had students held hostage in a 2nd-floor bathroom at Findlay High School (FHS). This was not a 9-1-1 call, but was received on a police administrative number. This is often indicative of a call being placed from outside the local area. However, all such calls are taken seriously, and Police officers arrived on scene three minutes later, immediately entered the school and began a search.

A teacher activated the SafeDefend system from within FHS and a Level 3 lockdown was initiated. This activation was due to the law enforcement search and the teacher’s belief there may be a threat in the building. The SafeDefend system initiates an immediate and robust response from public safety agencies.

After the initial search of the building, the incident was determined to be a hoax, or swatting incident. A primary and secondary search of the high school, Millstream and surrounding area found no weapons or suspects, and there were no injuries reported.

Both Findlay City Schools (FCS) and responding agencies are aware of false or incorrect information being disseminated on social media. At no time during this incident were any shots fired, and no one was transported to the hospital. One window was broken inside the school, a result of students barricading in a classroom. Students and teachers have been trained in the recommended “Run, Hide, Fight” model, and part of this training is to use items in the classroom to protect and defend the room from any intruder.

FCS and local agencies are dedicated to the safety and well-being of students and staff. The close collaboration between all stakeholders is vital, and will continue as we address the lessons learned from this response. While this hoax may have been stressful and upsetting to our community, it provided participating agencies an opportunity to debrief on many things that went as planned, and some that did not. We will use this incident to refine & improve, and to provide public education on certain aspects of the response. These aspects are as follows:

Communication: We understand the need for rapid communication to the public. However, during any emergency, collecting accurate information takes time. First responders work as rapidly as possible to locate and to mitigate the emergency, but it is not instantaneous. Releasing inaccurate information creates more confusion in an already stressful situation, and could cause delays in the emergency response. We realize this causes frustration to our community, especially the parents of our students. Please understand that we must first address the highest priority, which is the safety of our students and staff. It is impossible for anyone, especially FCS administrators or on-site first responders, to send out real-time information. Details must be collected, analyzed, and vetted by law enforcement prior to being released, which all takes time. In an actual emergency, the entire area is potentially a crime scene, and incorrect information released publicly may hamper the investigation.

Perimeter Information: As part of the preplanned response, a perimeter was established around the school. This task is the responsibility of City of Findlay public works personnel, utilizing trucks and barricades to control the intersections. Traffic was stopped or re-routed at these locations. It is important for our community to know the purpose of this perimeter is to increase safety for everyone, including parents and the general public. If there is an actual active shooter or threat, we must keep the public from entering the area. We also must keep vehicles from driving by the incident, not only for their safety, but also to allow for free movement of first responder vehicles. As difficult as this request is, we ask the community to understand and abide by the perimeter, remain calm and allow first responders to focus on the incident.

Reunification: Although it was not necessary at this swatting incident, part of the preplanned response to an active shooter or threat incident include dedicated “reunification sites.” These are locations that are easily accessible, yet removed from the incident location, and will be protected by law enforcement. In an actual emergency response, students will be bussed from the rally points and school to the reunification sites. These sites are the only location where parents are able to pick up students after a real event. Teams of FCS administrators will be monitoring and verifying student pick-up. Two preplanned reunification sites within Findlay will be utilized during an actual incident. If a school is north of the Blanchard River, the reunification site will be The Cube, at 3430 North Main Street. If a school is south of the Blanchard River, the reunification site will be the Millstream Centre Building at the Hancock County Fairgrounds, at 1017 E. Sandusky Street.

Student Pick-Up: Anticipating the logistics of student pick-up at reunification sites is part of the preplanning process. All parties involved are doing everything they can to protect the lives of our students and staff, which requires a specific process for verification and accountability. Students must leave with the proper people. We understand that parents want to get their children as quickly as possible, yet we ask parents to exercise patience and compassion. The reunification process is necessary to ensure student safety.

Additional Information: The SafeDefend system is designed to give first responders immediate and specific information, including the specific location of a threat. It uses an alarm and audible recording to inform students and staff of the emergency and also informs everyone that police officers will arrive almost immediately. The system also provides administrators and teachers accurate information to decide whether to run or hide, or prepare to fight.

We realize that additional training and drills are necessary to best prepare our students and staff. Students need to know what SafeDefend sounds like and what it means, and how to react when the system is activated. If a student is in a bathroom or hallway, we need them to know what to do within the “Run, Hide, Fight” framework, and this takes training. Communication of any such drill will take place well in advance to parents and members of the public. We recognize that different ages and grades will respond differently, and the training will be tailored to the specific age group.

We are also investigating additional enhancements to the SafeDefend system, such as exterior notifications of a SafeDefend activation. These might include items such as strobes or speakers, which would notify students who are outside that an activation has been initiated. This will help students and parents know when the school is experiencing an issue and to get away from the building.

We would like to thank the parents and the community for their understanding through this event. While this incident was traumatic and frustrating for the public, the teachers, staff, administrators, and first responders have diligently planned a comprehensive and collaborative response. This latest swatting incident allowed us to implement that response, and it was a vast improvement to previous similar events. Findlay City Schools’ investment in the SafeDefend system and the Stratasite response-planning software is solely meant to increase the level of safety and security of the students and staff. However, we realize we can always improve, and we are committed to doing so. We want our community to be informed and confident that everything possible is being done to ensure the safety of our students.

Findlay City Schools and first responders in this community take our responsibility very seriously. We are proud of the progress we have made, yet realize that improvement is possible. We feel that the comprehensive, collaborative response planning within the Findlay City School District has set the bar very high, not just within the state, but nationally as well. We will continue to do everything possible to ensure all the students and staff remain safe within our schools.

Thank You, Findlay Community, for your continued support.

Sincerely, Board of Education Findlay City Schools, Dr. Andy Hatton Superintendent Findlay City Schools, James Mathias Findlay Police Chief, Joshua Eberle Findlay Fire Chief