Choose a Blog ×


Case Study:  Organizational Resilience at a Private High School

Minnehaha Academy’s Journey:  Post 2 - The Plan

 MA Logo


September 6, 2018

Author: Lynnda Nelson
President at ICOR

Minnehaha Academy was prepared to manage a crisis or emergency.  In fact, as a private school, they were as prepared as many corporations.  In 2015 they developed a Crisis Management Plan (CMP). In 2016, the senior leadership team and about 15 additional leaders in the school participated in an intensive 2 day Homeland Security Workshop to learn how to implement the procedures in their plan and to understand their roles and responsibilities.  Training around emergency procedures is also included during new hire orientation.

In addition, the upper, middle, and lower schools run 5 fire drills, 5 lockdown drills, and 1 tornado drill each school year. This is a legal requirement for private schools pursuant to Minnesota Stat. Section 121A.037.

MA Before Explosion    MA After Explosion

The purpose of their CMP is to protect and maintain the safety and health of students, staff, and visitors, protect school property, and regulate the operation of the school during an emergency.

It includes content similar to most crisis management plans for schools:

  • Emergency telephone directory that includes emergency shelters
  • Chain of command with specific roles and responsibilities
  • Emergency equipment requirements and usage such as emergency evacuation kits, emergency medical bags, and teacher backpacks
  • Logistics for managing an emergency such as the command post, media staging area, student on-site and off-site evacuation locations, bus staging areas, and a parent reunion area
  • Communication procedures including handling the media, spokespersons, and pre-approved draft statements for communicating with parents, students, community members, the Board of Trustees, and the media.
  • Specific procedures for school emergencies and crisis response such as Lockdown, secure-the-building, shelter-in-place, and evacuation.
  • Hazard-specific procedures such as bomb threat, bus/vehicle crash, death/suicide, demonstration, fire/explosion, hazardous materials spill/release, intruder/hostage situation, medical emergency, missing or abducted/kidnapped student(s), severe weather, sexual assault, shooting, terrorism, utility failure, and weapons violations.
  • Reference to the need to recover the physical buildings (damage to buildings and equipment housed within), business continuity (restoration of administrative and business functionality and services and decisions on how to address employees’ ability to work, paid or not paid, etc.), and restoration of academic learning (conducting classes offsite, implementing online learning, etc.)

The Crisis Management Team (CMT) is comprised of school-based faculty and staff members created to assist the president and the principals in planning for and responding to emergencies. 

Because the explosion came with very little warning – estimates of less than a minute – there was no time for those in the building to grab a copy of the plan or anything else for that matter.   But because the CMT had participated in the 2 day DHS workshop and were familiar with the contents of the plan, they were able to follow the plan’s procedures without having access to the plan itself.

One of the strengths of the CMP is the depth of its team members which includes:

  • President
  • Principals of K-8 and 9-12 schools
  • Vice Principals of both schools
  • Dean of Students
  • School Counselors
  • Executive Director of Advancement (Marketing & Communications)
  • Executive Director of Facilities and Operations
  • Chaplains
  • Nurses
  • Director of Athletics
  • Building Facilities Director
  • Director of Human Resources

In addition, the CMT includes the following consultants who are staff members:

  • Director of Marketing and Communications
  • Director of Technology
  • Designated Teachers / Steff
  • Community Personnel (Pastors and Counselors)

Injuries 1   Injured 2   Injuries 2   Dr. Harris Recovered

The explosion happened on August 2, 2017 – a day when very few staff members or students were in the building.  This potentially saved a lot of lives and/or more serious injuries.  Unfortunately it also resulted in very few of the CMT members being onsite and available to manage the response.

  • MA President Donna Harris was injured in the explosion and was in the hospital until later that afternoon when she returned to the site in a wheel chair.
  • The Principal of the Upper School (9-12) had just landed at O’Hare Airport on his way to a connecting flight. His assistant was able to contact him and he took the next plan back to Minneapolis arriving in the early afternoon. 
  • The Building Facilities Director was also injured and after being released from the emergency room he returned to the site to assist.


The only remaining CMT members available to manage the incident were the Director of Human Resources, Executive Director of Facilities & Operations, and the Executive Director of Advancement.  The Director of Human Resources was one of the last three people evacuated from the building.  She was slightly injured from the concussion of the blast.  The Incident Command was shared between these three directors with primary responsibilities falling on the Executive Director of Advancement who acted as spokesperson to the media in the President’s absence.

The CMP called for the establishment of a CMT Command Post and a Media Staging Area to serve as assembly points for the CMT and to manage communications.  Because there were initially only two CMT members available, they created a single command post. 

The Command Post was set up quite soon after the explosion - onsite but away from the VIP command post of the emergency response personnel.  Friend and next-door neighbor to the Director of Advancement provided a tent and tape to establish a perimeter.  She also happened to be a crisis consultant and provided portable chargers for their cell phones as well.

Commanders  PIOs  PIO 2  Sara Jacobson

The media and community members were in close proximity to the tent and created a challenge to get the work done and not be overheard.  A lessons learned here is to create a cordoned off area / perimeter large enough to keep media and the public far enough away from those trying to make decisions and communicate amongst themselves without being overheard by the public/reporters.

Initially, the primary responsibilities of the MA incident commanders were to identify who had been in the building so that the emergency responders could identify who was still missing, to communicate with the emergency responders’ incident command tent, and to provide regular communications with the media and general public. (Details on communications will be covered in blog post 3 in October)

Joining the Fire and Police Chief in the emergency responders’ tent was the MA Chairman of the Board of Trustees and the Mayor of Minneapolis. 

EMTs interviewed everyone who had been in the building before allowing them to leave the scene.  As many of the students on campus for an unofficial practice had parents with or waiting for them, managing the student athletes was a far simpler activity than if the explosion had happened during the school year.

Cars parked in the parking lots around the school were not allowed to leave until the evening after the danger had passed.

Google Map   Community Members  community members 

Community Members 4  community members 6  Community Members 2 

As the school campus is located in the city of Minneapolis, Minnesota along the Mississippi River, the explosion drew many people from the neighborhood, students, teachers, and countless others who wanted to see what happened. 

The Minnehaha leadership team had many offers from people volunteering to help.  Once the immediate response was completed the team created a survey to better coordinate the many offers to volunteer.  This survey provided a grid of their skills and expertise as well as their contact information. 

This list has proven to be an invaluable tool as resources were needed for the many tasks and activities over the past year.  It included the following information:

Contact Information:  Name, Address, Email, Phone

Skills Needed:

  • Architecture
  • Public Relations
  • Legal Counsel
  • Project Management
  • Hands & feet worker bee
  • Light physical labor
  • Office work
  • Outside our community contacts/impact
  • Caring for the Community
  • Misc.

Shortly after the explosion, first responders located one employee who was immediately taken to the hospital.  That employee survived but one leg was amputated and the other leg severely damaged.  In early afternoon the body of Ruth Berg was found.  As the afternoon wore on it became apparent that due to the damage of the collapsed building and the danger to the emergency responders, that it would take several more hours to recover the body of John Carlson. 

It became evident that students, teachers, staff members, community members, and others needed a place to meet that was away from the disaster.  Leaders from the Northwest Conference of the Covenant Church, leaders from a Covenant Church a few blocks away, and with the support of the Lower and Middle School Principal organized a prayer vigil at the chapel of the Lower and Middle School campus located 10 blocks from the damaged Upper School. 

Prayer Vigil Dr. Harris    Prayer Vigil

This information was quickly shared through all media and communication outlets beginning around 4:15 PM.  The Lower & Middle School Principal also sent a note to all employees. The prayer vigil became an important first step in providing those in shock and grieving a safe place to meet, share their pain, and take comfort from each other.  It was also streamed live on Facebook for those outside of the area and for those who could not attend.  Many media outlets also covered the prayer vigil.

While much of the school’s administrative offices were destroyed, the email system remained up and running throughout the disaster.  They use a gmail system hosted offsite.  The school’s information technology systems along with their backups are stored “in the cloud” and while it took a few days / weeks to recover and de-encrypt, most electronic records were recovered. 

Very few “paper” records were recoverable - if they were not burned they were damaged by water.  Because school was not in session, most teachers had their laptops with them for the summer and were able to keep curriculum that was electronically stored, but many lost significant hard copy lesson plans, materials, and treasured books.  There were very few classrooms undamaged.

In addition, schools are required to store graduation records.  These records are stored in the basement of one of the buildings with limited damage and these records were not damaged.

Despite participating in the incident command center and after escaping from the explosion with slight injuries, Human Resources submitted payroll within a couple of hours of the explosion (it was due that day).  The Director of Human Resources knew it would be critical that employees receive their paychecks on Friday as scheduled.

OR Model

The ICOR Organizational Resilience Model is comprised of 3 “Environments” that provide context for how more resilient organizations behave.  Minnehaha Academy was prepared.  They were managing the types of risks usually encountered by schools.  They had adequate resources.  They demonstrate many of the behaviors identified in the Model.

Over the next few months we will provide examples of how they managed change and how their leadership and culture impacted their ability to meet the challenges that kept coming during the school year.

Next blog: Communications – Before, During, and After the Disaster