Former FBI agent Timothy J. Maloney put up a photograph of a schoolyard fence and asked the roomful of police officers, firefighters, EMS workers and school administrators to identify the threat.
It was the thicket just outside the perimeter.
"Anybody could be hiding in these bushes, right?" Mr. Maloney said Saturday at the Hempfield Township Municipal Building, citing a variety of steps, large and small, that officials can take to lower the risk of school violence.
Hempfield Emergency Management Agency began planning the school-crisis seminar months before Adam Lanza gunned down 20 students and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. But the tragedy last month made Mr. Maloney's presentation especially timely.
"Hopefully, this will prevent future incidents," Hempfield supervisors Chairman R. Douglas Weimer said.
Mr. Maloney, who served as a crisis negotiator and intelligence specialist among other duties with the FBI, stressed the importance of locked doors, well-kept grounds, anti-bullying initiatives and "situational awareness"-- vetting the construction workers next door, for example -- as ways to thwart terrorists and predators.
He showed a video of a student, perhaps a middle-schooler, who hid multiple guns in baggy clothes. "Did he look like he had that much on him?" Mr. Maloney said, citing the importance of a well-enforced dress code.
Mr. Maloney said armed attackers come in various forms, including a child who's been bullied, an employee in an office romance gone bad, a parent angry about a child-custody issue, and an honor student who's over his head academically for the first time.
He said mass murderers have some characteristics in common. Most have engaged in behavior that cries for help, for example. He walked the group through the conception, planning, preparation and carrying out of mass murder. "How do we get at people at these different stages?" he asked.
Mr. Maloney also discussed how to respond to mass murders and other incidents of school violence as they're unfolding and had the 50 or so participants describe how they would respond to a threatening note left on a teacher's desk.
Rescue workers and school officials said funding limitations and other challenges complicate efforts to create a safe learning environment.
"It's not just the building," said Eric Heasley, executive director of A.W. Beattie Career Center in McCandless. "We sit on 43 acres."
The free seminar was provided through the Rural Domestic Preparedness Consortium, which recognizes the "unique challenges" that rural departments face and offers federally approved training on public safety issues.
Robert G. Gerlach, Hempfield's emergency-management director and the seminar organizer, said he was pleased that the program drew school officials and public safety workers from across the region.
"We're feeding off of each other," he said.
In some cases, police attended with representatives of the school districts they help to protect. North Huntingdon police Detective Sgt. Jeff Bouldin, who attended with representatives of the township's emergency-management agency and Norwin School District, said the seminar provided an opportunity to see what tweaks might be made to safety plans already in place.
Mr. Maloney said the group was better prepared than others to address school violence.
"You're the emissaries at this point," he said, encouraging participants to share their lessons with others.
Joe Smydo: email@example.com or 412-263-1548. First Published January 13, 2013 5:00 AM