Mental health support can be a key to preventing on-campus violence, but what can schools do to protect students and staff in an emergency?
Behind the walls of schools located in urban centers, rural landscapes, and suburbs, US students and teachers have been practicing for the worst situation possible. Since the tragedy at Columbine High School in 1999, there have been 230 school shootings that have left 138 students, teachers, and staff members dead.
Today’s parents no longer have the same peace of mind they had just a few decades ago, that they’re sending their children to a safe place when they wave goodbye in the morning. Schools today must plan for the unthinkable and prepare their teachers, staff, and students to survive by escaping an intruder intent on inflicting as many casualties as possible.
Here are 5 ways to plan and implement an intruder drill at your campus:
1. Create a Communication Action Plan
Intruder drills can be scary for everyone involved. It’s therefore vital that schools clearly communicate with teachers, parents, students, school neighbors, and local law enforcement the purpose and scope of the drill. The last thing anyone wants is to create an atmosphere of fear that traumatizes students, teachers, staff, and parents. As such, this type of drill should never be conducted without an effort to interface with all stakeholders beforehand.
2. Utilize Emergency Management Consulting
Educators should not attempt to plan and conduct this type of drill on their own. It is vital that they partner with local law enforcement to educate the staff on the most current safety protocols. New best practices are always being created and it is essential that educators understand the latest research and techniques. It’s also important to have first responders on-site to assist in conducting the drill to provide immediate and expert feedback as well as suggestions for improvement. Additionally, the first responders present at the drill will likely be the same ones if an active shooter does come onto campus. By attending the drill, first responders will learn the layout of the school, including access points, hiding spots, and key personnel.
3. Avoid Using Bike Locks or Door Ties to Secure Entry Points
There are dozens of tools available that can be wedged into doors and prevent them from opening. However, most first responders do not like these as they end up doing more harm in preventing emergency personnel from entering the room if needed. While these tools do a good job of keeping the door in place, they can also prevent students and staff from easily opening doors from the inside if they need to evacuate a room. Furthermore, most classrooms have windows that can be broken to gain entry, leaving students and staff exposed and trapped.
4. Internal Safety Barricades Can Save Lives
First responders recommend students and staff create door barricades made of desks, cabinets, chairs, and tables. Additionally, they recommend building a second internal barricade for students and staff to hide behind in case the door barricade is breached. Desk and tables should be overturned in the corner of the room that is the least visible from the doorway. Students and staff should remain behind this barricade and out of sight from the intruder. Active shooter profile research from the Department of Homeland Security tells us that if they can’t easily see a victim, they will move on to the next location.
5. Announce The Day of the Safety Drill, But Not the Time
As stated above, it’s important for schools to communicate with all stakeholders that an active intruder drill will be taking place. However, schools should not publish the actual time of the drill. In the vast majority of school shootings, the shooter is connected to the school in some way. Law enforcement recommends not providing detailed day and time information to the public, as this might give the individual the opportunity to see the safety procedures in action and then adjust their plan to evade capture or inflict more harm.
About the Author
Dr. David Franklin, Ed.D. is a nationally and internationally recognized speaker and an experienced school administrator, consultant, curriculum designer, and professor of education. Dr. Franklin has presented at education conferences around the world delivering keynotes and breakout sessions and is currently serving as National Education Consultant for Securly.