Photo Credit: Hoa Nguyen/Newtown Patch
The tragic school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, has many parents wondering what security measures should be in place regarding gunfire at their children's schools.
After the February school shooting in Chardon, Ohio, some military and police trainers suggested that "Run, Hide and Wait" gunfire safety be added to protocol drills for students. A departure from current procedure, which is to remain locked down in classrooms, the theory is that running from an active shooter may have better odds. "Running away can often give kids a much better chance of survival," Chuck Habermehl, founder of Close Quarters Battle in Florida, told The Daily in February. "Sometimes it's safer just to get the heck out of there."
But experts say the lockdown procedure is a necessary means to best protect students and keep potential chaos at bay. "In the context of a shooting, a lockdown is the appropriate thing to do," says Gregory Thomas, member of the professional advisory board of the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement and a former director of security for New York City Public Schools. Of the school shooting in Chardon, he notes, "The lockdown they went into saved some lives." The concept to run, hide and duck comes from extensive training done at the military level, and is difficult to apply to children as young as 5 or 6, the ages of many of the victims in the recent tragedy. More efficiently, schools should have three plans for shelter in place (when there's an isolated danger like a gas leak that may only affect a portion of the building), a lockdown (when there's imminent danger in the building and everyone is cleared from public areas) and evacuation.
"The best practice is still to conduct a lockdown procedure, but I believe building in flexibility is important," adds school safety expert Martin Speckmaier, owner and managing member of Comprehensive School Safety LLC in Seattle. The purpose of a lockdown, he explains, is to keep students and staff protected behind locked doors so police and other first responders can find, isolate and eliminate an intruder as quickly as possible. "Locking down the school as a first response during an active shooter situation is the smart thing to do. You can then start releasing students classroom by classroom, and tell them to get out of the building. We need to be able to isolate the shooter while also saving lives." However, in a situation where a shooter is approaching the locked-down classrooms, "consider doing whatever you need to do to protect the life of students," Speckmaier says. "If that means breaking a window with a chair and telling kids to run, absolutely."
Speckmaier recommends that all schools have a lockdown procedure policy, but build flexibility in that plan -- including talking through worst-case and what-if scenarios with building safety and law enforcement. Thomas advises that all schools should be practicing lockdown drills so officials and students will know what to do -- in some areas this is now state law and some districts, he notes, have implemented lockdown drills following a fire drill to ensure the plan is well-practiced. Parents should also be proactive in finding out what the plan is at your kid's school and where the reunification sites are (that is, where to meet your kids should they be released from school in an emergency) -- inform yourself about your school's procedures, and ask how you can help (for example, enlist to make phone calls to help reunite students and parents).
Finally, he adds, parents also need to support their school's efforts to strengthen security. "Don't let individuals on campus that don't have legitimate business, and if they do, make sure that they are always properly signed in. Have all students, staff and visitors come into one main entrance and keep exterior doors locked. Having highly trained security officers and/or armed police officers working at the school is also highly recommended." To learn more about identifying warning signs in schools early and prevention, visit the U.S. Department of Education.