Last week I blogged about the danger inherent in lock-down policy when schools are threatened by active shooters. In a nutshell, after analyzing dozens of school shootings, I came to feel that locking down schools and trying to hide kids was a poor alternative to evacuation (largely because most schools don’t seem to have locks on the doors).
So, to find out what the active shooter protocol is in my local county, I decided to attend the Henrico County Public Schools’ Safety and Security Community Forum, held at Hermitage High School on 1/31/13.
The auditorium was packed with faculty, parents, and police, and there were few available seats. Dr. Patrick Russo, Superintendent of HCPS, opened the meeting. Dr. Russo was well spoken, seemingly sincere, and confident in the ability of HCPS, in partnership with local police and other agencies, to keep our kids safe.
Next on stage was Mr. Ed Buzzelli, Asst. Superintendent, who acted in the role of emcee. The first speaker was Col. Douglas Middleton, himself a graduate of Hermitage HS. Col. Middleton said that he feels “Henrico County has the finest school safety plan in the Commonwealth, perhaps in the entire nation.” He then went on to explain why: over $2 million spent annually on equipment and training (including 40 hours of mandated mental health training for every officer), at least 1 officer per school, a three-tiered safety plan audit structure to ensure compliance and effectiveness, and so on. Although he decried decreases in budget, he assured everyone present that budget cuts have not impacted school safety.
The final speaker was Ms. Christine Bailor, former RPD Captain and current Safety and Security Coordinator for HCPS. Ms. Bailor checked off the five school safety recommendations made by the American Association of School Administrators and explained how HCPS met or exceeded those recommendations and has been ahead of the school safety curve for over 10 years. She also related an interesting fact: there are over 45,000 students and over 6,000 faculty and staff in the county, a truly staggering number. I don’t envy Ms. Bailor’s responsibilities.
When the speakers concluded the breakout sessions began. There were six simultaneous sessions — a Campus meeting and a Self-contained meeting for each school grade type (Elementary, Middle, and High). I attended the High School Campus-style meeting in room 181. Ms. Bailor attended my meeting, a pleasant surprise.
Meeting organizers took suggestions from parents and teachers in attendance and promised to catalog and upload them to the HCPS website in the coming days. Among the most popular suggestions were louder PA systems, brighter outdoor lighting, and increased supervision of kids during after school activities. Everyone on both sides was civil and polite.
When I mentioned my concerns over the so-called “Signal Blue Hide-and-Lock” protocol I was in for a surprise. While Officer Fowler and Ms. Bailor seemed just a little defensive (and who can blame them with criticism coming from every angle!), they surprised me with some important facts:
1. All of our county schools now have locking doors on classrooms, and many are in the process of being switched to dead latches that remain locked at all times and can only be opened from the inside, or from the outside by key. This really changes the game, and makes hiding a viable alternative to evacuation in the event of an active shooter.
2. Response times in Henrico County are very high, and if police were to arrive during an evacuation, students and faculty filling the halls and/or campus would create confusion on scene and the risk to everyone would be increased. Hide-and-lock guarantees that, when police arrive at a school, anyone wandering the halls or grounds is likely to be a shooter or conspirator.
3. Hide-and-lock drills are practiced on a regular basis (I asked my daughter and she verified it). Everyone knows that, when the Signal Blue is announced, they are supposed to find the nearest room and get inside. Doors are locked, shades are drawn, and everyone hides behind the heaviest objects they can find. And they practice having adults ask to get in so that children can say “No!” and remain hidden.
In light of these facts, I rescinded the instructions I gave my daughter to run like hell no matter what anyone says — unless of course she’s in a place where there’s no locking door. I suggest that parents outside of Henrico County verify that their child’s school has locking doors throughout (preferably dead-latching) and that regular drills are performed. Hiding in rooms with unlocked doors is fraught with danger.
As I’ve said before, everyone has to take responsibility for the safety of themselves and their loved ones.
Overall, I have to say that HCPS officials and the police were able to impress even a super critical guy like me. They seem to have things well in hand.