School Safety Lesson
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SPOKESPERSON: Attention all students, staff, and visitors. This is a code blue. Repeat: This is a code blue. Security, please lock down the outside entrances.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: It is a fact of life. Schools today have to be ready for life-and-death emergencies.
SPOKESPERSON: I ask that all teachers please close their blinds and windows. Classroom instruction should continue during the code blue.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Once a month at Sherwood High School in Montgomery County, Maryland, students, teachers, and administrators practice what to do in the event of a terrorist attack.
SPOKESPERSON: Let’s just double check and make sure that all the doors are locked down outside.
SPOKESMAN: Are the police going to come into the building?
SPOKESMAN: They haven’t informed me yet.
SPOKESMAN: I’ve got to… I talked to Officer DeCarlo, and in another minute he’s going to call me… call me back in a few minutes.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: This suburban Washington, D.C., school district has been through one trauma after another since 9/11. Both students and teachers lost relatives in the attack on the Pentagon. Then their local post office was contaminated with anthrax. Planning for school safety in the face of an enemy attack is not new. During the Cold War, when Americans worried about a nuclear bomb attack, students practiced “duck and cover” drills.
SPOKESMAN: We have one student outside the upper gym.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: But in today’s world, public school systems have developed a more sophisticated response. If there is a terrorist attack, every public school in Montgomery County is prepared to set up a command center that will coordinate a response with the police and fire department.
SPOKESMAN: Let’s make sure that we have attendance taken care of.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Just weeks after the new emergency system put in place, it was tested, when the D.C. area was terrorized by a series of sniper shootings.
SPOKESMAN: That sniper really affected us personally and professionally.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Jerry Weast is the superintendent of Montgomery County Schools. During the sniper shootings, he sent letters home with the students every day to try and keep parents and students calm.
JERRY WEAST: I’ve really learned that mental health is important, and what is best to help mental health is having a plan, practicing that plan, working on it in an integrated fashion.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: That’s why he sent another letter home when the nation was put on orange alert status, to reassure nervous parents about potential terrorist attacks. School officials also held a series of meetings with parents who were especially concerned about a portion of the emergency plan called “shelter in place.”
MAN IN AUDIENCE: I heard a rumor that there are scenarios perhaps where if the “shelter in place” takes place, that there could be some areas where kids who are outside will be locked out and won’t be able to get in.
MAN IN AUDIENCE: How long are the schools prepared to hold these kids? And what is the plan in place for, you know, sleeping accommodations and all that kind of stuff?
SPOKESMAN: Please check the outside. Make sure all students are out of the hallway.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Shelter in place means that in certain situations, students would be locked down inside of the school until it was deemed safe to release them to their parents. P.J. Burnsky is the father of two Montgomery County School students. He said after listening to the safety experts, he feels more comfortable with the plan.
P. J. BURNSKY: I’m walking away fairly confident that they know better than the average person what’s good for the situation, more so than my reaction, which would be to run to the school and get my kids and, you know, head up to the mountains or something.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: And, he says, having confidence in the school’s plan helps him better comfort his nine-year-old son.
P.J. BURNSKY: He has lately been demanding more hugs, and… and you know, we make him… I make him feel safe, that we have a good, smart group of people who are in the government who are taking care of this. And I just reassure him all the way though, the top all the way down through the county government and schools and the principals, that everybody is doing the best they can, including mom and dad, to make sure that everything is going to be fine, everything is going to be safe.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: It’s not just in the D.C. area where schools have implemented elaborate plans to help kids feel secure. (Alarm sounding)
SPOKESPERSON: All right, ladies and gentlemen. I need you to please line up. Please do not run. Stephanie, grab the flag. Please, outside. Do not run.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: In Glendale, Arizona, students regularly practice evacuation or lockdown drills. Every room in every school is equipped with a bucket that contains emergency and first-aid supplies.
SPOKESPERSON: This is applesauce. We have pinto beans. We have peaches. Back over here are vegetables.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: The schools also stockpile bottled water and food to last up to a week, in case students would have to be sheltered there. The police and fire departments are linked to the schools with a computer program which shows emergency responders the layout of the building, photographs of all rooms and hallways, and diagrams of where emergency command posts would be set up.
KELLEY MURE, Glendale Fire Department: We know that the first ten minutes will impact the outcome of the event. We want to make as many of those decisions as we can not under duress, so that whoever is the first responder or the first incident commander on scene can do his or her job.
SPOKESMAN: Is that 600 kids and adults?
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Mark Joraanstad is in charge of the emergency plans for the Glendale Elementary School District.
SPOKESPERSON: You may return to your classrooms at this time.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: He says he’s always trying to strike a balance between having students prepared and not making them too frightened.
MARK JORAANSTAD: We need the students to be calm, but we also need the students to be able to focus on learning as we do these drills so that we not get first- and second-graders dwelling too much on war, on emergencies, on the fact that their life by be in danger by some terrorist act.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: When the students speak about the drills, they do so matter-of-factly.
STEVEN MAGANA: I think it’s good that we have the lockdown drills too, so we can improve our times on how quickly we lock the doors and windows.
SAFA ALJESSAR: And if we had to stay there for two or three days, then we’d call our parents, and they’d be upset, but they know that it’s for the safety and our school’s just trying to keep us safe.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: The federal government wants to encourage more school districts to develop emergency plans. $30 million is currently available to help schools improve security. Another $30 million will be available in the new budget.