Preparing for the Worst: DHS emphasizes security protocols

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Tierney Brennan, News Editor

Out of the 1,516 shootings that have occurred in the United States, five of those mass shootings took place in Colorado. The locations of these shootings varies: a movie theater, a Chuck E Cheese, an RV park, a youth center/church, and a high school; all taking place over nineteen years. With these attacks on the rise, it’s clear that public establishments should have a plan of action at all times.

“If we can lockdown, our kids can go home safely at the end of the day,” said Richard Fitzpatrick, the superintendent of Rancho Tehama Elementary in Northern California.

The school was targeted by a local man with intent to kill. Fortunately, due to the training of the staff and the quick execution of their plan, a lockdown was successfully initiated; only one student was shot, and recovered in the hospital.

Speedy efficiency was seen to be most important in instances where an active shooter is a threat.

We have seen instances of delays in the implementation of lockdowns ranging from a minute to several minutes in actual incidents, and we have often seen fail rates of 60% to 81% during simulations that require individual staff members to make and communicate the lockdown decision,” stated Campus Safety in an article about effective lockdown tips.

They teach that schools should have multiple lockdown plans – administrators can sometimes misdiagnose the situation, and the threat could escalate in the time that they take to hesitate to call a full blown lockdown. Different levels of lockdowns should be available to best fit the situation when the time comes.

Another common mistake that could potentially be fatal is lockdown codes. A Campus Safety study showed that administrators in 22% of the schools assessed messed up the codes and called for the wrong procedure. In a place where natural disasters occur, this blunder could greatly increase casualties.

Campus Safety emphasizes the importance of administration training, all staff should be issued keys, and all doors should be locked during class. It is vital that all staff members know what to do in these emergencies, simple slip ups or delays can cost lives. The article also clarifies that there should be a quick action plan for getting all students back into the building in an orderly fashion.

It is also common for schools to base the lockdown on the location of the threat, rather than the nature of the threat. This is widely warned against.

However, many districts are moving away from this defensive, lockdown approach, and toward a more offensive, active strategy.

ALICE, which stands for Alert Lockdown Inform Counter Evacuate, is a training institute which specializes in active shooter protocol. The step “counter” in their program addresses this active approach.

“Create Noise, Movement, Distance and Distraction with the intent of reducing the shooter’s ability to shoot accurately,” states ALICE on their website under their 5 step program. “Counter is NOT fighting.”

Understandably, the counter initiative is a natural response to people who are unhappy with feeling out of control in such circumstances; many look at lockdown protocol as being a sitting duck for an active shooter. When executed properly, countering is a smart move and can be used quite effectively to stall the shooter, or find a way to reach safety. This does not mean that it is advised to launch a counter attack on the attacker.

“There’s a difference between feeling more safe, versus actually having a false sense of security that could teach you just enough to get yourself killed,” said school security consultant Ken Trump in an NPR interview.

Active shooter protocol training in schools is rapidly on the rise. Preparation, cooperation, and speed are all essential to handling high threat level situations. Schools need to adapt based off of previous incidents to maximize safety for students.

Durango High school, too, has its own specific procedures for an active shooter threat.

“We have our lockdown, which functions for a threat in the building,” said Jon Hoerl, principal at DHS. “Anybody can make that call on the PA system when they know there’s an imminent threat within the building itself.”

For DHS, a lockdown entails teachers and staff sweeping the area around them, getting inside, locking doors, and shutting blinds.

“Reality is, a lot of these situations – from Arapahoe to Sandy Hook – happen within about a minute to a minute and fifteen seconds,” said Hoerl.

The administration of DHS collaborates with a regional director who has their finger on the pulse of the newest, best protocol for school safety. This ensures maximum for security for both staff and students.

Principal Hoerl has made it a priority to devote time and effort to the safety and security on campus. He leads by placing emphasis on the importance of taking drills seriously, because the more familiar the faculty and student body are with the ins and outs of the procedure, the safer they will be in case of the occurrence of a real situation.

“When you practice and you do it right, you really can save lives,” said Hoerl.

The rest of the DHS security team seems to agree with him. Steve Kerchee, an on campus security guard of many years, also believes that the current protocol is sufficient for handling a live threat such as an active shooter. He did, however, account for the fact that one can only prepare so much.

“We practice it and practice it, we do what we can, but you just never know how a situation is going to unfold,” said Kerchee. “No matter how much you drill, sometimes your instincts overtake and you may go against what you drilled for. That’s just human nature.”

He also had advice for individual precautions students could take to make the school as safe as possible.

“Be aware of your surroundings, who is in the building,” said Kerchee.

If a student notices something out of place, or someone they don’t believe should be in the school, the safest thing to do is alert a staff member.

Benjamin Danquah, the other on campus member of security staff,  points to the fact that it’s a team effort. DHS students and faculty must look out for the school as a whole. Communication is crucial to the success of an active shooter procedure.

“We don’t use codes,” said Danquah. “Very plain language is recommended so that everyone can understand what’s being communicated.”

From communication, awareness, discipline, speed, and lots of practice, DHS aligns itself well with up to date nationally recognized protocol. As it’s been said, one can never prepare to a T in a situation as unpredictable as an active shooter threat, but the procedures set in place allow for the safest place possible. Students and faculty alike should feel at ease knowing that the school is as prepared as it can be to handle any threat.

Sidebar: According to NPR, there have been more than 160 school shootings in the US since 2012.