By David Meade
On December 14, 2012, 20-year-old Adam Lanza fatally shot twenty children and six adult staff members at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. The incident is the second deadliest shooting in United States history, after the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre.
On the national level, the shootings prompted renewed debate about gun control and on the local level, a flurry of review and implementation of school safety and security procedures.
So how safe are school’s in District One?
Associate Superintendent David Havird said overall, “School District One is in excellent shape. We were in good shape before. We have made the transition to excellent,” he said.
Soon after the Sandy Hook incident, District One officials took immediate measures to review and improve security in their schools.
Havird took action over the Christmas holiday break to step up security at some of the schools including adding locking access doors, wiring for new cameras, door locks, key pad entry and installing panic buttons linked directly to 911.
A memo was also sent to principals, school personnel and parents explaining and reassuring them that the District is looking at school safety and security to protect students and faculty.
Superintendent Dr. Wayne Fowler also spoke with the Sheriff’s Department and the County Board of Education about the issue.
Even before that, District One was being proactive and is ahead of most in where they are in terms of school safety and security.
The District made numerous safety enhancements to all schools during the recently completed building program.
According to Havird, one of the best was the installation of a High Definition camera system which allows live and recorded monitoring of entrances, drop off areas, parking lots, playground areas, stairwells, classrooms, hallways, gyms, and cafeterias.
The cameras, as many as eight, are monitored by school secretaries and anyone entering must identify who they are and what they want before they are allowed to enter. Once inside they are required to submit photo ID and are issued an ID tag with their photo, Havird said.
The camera system archives for about 14 days and can be referred to if needed for an incident.
Havird said the school’s system will be linked with the 911 system allowing the sheriff’s office to monitor in real time in a crisis situation.
The cameras have already helped with problem situations and with insurance liability, according to Dr. Fowler.
The district’s buses have also had new cameras installed in them.
Information on what the District is doing in terms of safety and security was presented to the District One Board on Tuesday.
The presentation included a review of safety procedures already in place and recommendations to current procedures.
Procedures already in place
Anderson School District One has numerous safety procedures in place at all 14 of the District’s schools.
There is limited access to school buildings through security doors. All visitors must be buzzed in.
All school guests are monitored and screened.
Each school has an internet-based check-in system for visitors which provides instant sex offender checks.
There is an annual update to a school safety plan and the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office, Williamston Police Department and West Pelzer Police Department all have copies.
The District has four school resource officers assigned to middle and high schools. They are also available to elementary schools as needed.
The District has an Edulink Parent Emergency Notification system which provides parents with information by phone and email instantly. Text messaging is being added.
The District has a state of the art security system with almost 600 high definition cameras in all of their buildings. They have also placed cameras on all school buses.
Also the District has a detailed and thorough application process and SLED check system in place to screen volunteers.
There are mental health professionals available.
During recent years, there have been road and parking area enhancements and improvements at all schools providing safer drop-off and pick-up of students.
There are separate car and bus drop offs.
When a problem arises, there are appropriate student discipline referrals to the Anderson County Alternative School.
Administrators and SROs review a Model Safe Schools checklist annually.
There are regular drug dog searches and sweeps in middle and high schools.
There is a full time registered nurse in each school.
There are trained medical/CPR responders at every school.
According to Havird. There are other things in place which are not made public for security reasons.
Need for Enhancements
During the presentation Tuesday, Havird told the Board that in addition to the safety and security measures already in place, the District is being proactive by having a plan and training in place before an incident happens.
Havird and Binnicker have put together a Violent Intruder Response Proposal which was presented to the Board. (See separate story)
According to Havird, past training should an intruder or shooting incident occur, taught teachers and students to shut the door, lock it, go to a corner of the room and wait for law enforcement action.
New information based on studies done on the Columbine and Virginia Tech shootings have led to a different proactive approach in protecting and surviving an intruder or shooter situation.
Havird said the studies show that providing options including evacuation and being proactive can increase survival of an intruder situation.
The plan focuses on five specific responses: Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate.
Alert – Providing as much initial intel to as many people as possible, through any and all available means is key to making good decisions.
Lockdown – Doors should remain locked during the day. Locked doors provide a time barrier. Should an incident occur, Barricade. The idea is to create a stronghold that nobody can breach. Be a hard target.
Once lockdown is in effect, no one should be allowed into a secure room under any circumstance. A locked door should only be opened to uniformed police personnel.
Inform – Continue the Alert by providing as much realtime information as possible. Empower those under threat to use this information to make single or collective decisions as to the best option for survival. Be flexible because the situation will be dynamic and fluid.
Evacuate – Only two percent of violent intruder events have been by more than one person.
Provide occupants with the ability and authority to evacuate.
If an intruder is inside, get outside. This removes as many potential targets as possible.
A reunification point is established before an incident occurs. This removes the need for family or friends to come to an active scene.
Counter – If evade or escape is not possible, and a lockdown room is breached, the plan recommends as a last resort, to take counter measures including noise, movement, distance, distractions and swarm.
The District is planning to implement a professional development training program for principals, teachers and students based on the Violent Intruder Proposal which was presented by Havird.
Dr. Fowler said the District is also looking at providing additional SROs or hiring a private security firm. “We are looking at all kinds of scenarios,” he said.
Legislators and other officials are also looking at options.
Havird attended a meeting hosted by Rep. Don Bowen on Monday, at which several recommendations were made. (See separate story)