Utah schools run lockdown drills, a year after Sandy Hook

Dec 22 2013 - 8:25am

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A Kaysville police officer searches a classroom during a lockdown drill at Fairfield Junior High on Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013. Many schools are doing emergency lockdown drills after recent shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary and Arapahoe High School. (KELLY KEITER/Standard-Examiner)
A Kaysville police officer searches a classroom during a lockdown drill at Fairfield Junior High on Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013. Many schools are doing emergency lockdown drills after recent shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary and Arapahoe High School. (KELLY KEITER/Standard-Examiner)

Since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., one year ago, local school districts have been making changes and improvements to ensure student safety.  

Soon after the shooting, the Ogden School District, Weber School District and Davis School District started to examine safety procedures. Each district changed and fine-tuned procedures.  

"It's natural to reflect on our own security and what can be done," Weber School District spokesman Nate Taggart said.

Officials in the Davis and Weber districts said they looked at better ways to work with the several police departments in their districts. District officials sat down with officers from each police jurisdiction to come up with some standard protocols. 

"When you are dealing with children that can't defend themselves in chaos, consistency is key to preserving the safety of our kids," said Kaysville Police Chief Sol Oberg. 

Leaders in the Weber and Ogden school districts also looked to parents for help and input. 

The Davis School District recently held a mock disaster drill, and Ogden School District safety administrator Zac Williams said a mock disaster drill is possibly on the horizon for his district.   

Davis School District

Fairfield Junior High School in Kaysville came to a standstill Wednesday afternoon after an announcement came over the intercom that the school was in the midst of a lockdown. (It was, of course, only a drill.) 

Several minutes passed before 11 police officers from Kaysville, Layton and Syracuse, along with three K-9 dogs, began checking locked classrooms and evacuating students from several classrooms.  

Students and teachers huddled silently in corners of their classrooms, out of sight in the dark. A few classes were instructed by police officers to evacuate their classrooms in silence, single-file with hands on their heads, so the K-9 dogs could investigate the vacated classrooms.

It may have only been a drill, but police officers approached it with utmost seriousness. 

"We try to treat all drills like the real thing and respond as we would in a real situation," said Lt. Kenton Pies, the police supervisor for School Resource Officers in Kaysville.

Several important safety procedures have been implemented this school year in Davis, and they were used during the drill. One of the biggest problems, Oberg said, that formerly existed in Davis County was that each police department had its own protocol. Now all use a standard protocol. 

Scott Zigich, Davis School District Risk Manager, said one of the biggest changes in the district involves the administration and teachers. 

"In the past, teachers and administrators would be in hallways directing kids and doing hallway sweeps, but that is no longer in effect," said Zigich. "They are now sequestered with students in their classrooms until being released by police officials."

Ogden School District

Some of Ogden's biggest changes are still being implemented and will roll out at the end of January. Much of the focus is placed on getting information to parents on how to respond in any kind of emergency situation.  

"We want parents to not rely on calling the school, but to let us push the information out to them," Williams said. The district uses methods like automated phone calls, social media and the district website. 

The district learned a lot about possible disasters when Shadow Valley Elementary had a bomb threat last spring. "There were things we took away from that, and we learned from them," Williams said.

The district is working on a district-wide brochure that will go home to families to explain plans at each school. The district also works with the Ogden Police Department and has plans in place in the event of an emergency, but neither entity wants to make those plans public, so as to not tip off any future perpetrator.

Each school is responsible for creating its own emergency plan; that is currently being done through community councils. Because schools know their own demographics, Williams said, they know better ways to set up safety plans.  

Gramercy Elementary School, for instance, just met with its community council, which is made up of parents, teachers and administrators, to create its plan.

Alyssa Parker, mother of Emilie Parker, who died at Newtown, has set up a website with other parents of the Sandy Hook tragedy called safeandsoundschools.org, and Ogden is using some of the tools on that site for its safety plan. 

Weber School District

In the Weber School District, officials also immediately went to work to consolidate efforts between all police departments.  

The district decided to focus on four areas -- building security, school resource officers, video security and offender prevention.  

"One of the most notable is our centralized video security," Taggart said.  

Instead of each school having its own video camera system, the same system was installed at each school. That allows information to be sent to law enforcement officers quickly, and connects to a real-time crime center at the police department.  

"That's a capability we didn't have before," Taggart said. 

The Weber School Foundation supplemented budget money from the district to change the video system. Each school also reached out to families of students to raise money for the cameras.  

Taggart said the response was refreshing, showing that the community is aware and interested in helping with students' safety. 

Teachers and administrators at each school have received training on the procedures to follow in case of an intruder.  

"We are doing everything to see our schools be as safe as possible ... we are always cautious and alert," Taggart added.

All three school districts employ resource officers -- which, officials say, is a vital key to school safety. Most secondary schools have their own resource officers, or even more than one. Williams said those officers in the secondary locations in Ogden are all close to several elementary schools and could respond quickly.  

Safety is on the minds of all those involved with education -- and steps are taken daily to make it better, officials at each district said. 

It is important to strike a balance between safety and making schools an inviting place for parents, Taggart said. 

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