Following the horrific Columbine High School tragedy in 1999, schools nationwide added the Security Drill to the regular fire drills that were always an integral part of school safety procedures. In the wake of the deadly Sandy Hook tragedy last week, state officials, schools, and concerned citizens are looking at even more intense security measures.
In New Jersey, the additional drill is known as a Security Drill, but in other states, the exercises are also known as Lockdown Drills or Active Shooter Drills, said ABC News. The Safety Drill was added in 2010 in New Jersey by that state’s Department of Education, making the Safety Drill mandatory, said NJ.com. The mandatory, monthly security drills included evacuation and lockdown plans, as well as plans for how to handle an “active shooter situation.”
“It can happen anywhere, it can happen anytime,” Lieutenant Patrick Kissane of the Fort Lee Police Department and incoming president of the New Jersey Association of School Resource Officers, told NJ.com. “The profile is, there is no profile,” he added. Worse, noted ABC News, safety officials are not in agreement as to what teachers and students should do when faced with a homicidal gunman in school. At Sandy Hook Elementary School, teachers, staff, and students were drilled on how to handle this very situation. “We practice it, and they knew what to do, and you just think about protecting the kids, and just doing the right thing,” library clerk Mary Ann Jacob, told ABC News.
Jacob explained that she was drilled—based on a previously developed plan—to move children in the library to a back closet between bookshelves. “You have to have a certain amount of fire drills, and evacuation drills, and a certain amount of lockdown drills,” she said. “Kids know the routine, and the teachers know the routine, and everyone has a spot in the room where they are supposed to go to,” Jacob told ABC News.
School safety expert Ken Trump told ABC News he believes the teachers at Sandy Hook did all they could to protect their students. “It does sound as though the teachers did everything humanly possible, down to risking their lives, to protect the children in this Connecticut school,” Trump said. Sadly, Trump noted that, “Teaching kids to lock down, securing your rooms, and, in some cases, teachers stepping forth to protect the children at the risk of their own lives, is something that we see occurring more and more over the years in school safety,” ABC News said.
Former SWAT officer Greg Crane told ABC News that existing lockdown procedures are not sufficient in today’s world. Speaking of Kaitlin Roig—the teacher who refused to open the classroom door to the killer, hid her students in the bathroom, barricaded the door, and would demanded proof from authorities before opening the door—Crane said, “What she [Roig] did was a fantastic move.”
Crane founded a school safety program called ALICE: Alert, Lock down, Inform, Counter, Evacuate. “Was she taught that move? Did every teacher know to lock the door and also barricade it? If that’s the case, why weren’t other teachers taught that?” Crane asked.
Typically, teachers are taught to lock their doors, sit quietly, and wait for help, said Crane, a plan described as “Lock Down Yellow” in New Jersey, said ABC News, which says that students must: “Go to the room nearest your location in the hallway; No one will be able to leave room for any reason; Silence must be maintained (Use of cell phones are not permitted); Make sure you are marked present; Do not leave the classroom until directed by PA System, telephone or by an administrator.”
Crane founded ALICE saying that the lock down-only policies in most schools are flawed, said ABC News. “We’ve taught a generation of Americans to be passive and static and wait for police,” said Crane, whose wife was an elementary school principal in Texas during the Columbine attack. “We don’t recommend just locking a door because locked doors have been defeated before,” Crane told ABC News. “Try to make yourself as hard a target as possible.” ALICE teaches against passivity and suggest things be thrown at attackers.
According to Crane, 300 schools and universities implemented ALICE since the mid-2000s; Sandy Hook Elementary was not among them, said ABC News.
At the school, Friday, the Sandy Hook tragedy claimed the lives of 20 children and six adults.