The doors were locked at Raleighs Hunter Elementary School and Ligon Middle School on Friday after reports of possible gunfire in the area.
The Code Yellow lockdown ended without incident after only about 15 minutes. But the experience was chilling on a day when 20 children and six adults died at Connecticuts Sandy Hook Elementary a name that will become another Columbine in the American lexicon.
The second deadliest school shooting in U.S. history has parents everywhere wondering whether their childrens schools are safe. Though it is virtually impossible to keep a determined gunman out of a public building in a free society, schools in the Triangle and elsewhere have tightened security procedures and devised elaborate emergency response plans in the years since the Columbine, Colo., school shooting in 1999.
School districts generally have safety plans, and they also require individual schools to develop their own plans specific to building layouts and environment. Schools often require visitors, including parents, to sign in at the office using a computer that photographs them. Staff members wear identification badges, and lockdowns are used frequently if there is a perceived threat nearby.
In Wake County, the code lockdown system guides school staff, law enforcement and parents. Code Green is normal operation. Code Yellow is enacted when there is crime in the vicinity of a school. The most stringent procedure Code Red is triggered when there is a specific threat to a school.
A Code Yellow lockdown can last minutes or hours. Parents are typically notified by an automated call if the situation persists more than a short time.
Safety and security is a top priority for all of our schools, said Wake County Schools spokesman Mike Charbonneau.
School officials were reluctant to discuss security strategies Friday to prevent disclosure to those who would do harm.
I cant go into a lot of the details of how we respond to specific security situations, but all of our schools have practiced and tested procedures on how to close off and protect the school, lock down the school in case theres an incident outside the school, said Chip Sudderth, Durham Public Schools spokesman.
He added that teachers and staff are trained about what to do to protect themselves inside a school.
School district officials across the Triangle say their staffs constantly review procedures to make sure they are effective. Any time a school shooting happens somewhere, school officials can learn ways to tighten their safety plans, Sudderth said.
In Johnston County, the school district conducts yearly audits of safety protocols and conducts school drills every nine weeks to prepare for various types of emergencies, said Tracey Peedin Jones, a spokeswoman for the Johnston system.
In the summer, the district held a crisis management seminar for administrators that included input from federal Homeland Security and the State Bureau of Investigation, Jones said.
Ross Renfrow, senior executive director of administrative services, said Johnston takes a proactive approach to student safety.
It is of the utmost importance to maintain a safe and orderly environment for our students to be successful, he said.
Review those plans
State Attorney General Roy Cooper urged school officials to review their procedures in light of Fridays mass shooting.
We hope that North Carolina never faces a tragedy like this, but we owe it to students, parents and teachers to be ready, Cooper said in a statement. North Carolina schools have been provided with strategies and training to help them prepare for a school shooting, and all schools need to review those plans to make sure theyre ready.
Fridays news was so upsetting, Chapel Hill-Carrboro School Superintendent Tom Forcella wrote to parents and staff saying that the district will review its procedures and continue to monitor and secure all entrances to its schools.
This event is a painful reminder that we must be ever diligent in our efforts to protect our children, he wrote.
Staff writers Gloria Lloyd and Josh Shaffer contributed to this report.