Triangle schools often review, strengthen security rules

Area schools have detailed safety procedures in place. But they say they may learn something from the mass shooting in Connecticut.

jstancill@newsobserver.comDecember 14, 2012 

  • More information Safety information for Wake parents What is a lockdown? A precautionary measure in response to a threat directly to the school or in the surrounding community. In a lockdown: • All school activities are moved indoors. • All exterior doors on campus are locked. • No one is allowed to enter or exit the building. • Parents may not come to the school during a lockdown. • Parents are also discouraged from calling the school directly. Additional calls hinder the ability of staff to keep everyone safe. How will I know if my child’s school is on lockdown? In larger emergencies, such as a Code Red lockdown or lockdowns that affect numerous schools, the Wake County school system will: • Dispatch an emergency phone message. • Update the WCPSS Facebook page, Twitter account (@wcpss) and the WCPSS home page. • Notify and update the local media as the situation develops. What can parents do to ensure that they receive proper notification? Make sure your child’s school has the most up-to-date emergency contact information. In the event of a lockdown or other emergency, school staff will use that information to get in touch with you. If you have not received a recorded phone message from your school during a lockdown, please verify your contact information with the school. Source: WAKE COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS

The doors were locked at Raleigh’s 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 Connecticut’s 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 children’s 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 can’t 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 there’s 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.

Tightening procedures

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 Friday’s 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 they’re ready.”

Friday’s 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.

Stancill: 919-829-4559

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