District doubles down on safety efforts

By Marci Larsen, Superintendent | Jan 09, 2013

People all over the world, and especially those of us working in public education, were horrified by the tragic event almost a month ago at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn.

We feel a special pain when we think about the young lives that were lost, the grieving families that they left behind, and the teachers and other staff members who also became victims of that terrible event.

In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook tragedy, you can be assured that we are giving serious consideration to the difficult questions that all of us asked ourselves when we learned of the tragedy: Why did this happen, and what could we do to prevent it from happening in our community?

Our schools are currently doing as good as can be expected regarding security. Our students have regular lockdown drills, our staff members are diligent in confronting strangers who enter our campuses, our principals are trained in emergency response, and we have developed excellent relationships with the law enforcement agencies that service our schools.

Several years ago, we were at the forefront of a school mapping project that has since gone into practice throughout the state.

When police officers or firefighters respond to any emergency at one of our schools, the computer in the police car or fire engine can already access information about the floor plan of the building and the location of important features, such as fire alarms and shutoff valves.

The school mapping system was tested a number of years ago when sheriff deputies and police officers from all over the Puget Sound area conducted a drill in the hallways of Mariner High School.

We believe that training for students and staff members is the best line of defense when a disaster strikes. One of the biggest emergency threats in our area is the possibility of an earthquake; students practice earthquake drills twice a year.

Students also regularly practice lockdowns to protect against a situation outside the school building that might threaten student safety and shelter-in-place drills to protect students if there is a hazardous contaminant in the atmosphere. What’s more, students practice fire and evacuation drills six times a year.

Each year, principals go through a checklist of safety items, including their emergency plans and safety supplies, to assure that their school is ready in the event of an emergency.

Our buildings are also checked to make sure that fire alarms, fire doors, emergency radios, and other building systems are working properly. School principals also are required to pass training on the incident command system and are encouraged to conduct tabletop exercises with local emergency management agencies.

With the tragedy in Connecticut, we will continue to focus on ways to improve school safety.

Experts are likely to suggest changes in school practices based on what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary, we will continue to prepare our students to react properly in the event of any emergency, and we will build on our relationships with our local police and fire departments so they can respond quickly and efficiency when emergencies happen.

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