December 15, 2012
The Connecticut school shooting Friday occurred just as area districts are reviewing their own security measures and updating staff training.
The Luzerne Intermediate Unit has been administering a program designed by a private company called Seraph through funding with the Department of Homeland Security.
Dallas Superintendent Frank Galicki said his district participated in the program this fall.
Each school brought in a team of approximately six to eight people – principals, supervisors, safety people, buildings and grounds staff – and each member was trained on what to look for in conducting a school safety audit, Galicki said.
The teams looked for weaknesses in school set up and procedures drew up a report and submitted it for review. The district is awaiting a response with final recommendations.
You look through the school thinking of different scenarios and using a different set of eyes, checking things like lighting at night, security doors, Galicki said. The audit did find weaknesses in the district schools, though none were serious.
We are reviewing and enhancing security protocols in order to make sure everything is in place that should be in place, he said.
Training and procedure can only go so far, and older schools tend to be more susceptible to security problems. Dallas's new high school, opened in 2011, has numerous cameras, a lobby at the entrance with locked doors between visitor and the rest of the schools, a metal detector at the student entrance and outside doors that sound alarms if propped open too long.
Dallas Elementary, by comparison, is an older building with far fewer security features.
Wilkes-Barre Area will go through the Seraph training and safety audits in January, Curriculum Supervisor Andrew Kuhl said, adding that a total of seven local districts have signed up for the training. But the district didn't wait for the Seraph program to begin.
Security Director Brian Lavan said the district trains staff for incidents – including active shooters getting into the school – several times a year.
We just did one at Heights Elementary, Lavan said. We tell them what it's going to be like, what we learned from Columbine and other school shootings, what an active shooter's mentality is when they come into the school.
The primary reaction is a lock down, with teachers locking classrooms and positioning students as out of site as possible, Lavan said, though the response may vary depending on the school and circumstances. The training is always updated as the district reviews any recent events, he added.
While all schools have electronic latches and requirements for visitors to buzz in, sign in and be escorted to any destination, a determined person may force their way in, and Lavan conceded that can present a difficult problem.
If their mindset is to come in and wreak havoc, it's a pretty tough thing to deal with, he said.
Wyoming Valley West opted out of the Seraph program, Superintendent Chuck Suppon said, deciding to bring in State Police during the summer to walk through the schools and offer advice.
They talked about certain issues they felt we need to tighten up at the high school, including the number of entrances, Suppon said. Among other things, police saw a student prop open an outside door for a classmate.
We've been making the changes one at a time, Suppon said. This is an ongoing process. The district also works closely with local police in each school, meeting with police chiefs on an annual basis. The district ran an active shooter drill about a month ago, he added.
Security measures can go beyond staff.
Suppon said about two years ago the student council raised money, consulted with local law enforcement and tinted cafeteria windows, making it harder for those outside to see in.
And while it's not something most people want to think about, the district also prepared for reactive measures, in case all the security fails, Suppon said.
The high school has put together buckets with class rosters and from 200 to 400 supplies such as medicines, in case something unfortunate would happen.
You always use a proactive approach, but no one can say it absolutely will never happen hear, Suppon said. Look at where these tragedies are happening. They are not happening in urban areas. They have metal detectors, they have dogs, they have security. It's happening, unfortunately, in school districts like those we have in Luzerne County. You can't sit and say it won't happen here.