School Districts Enhancing Safety Plans to Include Active Shooter Component

These Iowa districts are now finding the need for an all-hazard plan that includes an active-shooter scenario.

by Jim McKay / March 2, 2018

In the wake of the Parkland, Fla., school massacre, many school districts are examining their school safety plans or creating new ones.

In southeastern Iowa, Sigourney and Pekin school district Superintendent Dave Harper is working on a new plan, an all-hazards plan that includes an active shooter scenario. The schools are locked down during the day, offering good security from intruders and faculty practice fire drills and tornado drills, but there is no active shooter scenario.

“This is not something we practice, and it’s a touchy subject and people get uneasy about discussing it,” Harper said. “It’s that elephant in the room that we need to address and get our staff prepared so that when something like that does happen, we can respond accordingly.”

Harper said the plans will include collaboration with local law enforcement. He has already met with the Jefferson County sheriff and will meet with the Keokuk County sheriff as well. The discussion with the sheriff revolved around what training to give school administrators and teachers.

The considerations include, ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) and Run, Hide Fight. Harper said what matters most is that staff get some training so that they have something to fall back on during a shooting or other disaster.

“People need something that they’ve seen and practiced so when the stress level gets out of this world, they can react and say, ‘I need to lock the door or put a barricade in place or get the kids out the window,”’ Harper said.

The plan will be an all-hazards plan but will have an active-shooter component. There is a rail line very close by, and if there were a rail accident, an evacuation plan would be essential. “It could be a gas leak or something,” Harper said. “And that’s something we don’t have in our plan. What if, God forbid, there is a [rail accident and] a chemical spill and winds in the right direction?”

He said the evacuation piece will be an important part of the plan regardless of the scenario.
“Obviously an active shooter plan would be unique, but it really comes down to how we are going to get the kids out off the property safely, ensure their whereabouts and have accountability,” Harper said.

Harper said he had been considering enhancing the safety plan since before the Florida shooting. The Iowa Senate recently advanced Senate File 2253, which would require all districts to have plans for each school building by June 30, 2019 and that those plans contemplate active shooters and natural disasters.

In a voluntary survey done in 2015 by the Iowa Department of Education, 88 percent of respondents said they had a safety plan but just 10 percent said it was high quality. The Senate bill didn’t distinguish what kinds of training was necessary, just that districts “establish a security plan for individual school buildings in the school district,” and that the school board to consider recommendations from the department of education as well as law enforcement and emergency management.

The bill initially required that districts share plans, Harper said. That provision was removed for fears of plans getting into the wrong hands.

Local law enforcement officials have said they would be happy to help review and discuss district plans. “We will work hand in hand with law enforcement and emergency management,” Harper said.