SANDPOINT — Solid teamwork between the school district and law enforcement can make all the difference when an emergency arises.
Ever since the Sandy Hook tragedy made school safety a national concern, Lake Pend Oreille School District officials have been collaborating with the public and law enforcement to make sure their emergency protocols match the needs of the area.
According to Superintendent Shawn Woodward, school officials have met with representatives from both the Bonner County Sheriff’s Office and Sandpoint Police Department to receive suggestions and improvements on their lockdown procedures. Woodward said the most important thing in coordinating emergency plans was to give law enforcement a clear idea of what to expect when entering school facilities.
“They want to know clearly what we are going to be doing in terms of our lockdown plans,” Woodward said.
The goal of a school lockdown procedure is to make each student and staff member as safe as possible in the event of an emergency. From the moment of alert, teachers need to be capable of locking doors, pulling blinds over windows and corralling students into the most secure positioning. The success of the protocols is determined primarily by how quickly the school’s staff can eliminate visibility and access into every vulnerable point of the facility.
Drilling is the only way to improve those performances. There are two philosophies when it comes to conducting drills, Woodward said. Some schools simply sound the alert to trigger a lockdown without any indication of whether or not the situation is serious. However, Woodward and other school officials agree that’s not the most sensitive way to practice protocols.
“We want to clearly communicate this is a drill so staff and students aren’t thinking this is the real thing,” he said.
In October, Woodward witnessed a drill take place at Washington Elementary and was impressed with the speed and efficiency with which staff made the building as secure as possible. As good as they were, however, he said there were always methods of improving, and one key way was ensuring the facilities themselves were in tip-top shape. District department heads have lent a hand in that respect, inspecting line-of-sight in hallways to minimize risks and checking up on the intercom system to maintain clean avenues of communication.
After all, when a frightening situation arises, it’s often communication that can be key to resolving the conflict. In the case of school emergency plans, Woodward said it encompassed one of the more important coordinated efforts with law enforcement. A signal indicating whether or not individuals in classrooms were wounded, for instance, would provide law enforcement officers with critical information on how to proceed and what resources to have on hand.
School officials are also discussing the possibility of installing “panic buttons” in classrooms offering instant alerts to local law enforcement.
While progress has already been made, Woodward said discussions on increasing school safety will likely continue dialogue on the issue.
Woodward welcomes the public to get involved in the discussion and share their ideas.