Did you know the last fatality from a school building fire took place in 1958? Nearly 60 years ago. And over the last 60 years fire alarms, fire prevention, fire protocol, and emergency response has continually, and significantly, improved. These improvements have created increased confidence and effectiveness. So how do fire alarms and armed intruder response systems relate? Well, much like fire alarms, schools are required to perform annual drills of their armed intruder response protocols in preparation of a crisis. With the unfortunate rise of life threatening and deadly incidents over the past decade, these drills are necessary. Most schools have renewed their focus on these drills and taken them very seriously – performing these exercises with true expectations to improve. But as we talk with numerous school safety leaders, most, in an honest moment, will concede there is a vast amount of improvement needed, much more than they have accepted, or implemented. And they are continually requesting if we can share our best practices about conducting armed intruder drills.
One of our clients has a great approach to running emergency drills which we want to share with you. We believe it is a best practice.
Although most schools will notify every one if there is an upcoming drill, it is technically un-announced since building occupants don’t know which day or time the drill will be executed. This exercise approximates the conditions of a real event while minimizing the fear and panic during a drill. One problem is the majority of safety teams will choose a “convenient” time to conduct their drill – for instance, during the middle of a class. What if an armed intruder threat took place during passing time when students are scattered throughout the halls, lobbies, and toilet rooms? Or during lunch hour when a large part of the student body is in the cafeteria making executing a “lockdown” extremely difficult? Or pick any one of the other tough-to-protect times of the day.
One school district we work with has taken a different approach – which we consider to be a best practice approach. They take an entire week – the first week of the semester - and conduct multiple drills at various times on different days. They normally complete 6 to 10 full effect drills during this week by activating their BluePoint system. As part of standard procedure and best practice, their local police department is fully involved in the process. Additionally, the district picks the tougher times of the day to observe how students will react. Now, not only is their safety team gaining expert insights into proper procedures, the students are more engaged and prepared. The district is becoming more equipped and knowledgeable on both how to better protect students and save lives during a real-time threat.
In one of their drills taking place during lunch hour, the students pointed out there were better areas for seeking protection than the ones they were instructed to go to. And during the passing period, the students learned to recognize what to look for in a good area of refuge throughout the building. Engaging the students in critical thinking about their own safety and how to respond is absolutely better training.
When asked why they choose to train during the first week of the semester, the superintendent shared two standout reasons. One, he wanted to get it done early in the semester to embed the importance and make it standard practice. Two, their experience is the first week of school is the least productive teaching and learning week as students and teachers are getting settled and acquainted. Why not use this time for safety drills to not disturb the more productive teaching and learning weeks to come?
Although doing multiple intruder drills all in the same week, during tough times of the day, might make you cringe – one school district believes their students are better prepared and safer because of it. We at BluePoint couldn’t agree more. We recommend considering this same practice in your school district.
BluePoint is the leader in Rapid Emergency Response Systems with a complete alerting and crisis communications solution during police emergencies. Our solution saves lives by reducing response times of both building occupants and police while providing critical communications during a crisis. Please contact us today for more information on how BluePoint can help you.