How Safe are Your Schools? The Colorado Briefing on School Safety

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How Safe are Your Schools?

The Colorado Briefing on School Safety

School Safety, an analysis by Firestorm Principal, Jennifer Freedman

Several of the Firestorm family recently attended a symposium, titled “The Colorado Briefing…A National School Safety Leadership Symposium at Columbine.”  It was held in the auditorium of Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado.

It was an intense three days.  We heard detailed reports of four school shootings that occurred in Jefferson and Park counties in Colorado.  These shootings took place over a period of 11 years.  They all occurred within a 38-mile radius.  School district officials called it the “Bermuda Triangle” of school shootings.  Not a sobriquet they want to have, but they have it.

We listened to school administrators, principals, county sheriffs and a member of the SWAT teams that were involved in three of the four shootings.  We heard from a math teacher who tackled an active shooter, and we heard from the father of the single casualty at one of the schools.

It was disturbing.  It was heartbreaking.  Yet, it was uplifting, because Jefferson County is doing an incredible job to prevent another incident.  They are working closely with law enforcement to make sure the lessons from these incidents are “learned” and not just “observed.”  They have implemented programs that raise awareness and allow students to safely tell caring adults about behavior they see that concerns them.  They have trained Jefferson County school principals, staffs, teachers, students (beginning in elementary school) and parents.  Law enforcement has trained their force, their school liaisons and their SWAT teams.  And, the schools and law enforcement have trained together.

All proceeds from this event benefited the Columbine Memorial Fund, The “I Love U Guys” Foundation, Safe2Tell and a special student fund

The speakers stressed over and over again the biggest hurdle to school preparedness:  “It can’t happen here.”  At Firestorm, we call it Disaster Denial.  Carolyn Mears, author and a member of Firestorm’s Expert Council, is a Columbine mom.  She told us how she was driving by Columbine High School the day that the Jonesboro shootings hit the news.  She remembers saying to herself, “Thank God my kids are safe at Columbine.”  But, they weren’t.  The principal of Columbine said to us, “If your school officials think ‘it can’t happen here,’ tell them to give me a call.”

(For support and information on the Aftermath of Trauma, please check out Carolyn Mears’ outstanding book: Reclaiming School in the Aftermath of Trauma: Advice Based on Experience)

Schools across the country are filled with smart, caring, dedicated adults. But they may not be ready to handle these types of “unthinkable” incidents.  They need to be.

Here are some questions you can ask about the schools your children and grandchildren attend.

  • Does your school (school district, state) have an incident response plan?
    • Does the response plan include procedures for lock-down, lockout, evacuation, self-evacuation and reunification with parents?
    • Are bus drivers trained on the evacuation and care of students during an incident?
    • Are parents aware of the plan and their role in an emergency?
    • Are the schools prepared to communicate effectively with parents and press during and after an incident?
    • Do they exercise that plan with the students and the community? Are those exercises all planned or are some unannounced?
    • Do the schools have a close, working relationship with law enforcement?
    • Can school officials communicate easily with law enforcement during an incident?  Do they have interoperable radios with a shared frequency?
    • Have school officials and law enforcement leaders studied the lessons from incidents across the country and planned accordingly?  Are they learning from others’ experiences?
    • Do students have a way to safely and anonymously tell adults of behavior that worries them?  Have students been trained on what to do if they are concerned or worried, scared or hurt?
    • Have employees been trained on how to detect threats of violence and on what the precursors to violence may be?  Do they know what the warning signs are?
    • Have employees been trained on the counter-measures to implement if behaviors are exhibited that require disruption?

Will Jefferson County prevent another incident from happening?  They have already prevented a few.  Will there be another one?  They think so.  They have to think so.  It would be irresponsible not to.  But they will be as ready as they can be to handle the situation quickly.  That’s what we need for all our schools.

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About Jennifer Freedman: Colorado-based Firestorm Principal Jennifer Freedman believes in the importance of a clearly articulated strategy.

During her eight years with The Boeing Company, Jennifer led numerous groups through the strategy development process – at the highest levels of the company.  She has found that the discussion and thought that goes into the process is every bit as valuable as the end product.

Jennifer also has 20 years of experience in marketing, communication, media relations and branding, and holds a Masters degree in integrated marketing communication.

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