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Schools tighten up safety in response to shootings

Deadly shootings at the Clackamas Town Center, Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, Nevada’s Sparks Middle School and on Lake Oswego’s Atwater Road have spurred school districts nationwide — and especially in Clackamas County — to upgrade safety equipment and security plans.

Oregon City schools added several security cameras. Securing additional access points this year, the district already had a standard district identification badge that serves as an electronic entry access. More lighting was also added districtwide.

The North Clackamas School District is installing new fencing, security cameras at all elementary schools (middle schools and high schools already have camera systems), window coverings, signage and intercom speakers.

Gladstone’s three public schools have added security cameras, fencing and curtains in front of locking classroom doors. Doors can also lock automatically between hallways to trap a potential shooter.

“Since Sandy Hook and Clackamas Town Center, there’s a new level of interagency cooperation and information exchange that can only serve to improve our safety measures,” said Oregon City Superintendent Larry Didway.

by: VERN UYETAKE - Students file out of the building with their arms extended, a practice showing that they are unarmed, during a recent fire drill at Lake Oswego Junior High School.Lake Oswego School District Superintendent Bill Korach assigned his administrators to work with LOPD last spring, and the team has revamped protocols, putting it into action this fall. The plan is different in that it creates consistent scenarios for specific situations throughout the school district.

School and public-safety leaders say recent events inspired revised plans. Last December at Sandy Hook, a gunman shot and killed 26 people, including 20 children. Only days before, a man fired shots into the crowd at Clackamas Town Center, killing two people and wounding an NCSD student. Lake Oswego High School, Lake Oswego Junior High and Forest Hills Elementary School were locked down as a precaution during the search for a suspect in a murder at a house on Atwater Road in September 2012.

NCSD’s total budget for the security upgrades it’s putting in this school year is $191,750. Assistant Superintendent Ron Stewart said the district is tapping its maintenance budget for some items, and some items — such as security cameras — are covered by the remaining 2006 bond funds.

“The district is working to improve the identification badge system, check-in of visitors, and related expectations district-wide,” Stewart added. “The district is working with each school to update individualized school emergency procedures.”

Law enforcement now have digital copies of all the district floor plans, so OCPD, CCSO, Milwaukie or Gladstone patrol cars could pull up to the scene of a school emergency and immediately determine the best route to trap a shooter.

Gladstone Police Chief Jim Pryde, who previously served for 31 years in Washington, would like to see Oregon also adopt a similar statewide Critical Incident Planning and Mapping System.

“If I have to send an officer to Oregon City, the officers will be able to work together,” Pryde said. “It’s an excellent system you hope you never have to use.”

Countywide collaboration

School leaders have committed to continue collaboration on these important and valuable conversations through the newly formed county school-safety taskforce. Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts led the discussions, and he has been credited with bringing his expertise and public-safety connections to the table.

“Sheriff Roberts really thought we needed to open the door a little wider, so now it includes the FBI, Clackamas Fire and Tualatin Valley Fire,” Didway said. Roberts said the issue was personally — as well as regionally — important as a father himself. In his own district, Didway also has children in attendance at local schools.

Local school districts have adopted the “I Love U Guys” Foundation’s standard response protocol. On Sept. 27, 2006, a gunman entered Platte Canyon High School, held seven girls hostage and ultimately shot and killed Emily Keyes. During the time she was held hostage, Emily sent her parents text messages saying “I love u guys,” and her parents have presented the free program and training materials at hundreds of events, conferences and venues, which has resulted in adoption by districts and police agencies across the nation.

“We had standard responses in every school, but a ‘lockdown’ was referred to differently in various schools, which could have caused confusion,” Didway said.

During lock-ins and lock-downs, no one is let in or out, as windows, blinds and doors are closed, but a lock-down is more intense. It calls for students to stay away from windows, hide and stay put in a locked room until an official says otherwise. “Evacuate” is always followed by a location, and is used to move students and staff from one location to a location deemed safer. Shelter is always followed by a method, such as “duck and cover,” and is the protocol for group and self-protection.

Designed for safety

by: VERN UYETAKE - Band instructor David Hymans take roll of his class to make sure everyone is accounted for.An ongoing problem for districts is that their school buildings were designed and built in another era where many safety design considerations were not on people’s minds. With administrators off to the side of schools’ main entrances, visitors rarely have to physically walk through a front office to check in. “Maze-like” corridors in some school buildings would provide lots of ways for a shooter to hide or surprise.

“We’re been very proactive, but some important safety features will require significant investment,” said Don Staehely, director of finance and operations for the Gladstone School District. “Hopefully there will be some funding to come along to make some physical changes.”

Didway agrees that some of the county school-safety taskforce’s findings will require significant investments. Saying “we’ve taken care of the urgent and easy remedies,” Oregon City is now assessing what else it can do to keep kids safe.

Working with CCSO and risk-management insurance, Oregon City is developing an interdisciplinary checklist to assess potential physical-plant needs related to safety by the end of the year. Didway expects his School Board will get a chance to consider possible options for investing in school-safety measures next year and ways to pay for the infrastructure.

“It’s important for our community to know that student safety is our first priority and it’s something we’re continually working on,” Didway said. “It’s not something you arrive at and declare it finished — it’s an ongoing assessment and process. There’s a large range of investment that can and should occur, and we’re going to have to look at those.