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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Code White: Schools hold lockdown drills

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

When danger is nearby or imminent at a local school, the School Resource Officer is the on-site first responder. Schools have a specific procedure for keeping students safe, and teachers undergo annual training on the procedures.
(T-G Photo by Tracy Simmons) [Order this photo]
Most remember the emergency drills at school: If there's a fire, walk outside in an orderly fashion. Tornado drills had students cross-legged on the floor, heads down.

A rash of student-led shootings in public schools in the 1990s created a need for another type of safety drill for students. The lockdown.

Just in case

"It's like a fire drill. Nobody plans for a fire, but you still do fire drills," said Sgt. Bob Filer of the Bedford County Sheriff's Department. "Nobody plans for, God forbid, an active shooter, but on campus we have sort of a moral, ethical and legal responsibility to prepare and drill."

Filer took a lead in creating the safety plan which is used in each of the county schools. He provides annual faculty training as well.

While the incidence of school violence has dropped dramatically in the last 20 years, the lockdown procedure in schools doesn't address just the worst-case-scenario, but creates a method and means of securing a school building if a dangerous situation is occurring nearby.

How it works

There are two types of lockdown procedures in the schools. Called Code White, the first procedure is a soft lockdown, and may be called if there is a domestic dispute in the area or a pursuit of an escaped prisoner.

"In that sense, the threat is not imminent, not directed at the school," said Filer.

Outside doors are locked and secured, students are moved indoors from any portable units, and all students are accounted for by taking roll.

In-house help

"The good thing about having a [School Resource Officer] on staff, you have a sheriff's officer as an immediate first responder," said Mike Novak, principal at rural Liberty Elementary.

The SROs in all the schools are in close contact with county dispatchers, and according to Filer, in any ongoing incident which could possibly affect a school, the SROs are notified immediately. Filer then makes a recommendation to the school administration about whether to call a lockdown.

Novak values the relationship between the school's administration and the SRO, explaining, "We work very close -- and very well together. And we have to. If a bad situation did come up, I think we would handle it the best we could."

Worst case

For the worst-case-scenario, an active threat where a weapon is involved, students are put in a "hard lockdown." All doors locked, lights off and students in hiding. For safety reasons, more details cannot be provided in print.

Having the Code White plan in place allows teachers to know both what to look out for, and what to expect in case of an emergency. Any faculty member can call for a lockdown at the school.

"I tell them 'If you think you hear gunshots outside your windows, and you see a guy with a gun, lock the school down, let me figure out if he's hunting rabbits,'" said Filer.

"I would rather be in lockdown for 20 minutes while we sort that out, just to be safe."

Close relations

Filer has been at Liberty since 2006, and has watched the children at the school grow up.

"I love each and every one of these kids," he said. "You don't want to bring violence to my campus."

As for parents -- who are likely to receive a text message from their student in a lockdown situation -- the SRO asks for the community to trust local law enforcement.

"If you got a text from your kid that was in a lockdown you're not going to be able to enter the school building, in all likelihood you might not be able to get within several hundred yards of school," said Filer.

In the last lockdown at the school, parents began showing up at the office, "... and we were just doing a drill," said Filer.

Who to call

The advice for parents is to call the central office for information, and be patient.

"You have to trust us that your child is safe," said Filer. Parents will be called once the danger has passed, either directly or through the school's automatic phone system.

"I hope that the sheriff's office and the Board of Education has a sufficient reputation with the community to allow them to trust us," said Filer. "I hope that's the case, because that trust is what is going to allow that plan to work."