For 10 years now, local police, fire, medical and education professionals have met monthly to plan their response to a crisis such as a school shooting.
The planning has gotten more detailed and expansive over the years, and the next level of planning will take on recovery from a crisis, which could include things like replacing a school in the event of a shooting, the D21 school board heard Sept. 26.
Three fire and police officials gave their yearly update to the North Wasco County School District 21 board last Thursday. The Dalles Police Capt. Jamie Carrico said the crisis response team takes both proactive and reactive measures as part of its work.
Proactive measures include regular drills at all schools in the county. “The teachers really are our first responders in a situation like this,” Carrico said.
Drills include lockdowns, where students remain in classrooms, and expanded lockdowns, where they lock down in their room, and then practice being led out of the classroom. Such drills, which the crisis team started doing at the end of the last school year, said Mid-Columbia Fire & Rescue Chief Bob Palmer, end with a school assembly to talk about what they just did.
County Sheriff Lane Magill said, “We want our children to be educated about a lot of things and school safety is one of them.”
Magill said the drills are detailed, and cover lockdowns, lock outs, sheltering in place, and leaving the building. Teachers learn “this is what the process looks like, This is what it will sound like, this is what you’re going to say, this is what you’re going to do,” he said.
The crisis response team wants students to practice the various responses enough “so it becomes muscle memory,” Palmer said. “That way, if there ever is an incident—we hope there never is—we’re all prepared.”
Palmer said the crisis response team provides consistent training for response in neutralizing threats and triage training and training on reunification.
All those steps are talked about at every monthly meeting, Carrico said.
Palmer said the recovery concept is “a whole different ballgame” and can be a very long process that involves the whole community. It could involve replacing a school, he said.
D21 Board member Rebecca Thistlethwaite said, “I recall my dad having to do nuke bomb shelter in place [drills] when he was a kid and how much trauma resulted from that.” She asked the fire and police speakers what their take was on the impact of the drills on students.
Carrico said that back when he was in school, nobody came to talk to students after a drill. “We talk to the kids, we get down on their level and say a situation could happen, hopefully it doesn’t.”
Magill said the drill is announced as a drill beforehand. “It’s a very beneficial way of doing it because it doesn’t cause alarm.”
Magill said, “We have had students that have had anxiety,” but they sit down with teachers and anxious students and “we use it as an educational opportunity for kids.”
He said, “We don’t want this to be a big scary thing.”
Palmer said, “We want them prepared. If they’re prepared, there should be less stress. If you know what to expect, there should be less stress, less fear.”
D21 Board Vice Chief Jose Aparicio asked if drills are used as an opportunity to evaluate the safety of facilities. Magill said police do point out issues such as lack of window shades and “stop blocks” on doors.
Magill said each school in the county has a standardized flip chart showing the steps to take in a crisis, so the process followed is the same everywhere. Palmer said the crisis planning was “very comprehensive” and was beyond an active threat crisis.
Palmer mentioned the slogan of “see something, say something, do something,” and Magill encouraged people to use the Safe Oregon tipline, at SafeOregon.com. Students and adults can report concerns via text or phone at 844-472-3367, email at firstname.lastname@example.org, the mobile app, or its web portal.
He said, “If a teacher or student sees something, they need to feel free, without repercussion, to say something.”
Magill encouraged people to provide tips. He said authorities would rather look into something that ends up being nothing than having to be too late to respond to an incident.