The day before a Freeman High School shooting that killed one student and injured three others, the rural school district conducted a routine lockdown drill.
Monthly drills are required at Washington schools to help prepare students, faculty and staff for a range of emergencies, including earthquakes, tsunamis and shootings.
“They practice evacuation, locking down and staying in their room in the event of a violent intruder in their school,” said Mark Sterk, Spokane Public Schools’ director of campus safety.
Students said that a Freeman High School custodian, Joe Bowen, apprehended and immobilized the shooter. Sterk said the safety training required by the state has helped teach staff members and students to react quickly during emergencies.
At Spokane Public Schools, resource officers work on developing relationships with students.
“We consider that our front radar,” said Sterk, the former Spokane County sheriff. “If kids feel comfortable with the officers, they will talk to officers about what they see and hear.”
In the event of a school emergency, the training helps administrators and teachers take quick action, Sterk said.
In Washington, school principals must be trained in incident command so they can quickly take charge until school resource officers and other law enforcement arrive.
In addition, “we train ‘Run, Hide and Fight’ to all our staff,” Sterk said. “Getting the kids to a safe place is our No. 1 priority during an incident.”
Since 2008, schools and school districts have been required to have comprehensive safety plans, said Nathan Olson, communications director for the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. Emergency drills are part of the safety plans.
In July, changes to state law increased the frequency for emergency drills, requiring schools to conduct them monthly.
The 5,000-member National Association of School Resource Officers advocates for schools to have crisis plans and to practice them regularly.
“We’re at a point where almost every state requires some level of crisis plan, but it can’t stop there,” said Mo Canady, the association’s executive director. “They have to practice on a regular basis – all the way from facility to law enforcement to students.
“We’re looking for every school to be prepared for an incident likely never to happen, but they have to be prepared in case it does,” he said.