Administration reevaluates school emergency plan after shootings in Newtown

In the past few weeks, headmaster Stephen Repsher has been receiving emails from heads of schools around the state, all asking the same thing.

How can we improve our safety plan and help protect students from terrible events such as the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in Newtown, Conn, on Dec. 14?

“They’ve been asking ‘What does your school do? Where can we go to get help?’” Repsher said.

The killings have caused schools around the country, including Country Day, to reevaluate their safety plans.

“When an emergency happens, it always gets you to rethink your plans,” Repsher said.

“Any organization has to constantly update their plans, or else they won’t be ready.”

According to Repsher, the administration started reviewing the plans and discussing possible changes on Dec. 18 and will continue meeting in the future.

“Emergency plans change with time as threats change,” said Evelyn Profita, mother of senior Annie Bell. Profita was the first full-time emergency manager at UC Davis until her retirement in 2005.

“If a shooting on campus  is a more credible threat now than it was 10 years ago, the plan should reflect this,” she said.

If a shooter or other violent individual were to come on campus Country Day’s plan is to issue a lockdown.Screen shot 2013-01-23 at 1.55.25 PM

The lockdown is initiated by an announcement on the loudspeakers and phone system that an intruder has infiltrated the campus. Instructions are given to enter the closest building, lock the door, pull down the blinds and turn off the lights.

Once administrators deem it safe to evacuate, the students follow a teacher to the designated off-campus staging area and await further instruction.

While the fire-drill procedure has been ingrained within the minds of students from the constant practice drills, the lockdown is a different story.

“I know there’s some drill where you hide under desks, and the teacher locks the door and pulls down the blinds,” junior Maya Kuppermann said.

“I don’t know anything more than that.”

Not required by law, the lockdown drill hasn’t been practiced in several years, Repsher said. But, additional drills will be held in the future.

An all-school faculty training session is planned for Wed. Feb. 6 as well. Different emergency specialists will come to school to train the staff.

According to Repsher, this training will become an annual event for the faculty and staff in the weeks prior to the start of school.

Three hours after the tragic Connecticut shooting, Repsher sent out an email to parents.

“These events are truly horrifying to us all, especially to parents,” Repsher said in the email. “Please know that Country Day takes every precaution to ensure the safety of your children.”

These precautions come from the school’s Emergency Preparedness Guide that was created six years ago by the company Camp and School Consulting.

The 92-page guide covers every procedure from severe storms to nuclear attacks.

In addition to the official Emergency Preparedness Guide, there is a shortened version, a 25-page packet, posted in every  room on campus.

Teachers and faculty are required to read this packet at least once. Its main purpose is a refresher for the faculty and staff in the time of an emergency.

The school also has an electronic file with the local police and fire departments that contains maps of the school and information about the characteristics of the classrooms and campus, Repsher said.

Profita said the state of California requires organizations, such as Country Day, to have an emergency plan.

“The most important part of a plan is communication,” she said. “Everyone ideally should know what to do if a particular situation arises.”

At Davis, Profita assembled a team of university personnel and constructed a campus plan.

She also trained campus administration, faculty, staff and students pertaining to the plan and each individual’s role.

That’s one of the main differences between UC Davis’s plan and Country Day’s: the responsibility of the students.

Outlined in Davis’s program is the student’s responsibility to be familiar with the plan and use their best judgement in an emergency. At Country Day, the Emergency Preparedness Guide does not have any student responsibility.

“Students don’t necessarily need to know all the procedures,” Repsher said. “In the case of an emergency, they will follow the faculty and administration. But we are open to including student participation if they really want.”

“People should know how to do what the plan requires of them,” Profita said. “If the plan says students should evacuate, then they should be trained  to do that, how to exit, where to assemble, etc.

“Everyone understanding what actions they should and should not take in an emergency is the purpose of the plan, and communication is the key to success.”

At Davis, undergraduates are instructed in their expected responsibilities during their orientations in their dorms, Profita said. Academic departments also give training to incoming graduate students.

At other high schools, such as Christian Brothers and St. Francis, students know what they’re expected to do.

In fact, St. Francis’s dean is so careful with their emergency policies that she instructed a St. Francis student not to give out any information pertaining to said policies.

At Christian Brothers, students are required to read the instructions posted in the classroom once a year, said junior Alexa Griggs, who transferred to Country Day this year.

“We had lockdown drills once a semester,” she said.

“We had enough of those drills that we knew what to do without the help of a teacher.”

According to Kuppermann, the actual details of Country Day’s emergency plan could be communicated to the students better.

“I think most people know the general gist of the plan but don’t know what to actually do,” she said.

“It would be better if everyone knew.”

Of course there’s only so much the administration can do to minimize damages in the case of a civil disturbance as they wait for first responders to take care of the situation.

“We recognize there is no way to guarantee absolute safety all the time and forever,” Repsher said.

Look no further than Sandy Hook Elementary. A new security system had been installed that required visitors to be visibly identified and buzzed in, and the school locked its doors each day at 9:30 a.m.

The gunman used an assault rifle to shoot through those doors.

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