Vail Daily column: A hard look at school safety |

Vail Daily column: A hard look at school safety

Joe Hoy
Valley Voices
Joe Hoy

The shocking and senseless murder of 20 students and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut was a painful reminder that schools are not always the safe haven we expect them to be. Since that tragic event there have been several other school shootings that once again place children, parents and the community in the horrific position of dealing with the shock of the loss of innocent life. These incidents have caused us all to ask again, how can we improve school safety when resources are limited.

The 1999 attack on Columbine High School was an unimaginable event that forced changes in law enforcement tactics and school security procedures. Here in Eagle County, we are constantly working with the education community to enhance campus safety and security. Today, our deputies have more information (school buildings layout, lock-down protocols), equipment (better inter-agency radio communication, computers, weapons) and training (rapid and immediate response, mass evacuations). The Sheriff’s Office works together with school administrators and district officials to coordinate crisis plans and provide school security audits. Most recently we evaluated, developed and rehearsed active shooter response for our local CMC campus. Our Safe2Tell program urges students to call in anonymous tips about threats, bullying and suspicious activity.

While school safety has come a long way since Columbine, there is still work to be done. There is no simple answer to school safety; however, one of the most simplest and critical ways to ensure safety is to have a crisis plan, and practice it. We have helped develop and implement lock-down and evacuation drills throughout the school district.

Review, revise and improve

Each recent example of school or workplace violence we see in the news is different than the ones that came before and gives us another perspective on how to better our current school safety methods. Lessons learned from training exercises and real-life incidents like Platte Canyon provide critical information to improve crisis planning. Each incident is thoroughly reviewed and analyzed for important information concerning the suspect’s method of operation and law-enforcement response. The Standard Response Protocol was created in 2009 by the I Love U Guys Foundation. The Standard Response Protocol has been presented at hundreds of events, conferences and venues.

The premise is simple. There are four specific actions that can be performed during an incident: Lockout, lockdown, evacuate and shelter. Mindful of the events at Sandy Hook, we are bringing renewed vigor to our meetings with school officials as together we improve safety plans and procedure.

What parents can do

Communicate, communicate, communicate. Talk with your children, other parents and your schools. Become familiar with the safety plans at your students’ schools. Talk to your children about personal safety, no matter how old they are. Make sure they know how to report strangers at their school and what kinds of concerns merit telling a teacher or school resource officer. Become involved. Make a plan in case of an emergency. If your child’s school is in lock-down, then you will not be able to pick them up. Let them know how to get in touch with you. Understand the emergency protocols and what location has been designated as a community meeting site.

Together, with collaboration of the school district and other public safety organizations, we at the Sheriff’s Office continue to foster a safe environment for our children to learn and grow.

Joe Hoy is the Eagle County sheriff.

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