One week after a Connecticut elementary school shooting shocked the nation and sparked a massive gun control debate, local elementary schools and police departments are refining their emergency preparedness plan.
In the hours following the Dec. 14 killings, the Chula Vista Elementary School District worked with staff to distribute information to parents.
“In light of recent events we’re reviewing our (safety) procedures,” Chula Vista Elementary School District spokesman Anthony Millican said. “Whether it’s revisiting the sign-in procedures or adding locks or reviewing the specific challenges of individual schools’ designs.”
Millican said on Monday the focus was on what it would look like if that happened here.
“We’ve had, like many schools in the country, a great deal of discussion among staff and administrators about what happened,” Millican said. “Our principals have been very proactive in communicating with their own school committees about the particulars of their campuses.”
On Friday district staff answered calls and simply listened to distraught parents.
“They shared their emotional reaction to what happened,” Millican said. “We’ve received multiple requests to fortify our schools. Everything from creating a locked fortress to requests to hire full-time armed guards.”
When asked if the district has discussed installing metal detectors, he said not in the last five years.
“That wouldn’t have helped in this case,” Millican said. “This guy shot his way into a secure building.”
However, Millican said the problem is societal and much more complex.
“All of us, every citizen, needs to build and strengthen the hearts and minds of our boys and young men,” he said. “It is no coincidence that these mindless crimes … are predominately caused by males that fit the profile of a loner, someone who is unable to interact with society.”
Millican added that because these types of crimes are often premeditated, there are red flags along the way being missed by those in positions pf authority.
“…Even before it gets to that point we have to do a better job of working with young males about how to better process their emotions so that internal frustrations don’t manifest themselves in violent behavior,” he said.
The district has since added information to their website to help students cope, along with a number of resources.
Earlier this week, district schools reviewed their internal lock-down procedure, which is being refined with the input of staff, parents and law enforcement.
District staff were retrained for emergency preparedness last month and held a comprehensive drill on Nov. 28.
Although the state does not require lock-down drills, the district decided to add them a minimum of twice a year as a response to the number of incidents that occur nationwide.
Millican said that staff and school site councils will meet to review all safety measures during the first week of January when school reconvenes and will also hold a lock-down drill on Jan. 17.
“It’s chilling when you hear things happening because it’s the real thing,” Millican said. “It’s not a question of if, but when … you have to be prepared.”
Chula Vista Police Capt. Gary Wedge said the department engages in what’s called active shooter training, in cases where law enforcement must respond to situations where there is an active shooter.
“The emphasis is focused on responding and addressing the incident immediately,” Wedge said. “We also work with the schools on lock down drills.”
Wedge said in the instance of an active shooter, the entire department becomes a resource.
“If something happens … you’ve got the patrol officers, the detectives and other agencies,” he said. “There are tremendous resources available to us if we need them.”
Wedge used the Congregational Community Towers shooting in April 2001 as an example where the department used resources from nearby National City.
As a more recent example in March, Mueller Charter School in Chula Vista was locked down after an alleged mentally ill man entered the campus wielding a knife.
He jumped over a fence at the back of the school and entered a full classroom yelling at students about ice cream, according to executive director of technology for Chula Vista Charter Schools Matthew Tessier.
A school resource officer was on campus at the time and helped diffuse the situation.
“This could have ended very differently if we didn’t have a (school resource officer) SRO,” Tessier said at the time.
Currently, the department has eight officers and one supervisor.
“We’ve got a few who focus primarily on the elementary school district and then we’ve got a few who focus on the middle and high schools,” Wedge said.
Millican said the incident was a perfect example of why the district funds the officers.
“The reality is we can’t be every place at all times but training in how we respond to security threats goes a long way to keeping the students the safe,” Wedge said.
Adam Lanza, 20, killed his mother, a teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newton, Con., then went to the school and fatally shot five adults and 20 children before turning the gun on himself, according to Connecticut authorities.
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