SH schools, cops implementing Standard Response Protocol for incidents

Sean C. Morgan

Suppose an armed intruder were to be spotted entering a building of a local school.

School personnel contact police and then they would turn to their school’s plan for dealing with such an incident, locking down the classrooms and taking other pre-determined steps.

They might use code words. They might use color codes. They might try to evacuate students and staff, streaming from the buildings with their hands in the air.

The response, until recently, would not have been particularly uniform from campus to campus.

That’s all changing now.

The Sweet Home School District is implementing a standard response protocol created by the I Love U Guys Foundation, a Colorado-based organization focused on helping schools develop coordinated responses in local classrooms to any potential incident.

“The schools have always had some sort of procedure for different events,” said Police Officer Tim Trahan. “The issue was each school pretty much had their own procedures.”

At a seminar, police administrators heard John-Michael Keyes tell his story, how his daughter was shot and killed at Platte Canyon High School in Bailey, Colo., after a gunman took six female students hostage and sexually assaulted them. She texted her family before her death with a message that became the foundation’s name, according to the organization’s website.

From 1984 to 2009, some 273 persons have died in school violence, Trahan said.

Keyes and his family began exploring issues around school safety, asking, “Can we really help?” The missing piece in student safety seemed to be a lack of clear, distinct, common language among first responders, students and staff.

Keyes established the I Love U Guys Foundation and developed a standard response protocol, one that was already adopted by Oak Heights and Sweet Home Junior High School.

“They had taken that to enhance their own procedures,” Trahan said.

Sweet Home Junior High added the SRP after administrators heard Keyes speak, said junior high Vice Principal Josh Dargis. “We got going on it right away.”

Since then, they’ve modified the program to mesh with the SHPD program, Dargis said, but junior high teachers had already given the presentation to students.

It’s concise and easy to understand, Dargis said. “This does all the work for us. My hat’s off to them.”

The plan eliminates code words and colored alerts, among other procedures that may be specific to individual schools, Trahan said.

To avoid tipping off a gunman, a school official might announce on the PA that “Bart Simpson” is in the building, or a school official might announce “code red” for an incident on school grounds or “code yellow” for something near the school. Those codes can complicate things, Trahan added.

“Also, there was no real set procedure of exactly what to do in any given situation,” Trahan said.

Like the Incident Command System, a systematic tool used for the command, control and coordination of emergency responses by agencies across the nation, the Standard Response Protocol is not based on individual scenarios but on the response, defining how schools should act in a broad range of circumstances.

It provides a common vocabulary among responders and staff members, he said. It defines four basic actions, “lockout, lockdown, evacuate and shelter.”

A “lockout” is followed by a directive to secure the perimeter and is the protocol used to safeguard students and staff within a building.

A “lockdown” is followed by “locks, lights, out of sight,” and is the protocol used to secure individual rooms and keep students quiet and in place.

“Evacuate” is always followed by a location and is used to move students and staff from one location to another in or out of the building.

“Shelter” is always followed by a type and method for group and self-protection.

If someone is in a school trying to cause harm, under the new system school officials know what to expect: Police are going to respond as fast as possible and officers are going to enter the building. Police also know what to expect from campus personnel, how staff and students will respond to emergencies.

“This lets them know we’re hitting the hallways and going on the hunt for the bad guy,” Trahan said. The department hosted a regional training exercise last year at the high school to prepare officers to do just that.

That program fits hand-in-glove with the I Love U Guys SRP, Trahan said. Ideally, with a lockdown, locks, lights, out of sight order, students are locked in their classrooms, hidden with the lights off. The first police officers will have an empty building to search for an intruder.

With the new SRP, “we’re adding what everybody inside the building’s going to do before we get there,” Trahan said. In the past, when police arrive, hundreds of people are running from buildings holding their hands in the air as ordered by police, but that’s not really the best way to respond.

Trahan said that, in up to 80 percent of school violence incidents, the perpetrator talks about his or her plans ahead of time, and when people see it and tell, it’s possible to stop them early, such as a bomb threat in Albany last year. Police apprehended a would-be bomber and bombs, based on an early report.

He urges people to call in possible school violence when they see it.

Every school in the district is using the SRP program now, Trahan said. He started working on it in early February after police administrators learned about it.

His brother, Lebanon Sgt. John Trahan, called him after seeing the presentation, Trahan said. “I guess it hit everybody like a ton of bricks. John said, ‘This is big. Everything is changing.’”

Then Police Chief Jeff Lynn told Trahan to go to work on it locally.

It’s a simple plan, Trahan said. He will give a presentation to Oak Heights staff this week, although the school has already begun to implement the plan.

At Holley, Principal Larry Horton had it implemented within two days, Trahan said. The entire school was doing exactly right .

“That’s how easy it is for everybody to learn it,” he said.

The SRP simply dots the I’s and crosses the T’s for officials in an emergency.

Trahan explained how the gunman in the Sandy Hook school shooting passed by darkened rooms before finding a classroom with activity. “The theory here is now schools know what to do,” Trahan said. The best chance of survival against a shooter is to be hidden, and that’s what the SRP tells school personnel to do. A school can be silent and dark quickly. That’s important because incidents often happen in mere minutes.

“The best case scenario is they can’t find anybody,” Trahan said.