There’s no simple or set formula for making a school safer.
It can boil down to simple touches like numbering doors and laminating the glass in a building’s entryways. Ensuring the safety of students, teachers and staff can have just as much to do with providing adequate mental health services as it does with setting up alarms and cutting-edge notification systems. The process is complicated and changeable, and it can require coordination and commitment from an entire community.
That much is clear in the Cherry Creek School district’s ever evolving approach to security in just the past year. The district has worked directly with five different law enforcement agencies to create a more streamlined and effective protocol for handling emergencies. The work has come within the district as well, from the development of a state-of-the-art Emergency Operations Center at district headquarters in Greenwood Village to the installation of updated cameras, communication systems and building materials at schools across eight municipalities. It’s all part of a comprehensive and flexible approach to safety.
“I don’t think you can say any safety plan is going to be concrete. The situation doesn’t allow it,” said Randy Councell, the district’s director of safety and security. “The key is that it’s evolving.”
That evolution hasn’t come in a vacuum. The district has worked closely with representatives from the five law enforcement agencies that represent the 108 miles of Cherry Creek. The Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office, along with police departments from Aurora, Greenwood Village, Glendale and Cherry Hills had a direct role in developing the district’s safety policy. That work came along with communication with departments in Littleton, Englewood and Sheridan, as well as the Colorado State Patrol.
“It started with the leadership of Superintendent Harry Bull. He had a vision to pull the different agencies that service the Cherry Creek School district to get us on the same page,” Jackson said. “For the better part of this year, we’ve had an active group that’s been working on creating those coordination pieces.”
The target of the work was coordination. District officials wanted to create a shared language when it came to responding to an emergency. Finalizing a common definition of terms like “secure perimeter” and “lockdown” can be critical, especially in situations when mere seconds can mean the difference between life and death.
“We tried to develop a lot of consistency and commonality,” said Arapahoe County Sheriff David Walcher. “The word ‘lockdown’ might have meant different things to different people. Now, we have a high level of consistency. If you have a major incident at a school, all of these entities will respond and be on the same page."
The same goes for fire departments. Cherry Creek has worked with South Metro, Cunningham and Aurora fire departments to streamline a common language and has included Englewood, Buckley and volunteer agencies from Strausburg, Bennet and other communities near the fringes of the district in the effort.
“The school district is taking the lead. They’re noticing that we’re served by different agencies. The district knows what we do and what our expectations are; we know what the district does and what their expectations are,” Walcher said. “It takes a partnership. We don’t work in silos. We need to work with our friends and neighbors … to have a better community. That’s what you’re seeing here.”
District leaders are pairing the larger community collaboration with a refined focus that varies from building to building. That includes updates to security cameras at specific schools, funded in part through bond money approved by voters in 2012.
The work also includes basic steps like numbering all doors to make communication between first responders easier in case of an emergency. The district’s Raptor ID system went into effect at all buildings last year, and offers a background check on all visitors via photo IDs and a national criminal database.
Those on-site elements come along with constantly updated phone systems and radios, networks that can provide an immediate security update to any classroom in a matter of seconds. Security staff and emergency responders have access to portable data drives that include detailed information on all buildings in the Cherry Creek district.
“All of these plans and all of this training and all of this practicing pays off,” Councell said. “It’s an all-hazards approach.”
Such hazards are hardly consistent. It takes working with neighboring law enforcement agencies and consistently reviewing policies to keep them in perspective. It takes learning from tragedies on a local, national and international level, drawing from first-hand examples to better prepare for risks to come. Paying attention to the mental health and stability of students and offering support also plays into the equation.
“Immediate intervention can save a child from a catastrophic situation,” Councell said. “Safety and security is more than just having response protocols and plans on how to respond and recover. It’s mitigation and prevention as we go through every day.”
For more information about the Greenwood Village Police Department's collaboration with the Cherry Creek School District, click here.
-- Posted Aug. 15, 2014