Below is the next series of questions my clients and colleagues have submitted to me through past Gary’s Guide to School Safety blog posts, via email, and directly to me through LinkedIn. Be sure to submit your safety and preparedness questions below to be featured on my next Gary’s Guide Q&A.
We use the term “hard lockdown” vs. “soft lockdown.” Our “soft lockdown” is the same as a secured perimeter where teaching and learning continues. Is that unique?
There are two areas of concern with using the term ‘soft lockdown.’ First, the term lockdown means there is a threat inside the building. Second, best practice is that organizations do not use terminology that does not convey a clear meaning or code words. If I am substitute, visitor, or vendor working in your building and I hear an announcement that says the building is in a soft lockdown, will I understand what that means?
What is the difference between a secured perimeter and shelter-in-place?
Shelter in Place is used primarily for a weather event or a made event (Chemical spill in the area) and it is safer to be inside the building than outside of the building. A secured perimeter means there is criminal activity or a threat outside of our building. No one can enter or leave the building (including parents and teachers) until Law Enforcement gives the “all Clear.”
Have you dealt with communication about a lockdown v. a lockout? And how does that factor in with Shelter in Place?
There was an incident where the estranged husband went to the ex-wife’s home and shot and killed one of her children who was an elementary student. The older children were already at the high school and students were still arriving by car, foot, and buses to the high school. Extra Law Enforcement was at the high school and all the buildings in the community. Students were taken to the Rec Center at the back of the high school property because it was easier to set up security than at the front of the school building. Messages were sent to the parents advising them of the situation, so they could keep their children home or drive back home if they had not yet dropped off their child. We started the day in a Secured Perimeter/Lockout.
A Shelter in Place is generally a weather event.
Can you please clarify a “stay-put” response?
A Stay-Put is a situation where there is no threat to the students or staff, but the administration wants everyone to stay where they are, even if the bell signaling class change goes off. A Stay-Put would be called if there were a medical emergency and we needed to keep the hallways clear for medical personnel to take a student through the halls and out to the ambulance. A student may have become ill in the hallway and they custodian is still cleaning. There may have been a fight in the cafeteria and all though the fight is over, staff is trying to calm everyone down before sending them to their next class. There may be a drunk parent in the office. Again, everyone is safe, but we are limiting exposure to an incident.
How do we handle trouble parents arriving at school – when there is no legal document existing that limits that parents access to the student(s)?
When there is no court documentation limiting a parent’s access to the child the schools cannot restrict a parent’s access based on the wishes of the other parent. It is extremely important to communicate with parents before and during the year the school policy regarding child custody issues. It is also important to remind parents if there are any changes during the year, they must bring in documentation from the court that reflects the changes.
We have had situations where there is no court documentation preventing a parent from taking a child, not restraining orders, but one parent asks that we do not release the child. If this was the situation, would you engage the parent, Mr. X?
When there is no court documentation limiting a parent’s access to the child the schools cannot restrict a parent’s access based on the wishes of the other parent.
Looking at the totality of the circumstances, if there is no documentation that prohibits Mr. X from taking Mary from school, you cannot interfere with child custody simply because of the ‘request’ from another parent. Because of Mary’s age, her willingness to leave with her father, and the absence of any court documents stating Mr. X may not remove Mary from the school, I would not engage Mr. X. If there were documentation stating Mr. X could not remove Mary from the school, I would verbally engage with Mr. X, hoping to get him to come inside with Mary, but would not physically engage Mr. X because Mary is not being forced to go with her father. If he were forcing Mary to go with him, you will then need to decide whether to use force to get Mary away in back to safety in the building.
Personal note: I am 6’03” and weigh 245lbs. I am a self-defense instructor and have been a Law Enforcement Officer for over 25 years, all while also working in a school district as a teacher and as the safety director. Yes, I would engage Mr. X if he were forcing Mary (even though I were off duty) because that is my nature. But, I also know that if I were injured it could end my career as an educator and put me at risk for being sued by Mr. X. If my district has a policy that says I am never allowed to use force against a student or parent, then I would be operating outside the scope of my employment and could be subject to disciplinary actions.
I’ve been reading about the Mobile Emergency Response Plan in your Q&A blog posts, but I’m not exactly sure of what it is. Is this an app for a phone or is it only for desktop computers? I’m not sure my District would be willing to spend a ton of money on an app. Would you be able to do a demonstration of the MERP for my District?
I’m going to answer your second question first: Yes, I am always available for a live demonstration and to answer any questions you or your Administration may have about the MERP. You can CLICK HERE to schedule a free demonstration with me at your convenience, or scroll down to request access to a free, self-guided MERP demo. You will receive instant MERP download and login instructions upon entering the information below.
The MERP is a school emergency management software that allows your Emergency Plans, Floor Plans, and Contact Information to be on the mobile devices and/or desktops of your staff. The MERP comes pre-loaded with emergency plans that were developed with input from five Fire Departments, four Law Enforcement Agencies, the County Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, and the County Board of Health. Knowing how quickly plans can change, I designed the MERP to allow the School or District to customize and revise their plans at any time for free. I also designed the MERP with the end-user in mind, ensuring your staff would not require hours of training to put Emergency Plans into action. The MERP can be implemented at your School in less than a day, enabling your staff to begin using the app immediately.
As far as affordability, one of my main reasons for designing the MERP was to ensure Schools could make their plans available to those responsible for turning plan into action during an emergency. Let’s consider printed plans versus the MERP: A 100-page plan condensed and printed to laminated flipcharts with wired-binding will cost a School upwards of $35,000.00. And that is just ONE copy. When that plan changes and needs reprinted, there’s another $35,000.00 cost. Meanwhile, the base cost of a one-year license of the MERP is $750, plus $1 per user. A ‘user’ is defined as any person who will access the MERP through their computer or mobile device and identifying your users will be a decision I can help you make when you request a live demo with me. While Teachers are a clear choice to be included in your user list, consider your auxiliary staff, your bus drivers, and your local First Responders. Many School Districts will provide access to the First Responders who will support their School during an emergency, so they have immediate access to building floorplans and up-to-date contact information at their fingertips.
SCENARIO: Let’s consider a School District that has four elementary schools, an intermediate school, a middle school, and a high school that graduates approximately 350-450 students each year. To make each Teacher, Coach, Cafeteria Worker, School Resource Officer, School Nurse, Guidance Officer, and Janitor a MERP User and provide an individual login to each local First Responder, the annual cost of the MERP is $1,180.00. For under $1,200.00, this School District has placed their own Emergency Plans, Building Floorplans with Evacuation Maps, Contact Information with a direct-dial feature, and pre-loaded plans in the hands of the people who will be responding to an emergency.
All this information can leave you with more questions than answers I’ve provided, but that’s why I’m here and that’s why Safeguard Risk Solutions exists: To be a free resource to those tasked with keeping students and staff safe. The MERP is an affordable tool to aid in those efforts.