Utah schools evaluate, update safety procedures in wake of campus crimes

Published: Thursday, Dec. 26 2013 5:10 p.m. MST

Schools now involve law enforcement officers in their safety drills, Williams aid, and are encouraged to hold lockout and evacuation drills in a regular rotation with their earthquake and fire drills.

He said school safety is a regular topic of conversation at the school and district levels as administrators determine how to regulate access to schools, from ID and security badges to the way visitors are screened.

"I think that has become part of our culture, unfortunately, but it’s good because when situations arise like this, people have to act on instinct," Williams said. "They don’t have time to go to a three-ring binder and find ‘what do I do in this situation.’ If they go through these drills, it becomes instinctive."

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Martell Menlove said he plans to recommend two changes to state policy on school safety. One would more clearly direct schools to conduct regular active-shooter and lockdown drills while the other would require schools to include policies on school access in their safety plans.

"I don’t want to dictate what doors are open and what doors are closed," Menlove said. "But I do want to make sure that as those community groups get together and talk about their school safety plans, they have a discussion about access to buildings."

Menlove said the current policy is that schools may alternate between lockdown drills and more traditional fire and earthquake drills. He said he'd like to see the "may" changed to "shall" to make it clear that schools should be regularly participating in simulations that test their ability to respond to a threat.

"I don’t want to de-emphasize the need to do fire drills, but I also think it's important that schools engage in active-shooters and lockdown drills and evacuation drills and some of those other types of things," he said.

Since the shooting in Newtown last December, Menlove and other state education officials have conducted a statewide survey of compliance to school safety policies. He said the majority of schools were already doing what was asked of them and the review process provided a reminder to local administrators on what state policy dictates.

"We have a better understanding of what is happening, but I think, even more importantly, schools now have a checklist of what we anticipate they’re going to do," he said.

At the college and university level, individual campuses are directed to develop and maintain safety policies based on the needs of that institution, said Pamela Silberman, spokeswoman for Utah System of Higher Education.

She said the higher education community regularly coordinates with state emergency services and shares best practices with sister institutions. But because of the variance from one campus to another — from the size of the student body to the location and number of buildings on campus — school administrators are better equipped to address local needs.

"They have to be focused on keeping people safe and keeping property safe, but beyond that, what makes sense at each institution can be very different," Silberman said of safety policies. "Snow College is going to be different than The U. because of the size and the location of the institution."

Email: benwood@deseretnews.com, Twitter: bjaminwood

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