Assistant Principal Brian Lynch rushed around the Tam High campus from art building to art building testing to make sure all doors were locked, lights were off and blinds were closed.
“Ceramics all clear,” he said to Assistant Principal Kim Stiffler. “Woodshop all clear ... Autoshop clear.”
About a dozen kids who had been out taking pictures gathered together on the steps of the photo room. Lynch told them if this were a real situation, they should hide or get off campus. Inside, the students were huddled in the dark room.
When given the green light, staff and police officers went around to every classroom and personally released the teachers and students.
“This was as serious as I’ve seen people take it,” Stiffler said during a debriefing after the 9 a.m. drill.
Since Newtown, Conn. where 20 students and six adults were shot and killed on Dec. 14, Tam High has been working with emergency officials to implement a number of new safety precautions on the large, open campus.
Lynch and Stiffler teamed up with police from Belvedere, Tiberon, the Marin County Sherrifs Office, and Mill Valley, along with three campus supervisors, to simulate the situation of a dangerous person at the school.
“Given all the significant changes, it was a successful drill,” Det. David Kollerer said.
One of the first things Tam High did was distinguish between a “lockdown” and a “shelter in place” drill. Before the two were lumped together, so it was the same protocol for both an active shooter, and a hazardous spill or gas leak.
“We wanted to be more specific and deliberate about how we handle those situations,” Stiffler said. To maintain appropriate anxiety levels, a "lockdown" means there’s a dangerous person on campus, and a "shelter in place" drill follows a similar procedure with the knowledge that “it’s not as high a level of alert,” Stiffler said.
Tam High also gave all staff the access code to the intercom system, so they can order a lockdown immediately if there’s an intruder on campus, bypassing the administrative office and saving time in an emergency, Stiffler said. In addition, a lockdown was previously ended with an “all clear” over the intercom, but because the code is now more accessible an intruder may be able to access it, and what better way to get kids out of classrooms than to announce the situation is over, Stiffler said.
Instead, designated staff and police visit each classroom and release the students and teachers face-to-face. Tam High also established an on-campus location where police can access walkie-talkies and keys to classrooms so they don’t have to track down staff.
On the back end, school secretaries also communicate the situation via email with classroom teachers. No response from the teachers means there could be a possible situation in the classroom.
The drill Monday morning was a surprise for Tam High. The school was told there would be a drill at some point during the week but unlike the previous one in November they were not given a specific day or time in order to measure the response. Stiffler went into a random teacher’s classroom and gave the notice.
“There was no hesitation,” she said.
Room for improvement
But it wasn’t perfect.
In the ceramics room, one of the windows wasn’t draw and the lights were on, Lynch said. The teacher was also the only one in the room.
In the student center, Kollerer said in the upper classroom “the windows were not covered and kids were in plain view, typing.” The lower classroom door was locked, but it hadn’t been shut completely so he was able to pull it open. When the drill was issued Stiffler contacted the physical education department through cell phone, but there was still one teacher out on the field who didn’t know about the situation.
A Tam campus supervior also suggested school staff wear security jackets so they’re easily identifiable, and Kollerer recommended the use of barricades in the future.
Mill Valley Police Chief Angel Bernal said the drills will continue to be updated and the situation varied each time to keep everyone alert.
“We appreciate,” he said, “the seriousness and the spirit with which students and staff took this drill.”
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