By Dean Urdahl
District 18B, State Representative
The fire alarms went off during the busy noontime hour at the State Office Building last week. Almost by reflex, hundreds of people made their way to the nearest staircase and left the building in a calm, orderly fashion.
Fortunately, there was no fire, but our reaction shows the value of emergency preparation. We have all practiced these drills so many times that we all know the elevators won’t be working and we need to go down the steps, outside and far away from the building. It is second nature.
Now imagine a different situation, this time in a school building. The principal goes on the intercom and announces an immediate lockdown. What happens in the next few moments could mean the difference between a tragedy and a crisis averted, but would our students know what to do?
Students know to leave the building during a fire and they know to seek shelter when a tornado strikes. They have practiced these situations over and over again and, like in the State Office Building, their reaction is reflexive. But they may have never practiced a lockdown drill and that is something I am looking to change.
I have introduced a bill in the Legislature to direct public and private school officials to work with community members, emergency management personnel and others to practice the crisis management plan, including lockdowns that previous statutes required. The bill would require at least five school lockdown drills each school year. Present law requires only one lockdown drill per school year and students are not required to be involved.
Lockdown reactions should be as automatic as our reaction to the fire alarm. Including students in the preparedness drills will train them on how to react in the most urgent of all situations. Holding the drills at different times of the day would be even better because it would allow students to learn what to do in different parts of the school building and in different situations.
In addition to the lockdown drills, the bill would create an advisory task force to report to the Legislature on what can be done to improve K-12 crisis management and overall school safety efforts. The task force would include school officials, emergency responders, law enforcement officers, fire marshals, school counselors, health officials and many others. By bringing many different people together, we can ensure that the recommendations are wide-ranging and thorough.
This bill, House File 2492, has passed the House Education Policy Committee and will soon be heard in the Education Finance Committee because it has small fiscal implications. A similar version sponsored by Senator John Marty will be in the Senate’s omnibus education bill.
Do we need such a bill? There were 1,239 disciplinary events involving weapons during the 2003-04 school year, any one of them could have been tragic. We don’t always get tips before tragedy strikes our schools. It is only responsible that we make sure our students are prepared in case of such an event.