Last month's tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut has drawn attention to the safety of children in school. However, emergency plans are something the Smyrna School District and local police departments continually review in an effort to keep students and staff safe.
Every year, the school district meets with administrators and Smyrna and Clayton police departments to go through the district's emergency management procedures, said district Superintendent Debbie Wicks. The procedure book includes all types of emergency plans from gas leaks to intruders. This meeting was held before winter break.
"We met to review our safety plans, but also to hear from them what new safety issues they might know of," Wicks said.
Preparing for an emergency
From drills to training sessions, Wicks said the Smyrna School District is trying to be as proactive as possible.
"We feel like we're doing all that we can to be safe," Wicks said.
The district is in the process of updating radio systems in the schools, as well as addressing other areas of concern.
Administrators also attend trainings throughout the year. More recently, a representative from each school went to the University of Delaware for an active shooter training.
"All of the trainings we go to, all of the discussions with our police, fire companies, and first responders, all of our discussions keep us alert," Wicks said. "They keep us active in being proactive in safety. And we'll always be doing more."
One area Wicks feels gives the district an advantage in emergency response is the district's close relationship with local public safety and town officials, and the fact that the district has three school resource officers (SRO).
Cameras were installed at John Bassett Moore Intermediate School last year, with the school recently receiving a monitor to place in the front office. Now instead of just Principal Elyse Baerga being able to keep an eye on things from her office, the school is under constant supervision as secretaries, staff and even visitors can keep an eye on the monitor.
Practice makes perfect
Fire drills are required to be done every month at each school. Intruder alerts are also done once a year.
JBM had an intruder alert drill prior to winter break, which Baerga said was well received with the students doing an outstanding job. During the alert, the school safety team checks every classroom, unlocks the doors, and makes sure the students are hidden and safe.
"We had already scheduled our intruder alert prior to the tragedies that took place in Connecticut," Baerga said. "So that just served as a reminder to our students as to why these types of drills are so important and why just like a fire drill, you should take it that much seriously."
Baerga said the school hopes to do another intruder alert before the end of the school year.
Wicks said there was a gas leak at Clayton Intermediate School this year when a contractor hit a gas pipe while putting in a new playground. Because of emergency planning, the school was able to evacuate quickly.
"We were able to evacuate the school and move to a safe location in two minutes," Wicks said. "And then in about 15 minutes once a decision was made that this was not going to be quickly fixed, we were able to get our buses in and take all those students to the middle school."
A community concern
The topic of emergency planning in the school came up in a Smyrna Public Safety Committee meeting earlier this month. Councilman Anthony DeFeo, the committee's chair, asked Smyrna Police Chief Wil Bordley if there was any consideration in putting a school resource officer at all the schools.
Bordley said having an SRO at each school would be a huge undertaking as there are so many schools [eight] in the district.
Resident and local business owner Howard Johnson asked if there was a definitive plan. Johnson lives across the street from Smyrna Elementary and wanted to make sure students in the district are protected.
"We have copies of the blueprints for all the schools and have lockdown, evacuation plans," Bordley said. "We have a good solid plan."
While the district will continue to prepare for emergency situations, Wicks said the fear of what could happen won't stop the school from continuing on with normal activities.
"The reality is we have football games, we have basketball games, we're not going to stop going out to recess, we're going to live our lives," Wicks said. "We're going to be as proactive as we can be with our schools, but our schools do not have fences around them with barbwire on top of them."
Email Jennifer Dailey at firstname.lastname@example.org.