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South Sound school districts have safety plans, including JBLM schools

Keeping students safe back in the classroom

The new Hillside Elementary at Joint Base Lewis-McChord has the capacity for 650 students. Photo courtesy of

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While parents still rejoice because the kids are back in school, the tragedy of 74 school shootings in less than a two-year period has elevated concerns about school safety. However parents should rest assured that school districts in the Joint Base Lewis-McChord area are taking the threat of an active shooter or similar threat seriously and actively increasing security plans.

"The safety of students and staff is a top priority in the Clover Park School District (CPSD). We have many safety and security strategies in place across the district," said Kim Prentice, CPSD director of community relations.

Those strategies include multiple safety drills, including a lockdown scenario; a critical incident response plan that is reviewed annually; the presence of Lakewood Police Dept. staff members at the secondary schools daily; and threat assessment reviews of each school conducted by the Lakewood Police and JBLM law enforcement.

Additionally, Prentice shared that the administrative leadership team and school staff had received "Active Shooter" training in 2013 and that all administrators are trained in Incident Command System (ICS), a systematic tool used for the command, control and coordination of emergency response.

CPSD has also established a district-wide School Safety Committee to review current and proposed safety plans and ideas to address key issues involved in prevention, training and response in school safety matters.

Likewise, the Tumwater School District, which has approximately 6,000 students, has established an emergency preparedness committee comprised of representatives from all schools, district-wide, including their school resource officer from Tumwater Police Dept. They have also consulted with officers from both the Tumwater Police Dept. and the Thurston County Sheriff's Dept. for their recent procedures guide update, stated district communications representative Kim Howard.

Tumwater schools also involve local responders in planning and executing their site drills. Other steps include ongoing training for teachers and staff in every school to keep up-to-date with best practices for preparation and response.

Although it is a smaller district in the JBLM area with just over 3,000 students, the Steilacoom Historical School District (SHSD) has enlisted a private, third party company, Crisis Reality Training, to help them craft a comprehensive crisis coordination plan.

"We are excited to have our kids back in the buildings and we want them to be safe," said Celeste Johnston, SHSD public information officer. "That's why the District Strategic Plan has a focus on school safety and a recent grant is allowing us to update and meet our safety and security goals."

"SHSD is calling for help before something goes terribly wrong so that they are proactive," explained Jesus Villahermosa, owner of Crisis Reality Training, Inc. and a 30-year SWAT team veteran from Pierce County.

"They are taking a very bold step to make sure that they have this plan in place to cover all hazards," Villahermosa continued.

Crisis Reality will be teaching all district staff and administrators about ICS and eventually collaborating to an extent with parents and students so that everyone who could be involved in such a situation is privy to the plan.

In the Puyallup School District, which is the ninth largest in the state with 22,000 students across 32 schools, new security measures were implemented at schools and support buildings over the summer to include additional security cameras and keyless door entries.

Furthermore, as per Brian Fox, executive director of communications and information for the Puyallup District, the cameras, school intercoms and keyless door systems throughout the district will be integrated into a single software program that will connect authorized school resource officers, emergency dispatch personnel and district staff with the latest emergency information.

This system will not only speed up law enforcement response time, but also will also provide more detailed information and allow officers to control the keyless entry doors and make announcements over a building's intercom system.

"We collaborate with Lacey Police and Thurston County sheriffs about how we can prevent and deter these individuals from inflicting this type of harm at our schools," commented North Thurston's deputy superintendent John Bash. 

North Thurston School District, which has 14,000 students, includes the city of Lacey and the northeast corner of the county. The district has started with a tangible approach by first performing threat assessments on every school and noting any weak points. To that end, they are also using a bond to steadily remodel school entryways over the next few years to make them more secure.

"We are also focused on the implementation of a more comprehensive school alert system that will reduce the amount of time it takes to put a school into lockdown," Bash said. "This way if a staff member perceives a threat they can initiate a lockdown immediately and law enforcement can respond quicker."

Although the strategies for safety might vary, every district is dedicated to having their respective plans and systems evolve and improve.

"It is never a finished process and we think we can even continue to do better," concluded Bash.

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