The horrific tragedy that swept over the nation this past week with the senseless loss of innocent lives at Sandy Hook Elementary has saddened all of our hearts. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends of these children and to the heroic efforts of their teachers and principal who gave their own lives trying to protect them.
The incident causes all of us to reflect on the things that are most important in our lives, our families and friends.
School children during the Cold War, including my generation, practiced drills intended to help protect us from a nuclear holocaust. We were trained to hide under our desks, hover along a wall, cover our eyes, and wait for further instructions.
Following each drill many of us went home shaken and prepared for at least one nightmare before the next day broke on the horizon. Those dark shadows have hung over me throughout my lifetime.
Children today face an even more frightening reality: practicing active shooter drills in school.
Since becoming an administrator in 2000, I have worked hard to improve our district emergency preparedness plan. The plan has been reviewed and revised several times. It is available to our administrators, teachers and staff. Segments of the plan are practiced in our schools often. The plan includes procedures for bomb threats, earthquakes, school closures, fire, flood, hazardous materials, intruder/violence, power and other utility outages, serious injury or death response, and the release of students following one of these incidents.
In October, 1,800 students and staff participated in an evacuation drill dealing with the failure of one of our reservoirs and the imminent flood that would follow. We were joined by the county’s emergency response team and the sheriff’s office. It proceeded as planned and was deemed a successful drill by the county’s emergency preparedness team.
Each year every school conducts training or an active shooter drill. The Morgan Elementary drill was conducted prior to the tragedy in Connecticut. Morgan High School and Middle School were in contact with the Sheriff’s Department as well prior to the incident. The Morgan County Sheriff’s Department, under the direction of Sheriff Blaine Breshears, also conducted an active shooter in the school first response drill with agencies outside of the county during the Thanksgiving break. It was enacted at Morgan High School.
As a result of these trainings and drills, the district and law enforcement agencies will conduct an active shooter encounter exercise with students and staff from the high school and middle school in mid-January. A similar but more subdued drill will also take place in the elementary schools. Parents will be given more information on the exercise prior to it occurring.
On Monday of this week, administrators and the superintendent met with faculty and staff members at each school prior to the opening that day. The procedures found in our plan were reviewed and discussed. Counselors were assigned to each school that day to assist any who might need to interact with someone regarding their concerns with the Sandy Hook tragedy.
There are some basic premises staff and students are to follow if gunshots are heard and/or if a warning comes over the intercom, and /or if the announcement is made using another form of communication:
• Get out. Get your students to the rally point.
• If you can’t get out, lock him out.
• If you can’t get out or lock him out, hide.
• If you can’t hide, confront.
Our plan was developed in cooperation with the Ogden City Police Department, the Weber/Morgan Narcotics Task Force and the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office. It was directed by nationally and internationally recognized expert on counter-terrorism and school safety, Officer Randy Watt. Watt visited our schools, helped prepare and conduct an active shooter drill with volunteer staff and students. Following the drill he then reviewed and refined the plan with the help of the task force, sheriff’s department, and administration. The plan was then adopted by the Morgan County School Board.
Watt is a decorated veteran and law enforcement officer. He has had field experience in every major U.S. conflict since the Vietnam War. He is a resident of Morgan County and has a special interest in our schools and the safety of our children. He will oversee the training and drills planned for January of 2013.
As professional educators we make the safety of the children our first and primary responsibility. As the details of the Sandy Hook tragedy come to light, we will assess our plan with the help of law enforcement and state and federal school agencies. Where it can be improved and altered, we will do so with the approval of the school board.
In conclusion, may I say that I truly love the students and staff in the Morgan School District. They are some of the finest people on earth. God bless them and their families and school children and school employees across the United States.