Thursday, May 18, 2006

Drilling To Prevent Columbine

A bill introduced in the Michigan State Legislature would require schools to have regular lockdown drills:
State lawmakers approved legislation Thursday that would add mock lockdowns to schools' traditional repertoire of emergency exercises. They already are required to hold fire and tornado drills.

"It's unfortunate, but tragic events at schools around the country make this type of planning necessary," said the bill's sponsor, Republican Rep. William Van Regenmorter of Ottawa County's Georgetown Township. "Comprehensive planning for both natural and man-made disaster is essential."

Many schools already are holding lockdown drills. The legislation would require all schools to hold at least two per year and to involve students -- not just train teachers and staff.

The bill cleared the Senate on a 36-0 vote and now heads back to the House, which is expected to send it to Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

State law requires schools to perform eight fire drills and two tornado drills annually. The bill would replace two of the fire drills with lockdown exercises.

That concerns fire safety officials.

Tony Sanfilippo, deputy director of the state's Bureau of Construction Codes and Fire Safety, said schools should have lockdown drills but not at the expense of fewer fire drills. Schools once had to have 10 fire drills a year, but that requirement dropped to eight when the tornado exercises were added, he said.

Another concern is that requiring lockdowns would just help students better carry out attacks.

"A lot of the instances we've had are student-driven," said Don Wotruba, legislative affairs director for the Michigan Association of School Boards. "Giving them more information as to where all the students are going to be, or how the process is going to work, could be dangerous."

Backers of the bill responded that emergency planning without student participation wouldn't be effective.

The Senate also approved a bill Thursday aimed at encouraging schools to plan for emergencies that occur during lunch, recess or between class periods.

Drills typically occur during class, causing concern that students aren't well prepared to handle emergencies at other times. Legislation sponsored by Sen. Jud Gilbert would require schools to conduct some drills during lunch or recess.

"They've usually been taught to follow their teacher single file out the classroom, but chances are they won't necessarily be in the classroom when a disaster strikes," said Gilbert, an Algonac Republican.

If Granholm signs the lockdown legislation, Michigan would be among the first states to require lockdown exercises. Some states, including Arkansas and Connecticut, have laws encouraging but not requiring drills in case of terrorist attack, school shooting or other threat.
I have to admit that I like this idea and would like to see it become law. I just hope that the schools take these exercises seriously and not, as many do, simply go through the motions. And I do have some concerns about missed instructional time.

Still, a little planning and practice can sometimes prevent the unthinkable.

Despite prodding from teachers, our junior high school here in California's "Imperial" Valley has yet to do any type of "risk-assessment survey" in order to discover possible areas of concern in our campus security.

See our latest education-related entries right here.