Intruder drills prepare schools for the worst

Corey Zavorka of the St. Louis County Police Department Special Unit talks to Waterloo teachers during a training session on Aug. 20. (submitted photo)

Intruder drills have been a part of keeping local schools safe for many years. But in light of attacks such as the tragedy last year at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut, further precautions are being taken to ensure the safety of students and teachers.

Columbia superintendent Gina Segobiano said the Columbia Police Department, along with the school district, have always conducted annual intruder drills.

“I believe Columbia’s police department was one of the first in the area to initiate law enforcement drills,” she said. “The new legislation requires an active school shooter drill at each building.”

Because of this, Segobiano said CPD officers will begin conducting the drills at each school per the requirement, instead of rotating schools each year.

Segobiano said her school district has scheduled active shooter training for district staff on Oct. 11.

“The full staff will be in attendance to listen to Corey Zavorka from the tactical operations unit out of St. Louis speak about staff procedures for active shooters,” she said.

After the initial training, building-level training will take place throughout the rest of October and November.

There are also plans to schedule an active shooter drill with the CPD for each individual school.

“We will also be scheduling a parent meeting to involve parents, engage in school safety conversation, and to inform our community of our efforts to- ward school safety,” Segobiano said.

The Waterloo School District had similar meetings early in September to inform parents of the procedures that have and will be conducted.

At the Aug. 19 school board meeting, Waterloo superintendent Jim Helton reviewed the success of the intruder training and an informational session conducted by the Waterloo Police Department before the first day of school.

“There are new mandates with regards to intruder drills,” he said. “Last year, after Sandy Hook, we met right away and did an assessment of where we are.”

Though some procedures were up-to-date, Helton said there were some things they realized they could improve upon.

One of the first things the board looked at was how to better train school staff and prepare them for a threatening situation.

Helton said Waterloo reviewed the alert system, how they send the word out, and went over lockdowns and evacuation processes.

During the first two days before school began, all staff members were trained in a simulation-type setting where they had to react to a situation.

Jeff Prosise of the Waterloo Police Department and Zavorka and Mike Fumagalli of the St. Louis County Police Department led the training session.

“We always had some of the components in place, but we wanted to expand it with the change of times and to give the teachers the chance to make decisions on their own,” Prosise said. “The training (for the teachers) was based on giving more options.”

Helton said viewpoints and methods on intruder drills and training have changed over the years to include a more proactive approach.

“The old way of looking at things is turning off the lights, locking the door, going in the corner and hiding,” he said. “That has to expand. You have to assess the situation and realize there are things that can be done in those first 60 seconds after the alert is sent out.”

Helton cited the acronym “ALICE,” which stands for alert, lockdown, inform, counter and evacuate. Those are the five key principles training officials feel empower teachers in a crisis situation.

He said the goal currently is to explain to parents how the staff is trained and to then integrate the methods into the different grade levels by their understanding of intruders.

“Practice doesn’t make perfect, but perfect practice makes perfect,” Helton said.

Waterloo School Board

In news from Monday’s meeting of the Waterloo School Board:

The 2013-14 school district budget was approved, after the capital development board state grant update was added. “The total budget, because of that influx of CDB money, does make the district healthier, but it also is a false sense of hope because that money cannot be used for education funds,” Helton said.

The board voted to begin dissolution of the Waterloo Junior High School “middle school concept” and plans to return to traditional junior high school scheduling for the 2014-15 school year. Helton said this approval is purely for financial reasons as of now.

As expected, the district’s central office is moving to the junior high school, 302 Bellefontaine Drive, effective this Friday. The relocation is expected to save the district $32,000 per year. The district office had been located next to Morrison-Talbott Library at 219 Park Street for around 10 years.

The superintendent search continues. School board president Valerie Baxmeyer said there are about 25 candidates right now, with six or seven to be brought in for interviews.

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