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story.lead_photo.caption Panic button: A screenshot of the Panic Button app used by both school administrators and teachers in case of emergency.

By Caitlan Butler

Staff Writer

Editor’s note: This is the first in a two-part series looking at what steps local schools take to be prepared in case of an active shooter. Part one looks at safety measures used by the schools, while part two will look at the services available to students in crisis and how to help someone before they become violent.

In the aftermath of the school shooting in Florida earlier this month, many across the country have asked the same question - What next?

The shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High is the sixth incidence of injuries from gun violence at a school this year, according to the Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund. As legislators begin to debate solutions, children and families across the nation are looking for more than words to ease their anxiety.

With a recent incident involving gunfire nearby at Washington Middle School, El Dorado residents may also wonder if local schools are prepared for the worst.

The El Dorado School District has policies in place stop a potential would-be shooter before the person turns to violence, as well as to keep students safe in case of a is a shooting event.

Checkpoints and drills

Each of the eight schools in the district practices at least one “active shooter drill” per year, as mandated by state law. These drills can range from “soft lockdowns,” where kids are kept out of hallways but class continues, to more thorough lockdowns that involve making classrooms look empty. Superintendent Jim Tucker said all emergency drills are coded with numbers to protect students from anxiety about potential danger.

After the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012, the school district hired an independent outside consultant to evaluate the safety measures that were in place at the time. One area the district lacked in was entrance security. Since then, Tucker said they have spent about $600,000 in order to make a secondary entrance to every school.

All outside doors are kept locked, except the front door, and Crisis Coordinator Jay Vines periodically checks that the doors are locked at each of the schools.

Once someone walks through the front door, they will be inside the office reception area, and there is another locked door to go through before one would have access to school facilities. The school receptionist scans the visitor’s ID or drivers license through a system called Hall Pass. A background check is performed on the spot, and if the visitor is deemed clear to enter, the receptionist will print a badge with the visitor’s name, photo and where on campus they are supposed to be.

“This is really hand for the high school, since it’s so big. If they say they’re going to the English hall, but we find them on the Science hall, we know something’s up, they’re where they’re not supposed to be,” Tucker said. “We’ve denied access to the building before to people because something came up on the background check.”

The schools are monitored by cameras, which are viewable by Vines, as well as the El Dorado Police Department.

Administrators and some teachers also have access to a Panic Button app, which allows them to instantaneously alert anyone else with the app if there is an active shooter, fire, medical emergency or other need to contact 911.

Although they do not receive special training for emergency events past the drills, teachers said they appreciate the measures taken by the school and feel prepared.

“I feel we have several protocols in place that are effective,” said Jessie Freeman, Drama teacher at EHS. “Obviously nothing is perfect – but I know that (the administration) has been trying very hard to keep us safe!”

Officers in schools

Three school resource officers also are on duty during school hours, with two stationed at EHS, while the third is stationed at Barton Junior High. All three carry Tasers and sidearms.

The resource officers receive the same training practiced by the El Dorado Police Department. EPD Sgt. Chris Lutman said, in addition to the basic active shooter training every officer receives at the Law Enforcement Training Academy, officers also do some video and specialized hands-on training every couple of years. The specialized training can involve using laser guns to simulate an active shooter event, and the department has even used actors from the high school’s drama department to add realism and urgency to the drills.

Lutman said the department’s active shooter protocol follows the philosophy of author and former West Point professor Lt. Dave Grossman, who “wrote the book” on active shooter responses with his books “On Killing” and “On Combat,” and now trains military, law enforcement, mental health providers and school safety organizations on how to respond to a shooting situation.

After the recent incident at WMS, where a shots fired incident near the campus triggered a lockdown of the school, officers were briefed on their response, which included watching body camera footage to determine how strong the response was.

“Personally, I was very pleased with how the school performed, for their part,” Lutman said. “We’re on top of things.”

When students do emergency drills, the resource officers check the hallways and make sure that protocol has been followed. In the event that a shooter is able to bypass the security features of the school, the school resource officers are the first line of defense.

“There’s no answer but to do the best you can in the situation,” said school resource officer Latisha Heard. “Hopefully it doesn’t happen, but we’re not mind readers … If anything does happen, we just, with the training and all this that we have, we just eliminate the threat, keep as many faculty, students and staff as safe as possible.”

On a typical day, resource officers will patrol the school, especially during class changes and lunch periods, and its perimeters. Other officers will periodically patrol through the schools as well.

“Every school needs an SRO. I think the state needs to provide funding for that,” Tucker said, when asked how he thinks school shootings could be prevented.

Schools are outfitted with metal detector wands, and there is a full body metal detector at Murmil Education Center. The district school board is currently looking at other security measures to consider for adoption in the future.

Look for part two in this series next Sunday.

Caitlan Butler can be reached at 870-862-6611 or cbutler@eldoradonews.com.

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