• Take the Department of Homeland Security's training course for responding to a shooter.
After Columbine and later Millard South, area schools reviewed and upgraded their security plans and equipment.
Now, after Sandy Hook, they will be going back over those plans, trying to figure out what lessons they can learn in the wake of the nation's latest school shooting that killed 20 children and six adults.
At the same time, debate continues nationwide about what can — and should — be done to protect children. The CEO of the National Rifle Association on Friday called for putting “armed police officers in every single school in this nation.” School officials traditionally have sought to balance secure schools with those that are welcoming to students and families.
Currently, all high schools in the Omaha area's larger districts have armed law enforcement officers, known as school resource officers. So do most middle and alternative schools.
Still, schools have been taking calls from parents who want to know what's being done.
“Deluged,” Roddie Miller, safety administrator for the Omaha Public Schools, said of her call volume last week.
Once she explains what measures are in place, she said, parents are reassured.
But for OPS and many other districts, the process of reviewing and planning is an ongoing one. Most already work with area law enforcement agencies.
“Any time there's a tragedy of this magnitude, it's always something we're looking at,” said Annette Eyman, a spokeswoman for the Papillion-La Vista Public Schools.
OPS's security plan has grown in recent years from about 30 pages to more than 100, each outlining different responses to various scenarios.
Each year Miller picks a security theme. This year's focus, which she chose last summer, is responding to an armed intruder. The district trained all school resource officers and district security officers in “intruderology,” the science of responding to an active shooter.
The idea behind intruderology is to get out, hide out or take out, Miller said. If you can't get out, hide out. If you can't hide out, take out the intruder. That may involve distracting an intruder or even throwing a chair.
“At Virginia Tech, there were victims who just sat there and were killed,” she said. “We're telling staff, 'Be mentally prepared to respond, depending on the situation.'”
Some of the security systems now in place at schools across the country trace back to the 1999 Columbine High School massacre in Colorado, where 12 students and one teacher were killed. The Papillion-La Vista schools didn't have locks on classroom doors before Columbine. Neither did Council Bluffs schools.
After the Millard South High School shooting, district officials said security measures adopted post-Columbine proved invaluable in responding to the January 2011 incident, which left one administrator dead and another injured. A police scanner monitored by administrators tipped them off to trouble at the high school. Lockdown procedures helped seal students safely in classrooms.
Meanwhile, systems that involve locking buildings after students arrive and requiring visitors to be buzzed in are more common in the metropolitan area. The Newtown, Conn., school had a buzzer system and a camera at the front door. Also:
» All of the Elkhorn district's buildings now lock their front doors after students arrive and require visitors to be buzzed in, said Janna Brock, a district spokeswoman.
» District 66 has buzz-in systems at all of its schools.
» Most if not all Catholic schools in the Omaha area have systems that require visitors to be buzzed in or use a pass code or pass card to enter during the school day.
» Some but not all of Millard's schools have buzz-in entries, said Rebecca Kleeman, a district spokeswoman. All, however, have cameras at the front door so staff can spot visitors. Visitors are required to report to the front office.
Additional buzz-in systems, along with other security measures, were included in a $140.8 million bond issue that residents voted down in November 2011. Kleeman said the district is just now finalizing plans for a new bond proposal.
» None of Papillion-La Vista's buildings has a buzz-in system. But thanks to a $59.6 million bond issue voters approved in November, the new middle and elementary buildings and four other elementaries will have entrances that lock. The other 10 buildings all have cameras at the front door.
» All OPS elementary schools either have buzzers or a security officer or staff member monitoring the building's unlocked entrances. All schools will have security cameras by the end of the school year.
» Only one of Council Bluffs' elementary schools has a buzzer system. All others have cameras at the entryways, and newly remodeled buildings have a security vestibule. Visitors can get in the front door, but they have to enter the office and sign in before passing into the building. Staff there are trained to recognize people who might pose threats.
But Council Bluffs officials have had discussions recently about what additional steps they may need to take, including installing more buzz-in systems, said Diane Ostrowski, a spokeswoman. They also have discussed a professional audit of school security, as has the Bellevue school district.
“Keeping our schools secure is always a top priority,” Ostrowski said. “But with an incident so significant, it does create an urgency for making sure we are indeed as safe as we possibly can be. But we also want to be prudent about it.”
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