On South Pasadena Unified School District campuses, emergency preparation has long been a part of school culture, evolving over time as events such as earthquakes, fires and human threats occur.
Within the last decade, the district started taking additional measures for security in regard to violence on or near the campuses, including protocols for lockouts and lockdowns, according to school officials.
In reflecting on last week’s shooting at Saugus High in Santa Clarita, South Pas Schools Superintendent Geoff Yantz shared insight into the multi-layered approach the district takes to provide a safe environment while expressing solidarity with those touched by the violence.
“The school community here certainly extends its condolences to the victims and the school community that has been affected by the horrific actions of an individual,” Yantz told the Review. “It just tears your heart out and hits you in the gut when things like that happen. From one educator to another and to another community, that’s what’s tough.”
In addition to monthly drills that combine the practice of safety protocols for earthquake, fire and active intruders on campuses, Yantz reported that each school has a confidential and comprehensive safety plan. The plan, which was developed two years ago in collaboration with the South Pasadena police and fire departments, is reviewed and updated annually by school site councils.
“With comprehensive school-safety plans, all the staff members have different roles and responsibilities in the event of emergency,” said Yantz. “There’s search-and-rescue and different groups. … It’s a constant effort trying to build capacity in our employees to be able to respond appropriately.”
As part of emergency preparation at the start of the school year, every classroom views an age-appropriate video covering a variety of possible threats, including active shooters, Yantz said. The information is based on conferences and trainings that teachers and staff have participated in.
“We had done some active-shooting trainings with staff and we thought we really needed to create a common message for all kids as well, that way everybody’s hearing the same thing as well as staff,” said Yantz.
According to the video prepared for the high school and provided to the Review, training and lockdown drills are practiced so that students know how to react, when to run and how to hide until law enforcement arrives.
The video — which can be viewed at https://www.sphstigers.org/apps/embed/?v=160041 — defines an active shooter as “an individual who is actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area.”
“Training is necessary,” the video details. “The more you discuss and train, the more calm you will be, the more likely your body will respond automatically, the more likely you will be safe.”
Specifically for dangerous threat situations, the drills are separated into “soft lockout” and “hard lockdown.”
Soft lockouts involve police activity in the neighborhood, such as a robbery or wild animal spotting, and limiting a possible threat to the campus. Doors are locked, students return to their classrooms, outside activities are canceled, student movement is limited to teacher permission and classes continue until an all-clear is called over the PA system.
With hard lockdowns, school officials have determined there is a “life-threatening situation/event on or off school grounds.” Students are encouraged to think about an escape route, help others if possible but go whether people choose to follow or not, and run until they’re in a secure place to hide, likely at an off campus location.
If evacuation from campus is not possible, students are encouraged to hide in classrooms, barricade the doors, remain silent, stay out of sight, keep all doors locked, keep blinds or curtains closed, turn off lights and to both refrain from using cell phones and completely silence them.
Students are also advised on how to interact with first responders by not opening doors since the police department and administrators have keys. They’re also advised to walk with empty hands and open palms, and to understand that responders’ first priority is to locate and stop the intruder, with everything else secondary.
In discussing safety with students, Yantz stressed that the school district works to carefully strike the balance between being too alarmist and too casual about possible threats. Ultimately, a district should “emulate the community in which they’re in.”
“While you don’t want to create an environment … where there are so many precautionary measures that have been taken that fear is part of the culture, you want to be able to maintain a level of respect for the institution’s purpose, which is education, while putting measures practices and things in place that will also prepare people on how to respond appropriately and accordingly,” said Yantz.
“We’re doing everything we possibly can within reason as far as our safety is concerned.”