By Carrie Abel
On the cold, misty Wednesday morning of Oct. 17, the students and teachers of San Lorenzo Valley were not alone. In every classroom teachers turned off the lights and locked windows and doors. Students huddled behind barricades of desks, crouched on the floor for protection, as police officers and firefighters flooded the school as part of the code red lockdown drill.
San Lorenzo Valley is uniquely built along Highway 9, with acres of Fall Creek forest behind it. Within the campus there are three schools: San Lorenzo Valley (SLV) High School, Middle School, and Elementary. This unique campus formation was one reason that Superintendent Julie Haff decided to work with Sergeant Bill Gazza of the Felton Sheriff’s Office in planning and preparation for the staged lockdown.
For a number of years it has been mandatory for schools in the state of California to have lockdown drills. The specifics of each drill vary in every county, depending on the lockdown protocol. The drill that took place at SLV used the protocol that would be used for a code red emergency at any of the county’s schools.
Gazza said that the Santa Cruz County’s law enforcement and fire departments spent most of last school year training for the procedure. They took a plan used in Santa Clara and tweaked it to fit the needs of the more rural Santa Cruz schools. Gazza said that they also looked at the protocols of schools like Columbine, a high school in Little Rock, Colorado, to see what changes could be made to better the safety of the students.
Participants were trained for many types of emergencies such as the presence of an active shooter on the campus, and domestic violence regarding family issues brought into the school setting by an upset parent or guardian. “Our biggest concern is a school shooting involving a student or ex-student, but we are also trained for a terrorist attack,” Gazza said.
Emergency response plans required training in all fields, including school administrators, police, fire, and Red Cross.
An emphasis was placed on cooperation. “[We are] physically working with people [we] would be working with [in a real emergency],” said Sergeant Tony Jack, training manager at the sheriff’s office. Jack explained that working with strangers in an emergency would be problematic because they may run into dilemmas such as variations in training, or simply not knowing how to best work with one another. “This gives us a chance to see our dilemmas on paper,” Jack said.
“Everyone has been trained for this protocol,” Gazza said. He explained that the training was meant to answer questions such as “how do we get [firefighters] into the victims quickly, how do we get the students locked down and safe.”
Funding for the drill came from a grant, directed by Jo Ann Allen, who helped write the grant for emergency response crisis management planning. Through Allen’s grant came the formation of the Santa Cruz County Safe Schools Consortia. The Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools funded Allen’s grant, providing money for procedures such as lockdowns to take place.
Allen said that the Safe Schools Consortia is “made up of representatives from every school, law enforcement, fire, mental health, Red Cross, office of emergency services, and health service agencies.” The Sheriff’s Department brought code red lockdown to Safe School Consortia, where Allen and others revised the emergency response plans for the Santa Cruz County schools.
The day before the drill, an e-mail was sent out to all parents telling them about the procedure that was going to take place. The e-mail stressed the importance of the drill by saying, “We are conducting this drill to prepare students, staff and emergency responders to meet the challenges of a major emergency.” The e-mail did not include the details of what the drill would entail.
In order to protect those involved, details could not be released about the tactics used in the drill. Because of this missing information and reference to officers and firefighters in the e-mail, the phone number for the Santa Cruz County Office of Education Emergency Response and Crisis Management (ERCM) Project Specialist that was supplied received many worried phone calls. The parents’ nerves were calmed with reassurances of the safety and importance of the drill.
There was a community meeting held weeks prior to the drill to address issues. Although the area had over 100 seats set, only eight community members showed up to the meeting. The number of attendees was due to the small amount of information supplied to the community about the procedure.
Gazza said that everyone was very thankful for having SLV be a part of the emergency preparation. “Support and input has been overwhelming, it has been great,” Gazza said.
One man at the meeting brought up his concerns about the drill, and stressed his disapproval of the procedure. The man said that he would not allow his children to go to school on that day.
On the Scene:
SLVHS and SLVMS were engaged in “Code red lockdown, which is the highest level of lockdown,” Gazza said. The elementary school, however, only had a level one lockdown, a basic drill.
There is an outlined procedure for classrooms during the code red lockdown. “Code red lockdown entails building some barricades and a secondary barricade to hide behind, and that has been proven to save lives in the past,” Gazza explained.
All the doors and windows must be closed and locked, the lights turned off, and the blinds shut. Teachers take roll to account for all their students, because they would be responsible for the students in a real emergency.
During the drill, every class dealt with the situation differently. Ned Hearn, a biology teacher at SLVHS wrote in an e-mail to City on a Hill Press, “[The students] quietly worked on a project with minimal light available and minimal desk space since we had barricades up.”
Janinne Chadwick is the parent of a freshman at SLVHS. Her daughter described the scene to her.
“They made a barricade with all their desks and [the teacher] told them to imagine that there was a terrorist or a shooter,” Chadwick said.
Chadwick explained that the teacher grabbed a pair of scissors and explained that he would use them to stab the criminal from under the desks. In this same classroom some students spent their time knitting in the dark.
Outside the classrooms, and out of students’ view, there was much going on. Over 100 police, fire, education, mental health, and Red Cross were all present at the school. Volunteers posed as victims with signs on their bodies telling what wounds they had so firefighters would be able to treat them. Law enforcement used fake guns to search the school for suspects.
Before the procedure took place Gazza said, “There will be no live guns on scene, but there will be [armed] officers off campus to control traffic” and to protect the unarmed officers.
In the case of a real event, all students would have to be evacuated. “That is a crime scene,” Allen said. “We have to remove everyone. Everyone is a potential suspect, a potential witness.”
As part of the drill, 90 students from anonymous classrooms were lined up and walked out to a bus with their hands behind their backs. Allen explained that during the drill students have to strip to one layer of clothing (shirt and pants), and have their waistband showing. This protocol was meant to insure that nobody was holding any weapons, and that everyone was safe. Only identification and medication could be carried in their pockets.
After the training and execution of the lockdown drill, many people felt more confident in dealing with a real emergency. “[We are] adequately prepared to respond to an incident,” Jack said.
Collaboration with all parties involved in the lockdown was of importance for officers and administrators alike.
“Not only is law enforcement testing their intruder protocols,” Allen said, “but the school is testing their emergency response includes communication with parents and through classrooms.”
The sentiment was positive, as it reinforced Superintendent Haff’s wishes. “Educating students is our first priority in San Lorenzo Valley,” read a press release from the SLV Unified School District about the lockdown procedure. “We continually review our procedures and practices to make our learning environments safe for all students, staff and community members. This drill offers us an opportunity to collaborate with local agencies and develop a strong sense of safety throughout the Valley.”
A recurring concern in the preparation and execution of the drill was the mental well-being of the students.
Steps were taken to ensure students’ safety, such as a Red Cross team on hand in case anyone experienced trauma from the events, although many of the students were not informed of this resource.
After the lockdown took place, Chadwick was told about the presence of Red Cross.
Previously unaware of the facility, she was worried that the lockdown was traumatizing for the children, and she hoped that the students were emotionally prepared.
Hearn, aware of the disconcerting elements of reflecting on an attack on the school, addressed the issue to his class.
“I explained to them that while it is not easy to think about something like this happening at our school, it is best to practice and be prepared in case it does,” he wrote in an e-mail to CHP. Hearn added that his class “understood and followed direction well.”
Gazza, who was the front-runner in organizing the drill, wrote in an e-mail, “The training day was done in conjunction with the Santa Cruz Office of Education.”
He continued by emphasizing the fact that “the training was for the kids and teachers as much as it was for law enforcement, fire and medics.”
Jason Nielsen, the campus sheriff at SLV’s school resource office, said that there shouldn’t have been any problems with students getting upset, because the lockdown was “not so much for the students, but more for the staff and the officers.”
In general, students responded as Nielsen expected.
Many brought coloring books to occupy their time, and others just closed the blinds and continued class.
Will Lawton, a student at SLVHS, said, “It is good that people got training, but I didn’t really notice anything.”
“I feel that it is a good thing to experience for the students and the staff,” wrote Hearn. “Anytime there is an incident at a school you read in the paper that the people at the school ‘never thought that this would happen here’ … well, it can happen anywhere, and the more prepared we are for it, the better chance we have of acting in an appropriate and efficient manner and that will save lives.”