Lockdown drills: Practicing safety is high priority for schools
The days of practicing a handful of fire drills and a tornado drill in school are things of the past.
Significant school tragedies within the past decade have school officials and leaders focused more on threat prevention and readiness.
Students who feel safe in school tend to achieve greater academic success, say the Minnesota Department of Education. So, by law, school districts in Minnesota are required to conduct a series of safety drills each year; specifically, at least five school lockdown drills, five school fire and one tornado drill.
Students must also participate and receive training on bus evacuation procedures, which has been a requirement of many schools for years.
On Monday, Bemidji Middle School held a "soft lockdown" drill in cooperation with Bemidji Police Officer Jon Hunt and the Bemidji School District Transportation Department.
While some school officials are hesitant to give details on what certain lock-down procedures involve, the drills are used to protect students and staff from potential dangers in the building, such as threats or intruders, or outsiders who pose a threat.
"It's important that the school is prepared for unforeseen types of emergencies," said Bemidji School District Superintendent Jim Hess. "There are many things that could be the root of the problem. Many times it falls on the steps of the school."
For the past four years the state has mandated that schools practice a series of lockdown drills. Bemidji Middle School Principal Drew Hildenbrand said the drills are important for a variety of reasons.
"Having drills are a good way for us to check our radio system and find out what we can do better," Hildenbrand said. "It's not only for parents, kids and staff to know how to react. It's also a way to deter some of those situations from happening."
Hildenbrand said students who go through the practice of a lockdown procedure may become intimidated by the safety measures put in place and will be less likely to commit a threatening act in the future.
"Kids find out there's no way around this system. There are cops outside the door," Hildenbrand said. "It's important not only programmatically, but also psychologically. It gives everyone a sense of safety."
Each school building has a comprehensive crisis management plan. The plan is written for staff, students and community leaders to know how to act prior to, during and after any type of emergency or crisis situation in the school district.
School leaders must review the plan annually. Today, crisis management plans have become very extensive, even classifying lockdown drills to the extent of "lockdown with warning" and "lockdown with intruder" procedures.
"Our schools do a great job as far as meeting expectations of meeting law when it comes to emergency procedures," Hess said. "We do everything that we can to safeguard."