‘Code Red’ drills needed in schools?

Published 10:11 pm Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Escambia County students got a taste of a different kind of emergency drill last week — a drill that might become more frequent if state Rep. Alan Baker gets approval on a bill he plans to present in the current legislative session.

Baker’s “Code Red” bill, in part, would call for all schools to regularly perform lock-down drills in addition to weather and fire drills already practiced at state schools. W.S. Neal Middle School students have already had a glimpse of practice Baker says could save lives.

“Schools already are required by legislation and by State Department of Education (SDE) policy to have a comprehensive school safety plan in place to be followed as the need arises,” Baker, R-Brewton, said. “Currently, only an annual school safety drill is required to be performed specifically for a ‘hard’ lockdown prompted by a threat of violence.”

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Baker said the “more than once” repetition of the practice is of great value for students and teachers for a response that would maximize safety in such a situation. Currently, the hard lockdown drill for the threat of violence on school campuses in the state is required only once each year.

Escambia County and Brewton City School superintendents agree that a need for the practice exists and would gladly apply the practice of monthly drills to the drills already held in the systems.

Escambia County School Superintendent Randall Little said he would support any legislation that keeps the safety of students in focus.

“We have so many older schools with so many access points, the safest way to protect is to be proactive,” Little said. “Lockdown drills have never been mandated, but we’ve always had them off and on.”

Little said the addition of a lock down drill at the schools isn’t a new practice, but the legislation would make them more frequent on campuses.

“I added lockdown drills around 2008,” Little said. “I definitely would support any legislation that would allow armed law enforcement officers on our campus as resource officers.”

“I don’t see a problem with adding the drill to our practices,” Brewton City School Superintendent Lynn Smith said. “We are already dong one lock down practice each year. This new bill would require going over school safety plans annually — which we already do. Having a requirement to practice the drill more than once a year is certainly something we can do.”

Smith said officers with the Brewton Police Department are already familiar with most of the schools in the system having used the facilities for practice drills for hostage situations themselves.

“Our police come in and use our facilities to practice intruder drills after hours,” Smith said. “We had talked about having them do one of those drills during a school day with children on the campus and have a pretend intruder. Something like that could frighten some of the students and adults, so that is still in the planning stages.”

Baker said the bill would help heighten awareness and security on campuses by keeping the idea that a possible intruder situation could happen at any time, anywhere.

“In light of recent acts of violence or threats conducted on some school campuses across the nation, a ‘more than once’ annual drill of a ‘Code Red’ would enhance school safety for students and teachers alike,” Baker said. “ To have school staff and students better prepared and refreshed to quickly execute the appropriate response according to their school safety plan, this bill would require a ‘Code Red’ drill once per semester and within the first six weeks of the start of a semester. In application, each K-12 public school campus would be required to have a minimum of two school-wide ‘Code Red’ drills per school year.”

The bill is expected to be presented for consideration during the current session of the Alabama Legislature that began Tuesday.