It’s been less than a month since a fatal shooting occurred at Chardon High School, near Cleveland. Even more recently, Pittsburghers were shocked by a tragedy closer to home, when a shooter opened fire at Western Psych in Oakland.
With the severity of these events in mind, officials are working to ensure that security measures are in place constantly, and are updated constantly, to prevent a similar tragedy from happening in our own neighborhoods.
“With those two particular incidents, in Ohio the students belonged there. They went to the school. In the other, where the shooter entered, it was public area. I don’t know what anyone could have done differently,” said Keystone Oaks police officer Aaron Vanatta. “When things like that happen, we can sit back and dissect the situation.”
The school district has partnered with the police department of Dormont, Green Tree and Castle Shannon to carry out safety training exercises at the elementary schools. The district is in the process of coordinating with the Mt. Lebanon police department to hold similar drills at the middle and high schools.
Vanatta—who has been with KOSD for three years—leads annual drills at each of the district’s schools, including the middle and high school. Vanatta also is a police officer in South Strabane Township, and has training in crisis management.
Four scenarios are in place, and are practiced during drills:
- A full lockdown, in which the students and staff are required to stay in their rooms and to remain there until instructed otherwise.
- A perimeter lockdown, in which students and staff are permitted to move freely within the building, but their access to the building's exterior is strictly prohibited.
- Off-site evacuations, which would require that students and staff are gathered and moved to a large auxiliary space away from their current school (typically a gymnasium or an auditorium of some sort).
- A standard drill, which is put in place during a typical fire or police-related emergency, as well as a gas leak or electrical issue.
"We are careful to never tell anyone that what we're conducting is a drill," said Vanatta. "We just announce the critical incident and we begin our response with the hope that if something like this ever does happen here, we're as well drilled and prepared as possible."
The drills allow the district to see what works and what changes need to be made for better safety and organization.
Doors of school buildings are locked and inspected frequently, by both Vanatta and Beth Patton, the security officer at the middle school and high school. Cameras in the middle and high school buildings feed into one system, which Vanatta monitors, and he said he wants to get more cameras for the buildings.
Vanatta said he feels confident the schools are safe, but that new safety measures and features are constantly being implemented and reviewed to keep students and staff as safe as possible.
"When it comes to child safety, there's no such thing as a school district being too safe or too well prepared," he said.