News

Locked down and learning

By KENNY CHING

Staff writer

Today’s young student is living in a dangerously different world.

During the past several years, Americans have been shocked when the news media has reported that children were being gunned down by other children. And the violence has not been only drive-by shootings in poor, crime-ridden neighborhoods. It’s been in regular schools in regular towns –– towns not so different from Federal Way.

But local educators, determined that their schools will not be the next Columbine High, have implemented safety procedures. Meant to protect students and staff against grave threats such as bombs, chemical spills, armed intruders and snipers, the procedure has a stark name: Lockdown.

At an April 2 lock down drill at Saghalie Junior High School, an administrator’s voice comes over the intercom at 9:10 a.m., signalling the beginning of the exercise. Students move quickly to designated classrooms. The doors are shut and locked. The lights go out. Security and administrative personnel move to take care of all entrances to the building, securing the perimeter at 9:16.

Then, in a twist, the fire alarm is pulled. The tactic was one perpetrators used in a school shooting; snipers fired on students who streamed from the buildings.

But Saghalie principal Tim Mackey says he has been preparing his students and they know what to do.

“What do you do when you hear a fire alarm during a lockdown?” he asks. “Stay put,” they answer.

Administrators then further test the students and teachers’ preparedness and resolve. Vince Blauser, coordinator of Federal Way Public Schools’ emergency response team, walks through the dark halls, rattling doors and saying “This is Mr. Blauser, let me in!” Teachers and students have been instructed not to open the doors for anyone until they hear over the intercom that the lockdown is over. The only person a locked door can be opened for is an identified law enforcement officer, Blauser says.

“Anything less than a badge sliding under the door isn’t going to get it open,” Blauser says. “If there is any doubt, they keep the door closed.”

During the drill, a hapless substitute teacher wanders out into the hall.

“Are we having a fire drill now?” the teacher asks security officer Robert Taylor.

“Pow-pow,” Taylor says, imitating the gunfire the substitute might come under from an intruder. “Poor substitute.”

At a debriefing 10 minutes after the lockdown began, principal Mackey asks another staff member to make sure that substitutes know the drill. Nevertheless, the April 2 practice was one of the best yet and one of the fastest done at Saghalie, Mackey says.

The drills have been run for the four years since the Columbine shooting in Colorado. “The routine is starting to be well-known,” Mackey notes.

Schools in the district are required to practice the lockdown twice a year but are recommended to do it three times annually. Saghalie does it three times.

“These procedures re-emphasize our concern for (students),” Mackey says. “The more we do it, the less anxiety they will have. “

“Some anxiety in the students is good,” Blauser says. “It’s life and death.”

Staff writer Kenny Ching: 925-5565, kching@fedwaymirror.com

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