The massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut six months ago had a profound impact on schools all across the country. NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider spoke with the New Jersey State Coordinator for School Preparedness and Emergency Planning — Anthony Bland — about new security measures taking place at the state’s public schools.
Bland says his office has been aggressive in making sure schools are carrying out drills appropriately. There are four types of drills — bomb threat, non-fire evacuation, lock-down and active shooter lockdown. Sandy Hook, Bland says, put particular focus on the active shooter lockdown drill, which are unannounced.
“We’re checking to see if classrooms are locked, lights are off, students are hidden [so that] we can’t see them when we walk by, [and] students and staff are not opening doors,” detailed Bland.
It’s important for an active shooter lockdown drill to be unannounced so as to achieve an authentic response, Bland says.
‘We want to make sure that we’re having an authentic response and we have habitual habits of what we’re doing during that time.”
To minimize disruption, Bland says drills are scheduled during inopportune times like during lunch breaks and between classes. Bland also insists students are unperturbed by the drills.
“We joke [that] the same students that were having fun or are in trouble before the drill are the same students having fun and in trouble after the drill,” he observed, “and they respond right back to instruction through their educational leader and teachers.”
Students aren’t the only ones to “get it,” according to Bland. He says parents understand that the drills are proactive measures designed to improve school safety.
“We were in Cherry Hill … a few weeks ago [where] we did a drill with several parents in the school. At the end of the drill, they said, ‘you know what, this is what we need and we appreciate that.’ We felt very proud of that.”
In the immediate aftermath of Sandy Hook, some school districts, like Marlboro, posted armed guards at schools. It’s a response Bland is not inclined to adopt, saying “we can’t guarantee that we can eliminate the sense of evilness and acts of violence, and that as long as our schools are drilled and prepared, that gives our first responders the ability to navigate a school.”