SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald
In the 1950s, children were taught to duck-and-cover – the act of crawling under a desk in the event of a surprise nuclear attack.
Today, the threat has changed, and so has the drill.
Now, children practice lockdown drills, in which they lock the classroom door, turn off the lights and hide from visible corridors.
The assumed threat: A madman with a gun.
Lockdown drills began in the United States after the Columbine High School massacre in 1999. Local schools do about one drill every year, from elementary school through high school.
At Needham Elementary School, students were given advance warning of the drill and a refresher of the procedures before the Jan. 31 exercise.
“I’m going to make the announcement, ‘Locks, lights, out of sight,’” said Principal Dave Tanaka on the school intercom.
“Locks mean we close our door and make sure it’s locked, lights means we turn off our lights, and out of sight means you move out of sight of the doorway.”
When the announcement was made, fourth-grade students jumped out of their seats. Several ran to the door to make sure it was locked, one turned off the lights, and all huddled together in a corner away from the door.
They sat quietly, in the dark, for eight minutes. Some made faces to provoke laughter, and the teacher reminded them to remain quiet.
After five minutes, an officer with the Durango Police Department checked the door from the outside and peeked through a window to see if he could see anyone.
When the drill was done, students returned to their desks and quickly began to chatter and laugh.
The teacher reminded them they can’t laugh or play games during a lockdown. She compared it to playing hide-and-seek, “You don’t want to be found, right?”
Students were asked what they would have done if the fire alarm went off during a lockdown.
“Stay in our place,” volunteered Zane Baumchen, son of George and Libby Baumchen. “Because what if the guy who was in the building pulled the fire alarm to get us out?”
It was the correct answer.
After the drill, the principal and police officers met to debrief. One officer noticed some windows next to doors had no metal mesh and were big enough to fit through. Another said he could see children from the doorway in one of the classrooms.
But overall, they were impressed with how quiet the school became.
A similar drill was conducted earlier this year at an elementary school in Goose Creek, S.C. A fake shooter with a fake handgun entered the school and yelled, “I want to see my kids! Bang! Bang!” according to an Associated Press report.
The man “shot” a secretary and a custodian before taking aim on two students and the principal. They fell to the floor with fake, bloody wounds.
Children need be aware of the potential threats and how to respond to them, Tanaka said. At the same time, it is important not to scare the children by overstating the threat.
“We’re practicing for something that in all likelihood will never, ever happen,” Tanaka said. “So we don’t want kids to walk out of here feeling like, ‘Oh, boy, someone could come in here and start firing weapons at any second.’ We want them to be prepared, but we also want them to make sure that’s tempered with this idea that this is not something that is very likely to happen.”
Bayfield Middle School rehearsed its lockdown procedures Feb. 7.
With no explanation, a voice came over the intercom announcing, “Locks, lights, out of sight.”
Students immediately checked to make sure the doors were locked and closed, turned off the lights, and after a brief discussion, picked the best corner to sit in without being seen.
One girl rested her head on her knees, another braided a girl’s hair, and some chuckled at the slightest sound – such as a growling stomach.
The drill lasted about 20 minutes before a deputy with the Bayfield Marshal’s Office unlocked the door and asked everyone to hold hands and walk single-file to the gym.
Students lined up by class and stood silently for another 40 minutes until deputies emptied all the classrooms and shuffled students to the gym.
Principal Karen Lunceford congratulated students on their performance.
“We’ll call tomorrow PJ day, so you’re free to wear PJs tomorrow,” she said.
Kathy Morris, who is conducting a vulnerability assessment of all public schools in the region, immediately noticed that the principal would need a megaphone in a real emergency, and staff would benefit from having 800 megahertz radios to communicate with emergency dispatch.
Lunceford doesn’t agree with arming teachers with concealed weapons, but she would like the Marshal’s Office to develop a school-resource officer program, which is in the works.
“I’d like armed-security personnel,” she said. “We have lots of folks back from Iraq and Afghanistan out of work. Why don’t we put some of them back into our workforce taking a protective stance for our schools?”
By the time student’s reach high school, lockdown drills are second-nature.
When a “soft lockdown” was announced Feb. 12 at Ignacio High School, students made sure the door was locked, closed the blinds and went about their business with quieter voices.
A soft lockdown doesn’t require students to huddle together in the dark. Rather, classes can go on as usual, but hallway movement is prohibited.