The Delta School District is changing the way it handles emergency situations.
Effective immediately, the district will use more specific terms in place of the previous colour-based system to alert staff, students, parents and (when needed) first responders to unfolding incidents in and near Delta schools. Each term comes with a corresponding set of actions tailored to the type of situation it describes.
“It’s been in the planning stages for quite a while and it’s part of a larger emergency prep initiative that our district emergency prep committee is going through,” Delta School District assistant superintendent Brad Bauman said.
The new terms, in no particular order, are:
• Evacuate (used to move people out of the school when a hazard exists inside)
• Lockdown (used in response to an armed or dangerous assailant within the school)
• Drop, Cover & Hold On (used in the event of an earthquake, explosion or any event that shakes the school)
• Hold & Secure (used if there is a security concern in the neighbourhood)
• Shelter in Place (used if an environmental hazard may impact the school)
• Room Clear (used to move people away from a hazard contained in one room or area)
The new procedures are being rolled out in what Bauman called a “soft implementation.” Though the procedures are already in effect, district staff will be meeting with principals and DPD school liaison officers this Thursday, Sept. 13 to go over them and plan upcoming drills at all Delta schools. Principals will be receiving more materials relating to the new language in late September so they can conduct table top drills with staff at their end-of-the-month meetings.
“We thought this is a good way because there’s no fear of loss. If people default to the old [language] we’re still in good shape, and this is just an opportunity to provide greater clarity and brings us in line with the direction that pretty much every school district in the province has moved to in the last couple of years,” Bauman said.
Under the old system, staff used the terms “code green,” “code yellow” and “code red” to describe emergencies. Those terms, however, covered a wide range of situations and their ambiguity lent itself to rampant speculation and misinformation, especially on social media.
“If we call a code yellow because there’s, say, a cougar in the neighbourhood, what can end up happening and has happened sometimes in our district … is kids will text their parents and say, ‘Mom we’re in lockdown,’ and then it ends up on social media and within seconds … the word on the street is there’s a live shooter in the school or there’s a weapon in the school,” Delta School District communications manager Jen Hill said. “Then police as they’re arriving are uncertain as to what they’re actually getting into.”
As well, such misinformation can create panic for parents and the public, even when the situation is handled swiftly and safely from an administrative standpoint.
“I think last time when we went through a couple [of incidents] and debriefed them afterwards, it was one of those situations certainly where from our end and from the DPD end everything was followed the way we expect, but the perception [among parents] was completely different,” Bauman said.
“There’s going to be times where we can’t give details because it’s unfolding or the principals and the school team are dealing with investigating whatever it is, but we can give them better information than I think we’ve been giving them in the past, which might alleviate fears.”
“I think of all the situations that we had last year that there were a couple that went sideways from the parents’ perspective, and when I followed up a lot of the feedback that I received [was] ‘I wish we had know what was actually happening.’”
By contrast, the new terminology is aimed at preventing some that confusion by making it immediately clear whether the situation is in the school or in the surrounding neighbourhood, and by giving some indication as to its severity.
“This has become best practice in the province,” Hill said. “A lot of the school districts if they haven’t moved to this are moving towards this as we are, and we’re hopeful that this will help.”
All Delta schools perform two full lockdown drills per year, in addition to six fire drills (three in fall and three in spring) and three earthquake drills. Similarly, all uniform members of the Delta Police Department will be attending a one-day training course in immediate rapid deployment this October.
In another safety-related change to policy, all school staff and visitors will be required to wear identification badges by January 2019.
For more on school safety and emergency preparedness, visit facilities.deltasd.bc.ca/deltaprepared.