Boulder Valley School District

Safety First: Staff training and building enhancements come together to create safe environments for students

Randy Barber

On a warm day last August, police cars filled the parking lot of Broomfield High and first responders in tactical gear moved through the corridors. Thankfully this was not the scene of an unthinkable incident unfolding in Boulder Valley, but rather one of the ways BVSD prepares to respond to such threats. The event was a tactical exercise conducted by BVSD and Broomfield High School in coordination with Broomfield Police Department and other local agencies.

“We played out several active-threat scenarios,” explained Brendan Sullivan, BVSD Director of Safety, Security, and Emergency Services. “These types of exercises let us test our protocols in real-time simulation and learn from the experience.”

School staff initiated lockdown protocol in response to a “bad guy” entering the building as directed in their Emergency Operations Plan, a document each school has that outlines the response to various emergency situations. A critically important part of the plan is the Standard Response Protocol. These protocols provide short, easy-to-remember commands and responses for staff and students during a crisis and include Lockout, Lockdown, Shelter in Place, and Evacuation. Schools practice these drills regularly throughout the year. Participants played through two different scenarios all the way to practicing reunification protocols and returning to normal operations, and debriefed after each one.

Around 200 people participated, including school staff, teachers, first responders, and some students. The exercise took place on a district in-service day and students, some whose parents work at the school, gave up a day off from school to participate.

“It was powerful being able to practice in a simulated situation. Many of us have never heard gunshots before,” said Broomfield High principal Ginger Ramsey. “We got important feedback from the kids. A lot of learning came from being able to debrief afterward.”

Read More: BVSD holds active shooter drills

Building enhancements create a secure environment|
Over the past several years through the Building for Student Success program, BVSD has enhanced security features in buildings to increase control over access to schools and increase our ability to monitor the buildings.

“With the live training at Broomfield High, we saw that the physical features we’ve installed in our buildings are working to ‘harden’ our schools as targets,” BVSD Assistant Superintendent of Operational Services Rob Price explained.

A feature readily noticeable to parents and other visitors is the directed entrance at the front door. The layout directs visitors into a vestibule where they can check in with office staff and get a visitor’s badge before going into the building.

Other features include intercom/video cameras outside the front door of all buildings, exterior cameras at all schools, interior cameras in common spaces in high schools, as well as transaction windows and more appropriately placed exterior windows that allow office staff to see who is approaching the school.

Exterior door locks are being updated to allow for central control and monitoring. BVSD Security can tell if an exterior door at a school is propped open and can lock or unlock doors remotely. The new door controls also allow for corridor partitions to be closed remotely if there is a need to isolate a threat in an area. Classroom door locks are being replaced with models that can be more easily locked during a lockdown event.

“Compartmentalization of the school was effective at stopping the intruder’s progress,” Sullivan said of the exercise at Broomfield High. “And we were able to track his location in the building in real time via the interior security cameras.”

Broomfield High School principal Ginger Ramsey also notes the interior cameras have helped school officials resolve some discipline issues this school year.

Staff training key to preparedness
Building enhancements must be coupled with staff training on implementing security protocols. In addition to the active shooter drill at Broomfield High School, other high school principals and their school crisis teams participated in a similar, smaller scale tabletop training at the Education Center earlier this month. The school staffs, along with their school resource officers, were tasked to develop responses to several fictitious scenarios. District leadership and local law enforcement representatives also were on hand to “play out” their roles for providing resources and support. Each school group talked through its response and then the teams shared out to the group.

“The exercise went really well. There was a lot of good conversation and understanding gained about how to deal with different situations and the roles everyone plays,” Sullivan commented. “One of the things we hope to gain from exercises like this is relationship building between first responders, school staff, and the central office.”

Sullivan says there are plans to extend the training in a modified version to middle and elementary principals and staffs. BVSD office professionals also participated in crisis training this month during their professional development day. In addition to in-house trainings, school leaders receive FEMA training on emergency response protocols.

Balancing a secure and welcoming environment
A challenge the district faces as we work to harden schools as targets is also maintaining warm, welcoming environments that nurture learning. This is something architects and project teams must keep in mind as they renovate entrances and design other security features for schools.

“We really do love our new entrance,” said Whittier International principal Sarah Oswick of one of the features of the school’s renovation project. “It is all windows and has improved our ability to see what is going on at the entrance. It is the perfect balance between safe and secure but also welcoming. One of my students even commented on how light and bright it is.”


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