School safety: Vigo School Corp. updates procedures, training to meet ever-changing security landscape

·7 min read

Aug. 6—Student safety will be uppermost in the minds of families as Vigo County School Corp. students return to classes Thursday.

It's also a top priority for district security officials, who continue to update procedures and training to meet the ever-changing security landscape.

Among changes, the district will use updated protocols in responding to various safety situations, and parents will receive detailed information about those changes at the start of school.

School camera surveillance systems are being updated, and school protection officers will undergo training on the new protocols, as well as active shooter training, for two days prior to the start of school.

And rest assured, what happened at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas — in which police waited more than an hour in a hallway before confronting an active shooter — will not happen here.

"We won't allow what happened in Uvalde," said Kurt Brinegar, VCSC coordinator of safety and security.

"Our officers [school protection officers] have been given the green light to take command of the situation as it unfolds," he said. "We're going to give them the ability to act on their own to save lives."

School protection officers in the school will do what is necessary to stop an active shooter, should that situation ever arise. "That person will be in control and in command if something bad happens," he said.

Such emergencies are "fluid," and SPO's will work with other responding law enforcement agencies to address the threat.

"Our officers, along with Terre Haute city police, the Vigo County Sheriff's Office and West Terre Haute police, all are on the same page," Brinegar said. "We all say the same thing. You have the green light. You are in charge when something goes bad, and you're going to take care of the threat."

Each school has at least one armed SPO, and larger schools have two or three.

Standard Response Protocol

The school district will be introducing a revised response protocol in security situations, ranging from less serious responses, called "hold" or "secure," to a very serious response, "lockdown."

"It's more of an update, and we're trying to make the language simpler," Brinegar said.

The district is using the Standard Response Protocol developed by the "I Love U Guys Foundation." It uses common language while allowing for flexibility in response to situations.

Actions are followed by a directive.

—"Hold" is followed by the directive: "In Your Room or Area" and is the protocol used when hallways need to kept clear of occupants. It might involve a student medical situation in a hallway, Brinegar said, citing an example.

—"Secure" is followed by the directive: "Get Inside. Lock Outside Doors" and is the protocol used to safeguard people within the building. Visitors may not be able to enter.

An example might be if police are trying to apprehend someone near a school, although it doesn't directly affect the school, Brinegar said.

—"Lockdown" is followed by "Locks, Lights, Out of Sight" and is the protocol used to secure individual rooms and keep occupants quiet and in place.

Lockdown would be used for "extremely serious" situations that could include an intruder in the building or active shooter, Brinegar said.

—"Evacuate" to a location is used to move people from one location to a different location in or out of the building. It could be in the event of a bomb threat or fire.

—"Shelter" may be used for weather events such as a tornado or a hazmat incident.

One of the bigger changes is that the term "lockout" is no longer used, Brinegar said. Now, the term "secure" is used instead.

In the past, people would often confuse the terms "lockout" and "lockdown." Lockout is a less serious situation in which outside doors are locked and visitors typically aren't allowed.

Lockdown is used in an "extremely serious" situation, Brinegar said.

All staff will be trained with the updated protocols, and information will be sent home to families as well.

The SRP model "is a little different than what we've done in the past," Brinegar said. "We want to make sure the word gets out" and families understand what it means.

It involves no cost to the district, and families can access more detailed information at the following:

The district will post it on the VCSC website and it also will be provided to first responders.

"Technically, our schools should already be in a lockout procedure for the most part," Brinegar said. "Our buildings should always be locked anyway."

The district wants to use the protocols carefully.

In Uvalde, "They were notorious for putting their school in lockdowns or lockouts constantly because of situations at the border. So when certain teachers may have seen those alerts, they didn't take them as serious; they were complacent," Brinegar said. "When we have these, we don't want our staff to be complacent, and we want to make sure it's done right. "

The "I Love U Guys" Foundation was started in 2006 by Ellen and John-Michael Keyes following a shooting at Platte Canyon High School in Colorado that took the life of their daughter, Emily.

Keyes developed the protocol, which is recommended by the National Association of School Resource Officers, Brinegar said. "It's an easy notification in simple language."

The circumstances of each situation would determine when and how families, and media, are informed, Brinegar said.

Looking to the future, it's anticipated there will be additional safety and security training for staff, he said.

That could include ALICE Training, which is active shooter response training. "It's very specific training," Brinegar said.

Students may, or may not, be involved in the training, but students would be impacted by it.

According to the ALICE Training website, it emphasizes the need for "pro-active, options-based, strategies."

Safe schools

While school safety is a major concern of parents, Brinegar wants to reassure people that "statistically, school is still the safest place for kids during the daytime," he said. "However, we do hear a lot of bad news and when it's bad, it's bad."

In Vigo, outer doors are locked, and no one outside the school can get in unless they are scheduled to meet someone inside or they talk to the school protection officer and get permission to enter.

"We will not have strangers running around our buildings," Brinegar said.

The SPO will request a picture ID. Under a change this year, school protection officers will physically go to the door and talk to those wanting to enter the building, rather than just buzzing them in through the locked door, he said.

In cases where the SPO is familiar with the individual, such as a parent, that individual may be buzzed in. Otherwise, "We really want that face-to-face contact," he said. "If there is an issue, we can try to diffuse it before they get into the building."

Camera upgrades

The district also is in the process of upgrading camera systems in the schools, although with 27 school buildings, that takes time.

Most elementary systems have been updated.

Earlier this summer, the school board authorized the district to develop specifications and solicit bids for camera systems for Terre Haute North and South Vigo high schools, West Vigo middle/high school and Rio Grande Elementary.

The changes enable the district to provide real-time information to first responders, primarily law enforcement, who will be able to access that information with district permission.

The changes also enable the district to better store and retrieve data and for longer periods of time.

This summer, Brinegar and administrative SPO John Hopper have gone to various conferences on school security to learn what other agencies and districts are doing, both statewide and nationally.

The best advice for those who want to do their part to ensure school safety?

"Abide by the school rules," Brinegar said. "If you're a visitor and a parent, just be patient with the school protection officer" in their efforts to keep schools safe and secure.

It may cause some delays, but "this is the world we live in, unfortunately," he said.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or at Follow Sue on Twitter @TribStarSue.