Archived Story

‘Code Red’ drills ensure safety in schools

Published 3:50pm Thursday, November 4, 2010 Updated 3:50pm Thursday, November 4, 2010

A low tone sounded three times over the loudspeakers, a voice said “code red, code red,” and the halls of Underwood Public School became instantly deserted and silent.

The students were practicing what to do in the event of an intruder entering the building Thursday morning, a drill the state requires public schools to perform at least five times during a school year.

“The students are well-prepared, and they know it is a possibility,” High School Principal John Hamann said. “As safe as we want to feel, as safe as we believe we are in Underwood, that doesn’t mean we’re immune to something like this happening.”

Thursday’s drill was a combination of a lockdown and a code red. A lockdown would happen if police were entering the building to search lockers for drugs, for instance. In that case, teaching would continue, but students would not be allowed to leave their classrooms.

Underwood students gather in the boys locker room as a safe point during the Code Red drill on Thursday morning. The faculty and students practice the drill as a safety measure in the event of an intruder entering the school.

In a code red, teaching stops, the instructor locks the door and shuts off the lights, and students move away from any windows so they are not visible from the outside or from the hallway — in other words, to the intruder, the room would appear empty, and he or she would likely pass by it. Students and teachers are instructed not to answer the door; they are only released when the principal or superintendent makes an announcement or directly unlocks the door.

“I think the key word is preparation,” Superintendent and K-4 Principal Jeremiah Olson said. “If we’re prepared for an incident, we’re going to handle the real deal a lot better than if we didn’t prepare.”

Students in the lunchroom or gym at the time of a code red are instructed to enter storage rooms or the nearest unlocked room. If the nearest room is a bathroom, they stand on top of a toilet so their feet cannot be seen.

“I really want to believe we’ve prepared students as well as we can,” Hamann said. “We’ve got a good sense of what we need to do to make sure everybody’s safe.”

Because the building houses kindergartener through 12th graders, all students perform the drill at the same time. The younger students in elementary school are talked to by their teachers beforehand about understanding the importance of the drill and what it could mean, Hamann said. In many cases, elementary classrooms have a large storage room, which the students are instructed to enter in the event of a code red.

“Each teacher has identified the safest place within their room to take the students,” Olson said. “We don’t want to have any intruder see any movement.”

According to research, he continued, if an intruder cannot enter a classroom and doesn’t see any direct movement, he or she will continue moving.

The state formerly required nine code red drills per year, but lowered it to five. For fire drills, the requirement is also five times per school year, and at least one tornado drill must be performed.

“One or our priorities obviously is to make sure the school is safe,” Hamann said, “and I feel very confident that we are safe — we take the precautions and we prepare our students and our teachers.”

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