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FD Schools Hold Lockdown Drills: Safety, Security are Top Priorities - from The Messenger

March 9, 2023

Every student and staff member in the Fort Dodge Community School District took shelter Wednesday in a safety drill.

Not from a tornado or other natural disaster, but to prepare for what they hope never happens ­ an intruder or shooting in the building.

Fort Dodge students and staff in each building participated in the lockdown emergency plan at different times throughout the day. Classrooms were locked, lights were turned off and students remained as silent as possible until the all clear was sounded.

Most lasted less than 30 minutes. In a real emergency situation, students and staff could be sheltered in place for several hours. That was communicated to students after the drill was completed.

“The safety and security of our students and staff is our top priority and the district has made great strides regarding school safety over the last few years,” said Interim Superintendent Denise Schares. “We appreciate the support of our local law enforcement partners in helping us make this happen.”

“A critical piece to safe schools is the classroom response to an incident at school,” she added. “In order for the classroom response to be successful, our students need to be familiar with and understand our response protocols. The lockdown drills will help empower and educate our students so they know how to help keep themselves safe in an emergency. Our staff have worked hard to ensure the drills are age appropriate and non-threatening.”

Wednesday’s drills did not include any law enforcement nor were there any mock threats in the building. However, law enforcement has been involved in helping staff and families prepare for an actual situation.

On Feb. 21, law enforcement held a safety meeting at the Fort Dodge Middle School to discuss protocol for the district and what the response of law enforcement would be in an emergency.

Both Webster County Sheriff Luke Fleener and Fort Dodge Police Capt. Dennis Quinn spoke with parents and answered questions about the planned safety drills. They also introduced parents to the Standard Response Protocol from the I love U Guys Foundation that the school district and local law enforcement use for emergencies.

“I think today is just a natural progression of this protocol that has been in place for six years, “ said Fleener. “We talked about it that night with the parents. Nationwide this is what we live with. These things happen and it’s better to have knowledge and be prepared for it.”

The lockdown protocol is part of the comprehensive emergency response plan in place in all the schools. Those plans cover everything from a hold, where there’s a situation in the halls that requires students to remain in classrooms, to evacuation and shelter, for fire or tornados.

The school also has a secure protocol for a threat outside the school buildings, but no threat inside the schools.

“Our goal is not only for students to know and practice the response, but also for them to see and understand that the adults around them know what to do and are prepared to keep them safe. The lockdown drills with students are the next step to helping us accomplish these objectives,” Schares said.

Administration and other staff led the lockdown drills Wednesday in each building. After giving students and staff time to retreat to their safe area, those staff members then checked doors and windows to discover any flaws in the plans for keeping quiet and out of sight.

Staff of the buildings held a debriefing session after school as well.

“We were very happy how it went for this being the first drill with students,” said Senior High Principal Staci Laird. “We really didn’t know how students would react. The feedback we’ve gotten by and large has been that the students appreciated the opportunity to practice and think about what they would do in a worse-case scenario.”

Laird said going forward drills like this will happen again, though not as often as perhaps tornado and fire drills.

“The plan is for this to become as close to routine as our other drills,” she said. “I really want to thank our staff. They did a great job of using their time in homerooms with students to prepare them for what it would be like and answering questions so it wouldn’t be as traumatizing for them. Nothing like this works well unless everybody is on board.”

Duncombe Elementary School Principal Ryan Flaherty echoed those thoughts that preparation ahead of time was important.

“There were a number of things the district did to help prepare us for this,” he said. “It started with the extensive training law enforcement did with our staff and then the knowledge that was extended to our parents. And that last part was the caveat that our students were prepared and knew what to do.”

Laird and Flaherty both agreed that the goal of all staff in the district is to keep students safe in any situation.

“Our goal is to keep kids safe, despite not knowing what could be coming at us,” he said. “We want to create a safe environment, but also not scare students between those ages of 6 to 11. We want parents to know our protocols are in place and the students know what to do, but that we are safe in our building.”

Laird added, “I think it was good that parents had the opportunity to talk with their kids and they knew this was coming. They know their students better than anyone and it helped them communicate any issues or fears they may have had.”

Fleener said it was the right move to not have any law enforcement present for this first drill. But he wanted to reassure families they are ready to respond in a real situation.

“They need to know we’ll be coming and to know how to handle whatever happens until we get there,” he said. “We talk about how the time barriers are so important to us. It’s good progress that we’ve educated the people in the buildings and we’ve given them the tools to be safe. Time barriers have the biggest impact on any situation before we can get there.

“Today showed that our school district and community are willing to work closely together to implement safety procedures for something we all hope doesn’t happen,” he added. “We used to be able to believe it wouldn’t happen in a community our size until you look at Uvalde and Sandy Hook. Those are communities that were similar to us. This was a step in the positive direction.”

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