Frederick at Forefront of School Security Practices

As active shooter incidents have continued and escalated in recent years, law enforcement, employers and schools have changed response policies to better protect those caught in these situations and save lives. The Parkland High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14 has intensified focus on school security and response should the unthinkable occur.

Frederick County, Maryland, has been at the forefront of innovative practices to protect students and staff should an active shooter event occur at one of its 66 schools. Sergeant Mike Easterday, supervisor of Frederick County Sheriff’s Office (FCSO) School Resource Officer program, and Scott Blundell, supervisor of Frederick County Public Schools (FCPS) Security and Emergency Management, spoke on April 26 at Urbana High School. This safety presentation for school communities outlined the FCPS Avoid. Deny. Defend.™ active shooter plan.

“Three minutes is our average response time to all priority situations in Frederick County,” Easterday said. Noting that this statistic includes more rural areas of the county, he added that for many calls, “we’re inside of 30 seconds.”

Still, an active shooter can create victims in less time. That’s why FCSO and FCPS embraced Avoid. Deny. Defend.™ (ADD). Developed by Texas State University, ADD recommends individuals take an active and independent approach if faced with an active shooter, rather than the shelter-in-place, “hide and hope” strategy used in years past.

“You are responsible for your own safety and those near you,” Blundell said. “Make independent decisions. … Don’t wait for direction.”

“Do something active,” Easterday said, referencing the recent Waffle House shooting in Nashville where an unarmed man rushed the shooter armed with a semi-automatic rifle and took the gun away. Easterday noted that the hero said, “He was going to have to work to kill me,” and stressed that individuals approach an active shooter situation with the knowledge that they may have to save themselves.

The three-tiered approach starts with “Avoid.” Leave as soon as possible, Easterday said, know the exits in your building and consider secondary exits. “Deny” kicks in if there is no way to avoid the situation: Deny access to your space, lock your door, turn the lights out, stay out of sight and hide. Teachers are urged to have a barricade plan, Easterday said, like bookcases that can be quickly pushed in front of the door and doorstops; the heavier the better. “Defend,” he said, is the last resort. You may have to grab the gun and fight. “Don’t hide and hope,” he stressed.

“Every school in the county has had this instruction,” Blundell said. “Our schools overall are safe.”

But “there is no perfect accountability in any school building,” Easterday acknowledged.

To support law enforcement and EMS response to an active shooter situation in one of the county’s schools, Maryland State Police and sheriffs all have card reader access to schools, Blundell said, and FCPS is trying to get card readers installed on all school doors. Also, in an emergency, Blundell can remotely unlock the doors at any FCPS school.

Fire alarm procedure is being reviewed in the wake of the Parkland shooting where the alarm increased the number of students in harm’s way, Easterday said. New instruction might include things like don’t automatically line up and leave the school, pause to determine if you smell or see smoke, and look in the hallway before exiting the classroom. After Parkland, Frederick County police are now automatically dispatched for school fire alarms.

Another invaluable piece of advice? In Frederick County, you can text 9-1-1 during an active shooter event, Easterday said. Police can follow a phone’s GPS, so even a simple 9-1-1 text without a location can bring them to the scene.

Frederick County began accepting 9-1-1 texts from Verizon customers in 2013 and from all major carriers in 2015. In March 2018, the state entered into a contract with TeleCommunications Systems Inc. that will enable emergency responders in any Maryland jurisdiction that opts in to receive 9-1-1 texts beginning this month.

A Montgomery County police officer listening to the April 26 presentation commended FCPS for its ADD plan. He said that Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) uses a strict lockdown policy because MCPS is concerned about the accountability piece should students leave the building and get hurt.

Blundell said that MCPS is reviewing their approach and had recently requested ADD materials used by FCPS. For more information, visit www.avoiddenydefend.org.

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