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Should classroom blinds be closed? Two experts weigh in

Q:  In writing our Response to Active Shooter in Schools policy, we have encountered a difference of opinion in the answer to this question: Should the blinds inside the classrooms be opened or closed by the teacher/students in response to an active shooter inside the school building?    
PoliceOne member Dan M. Barnett, Captain of the Intelligence Unit, Columbia County Sheriff''s Office, Appling, Ga.

We put the question to school safety expert Chief Mike Dorn,
Executive Director of Safe Havens International, Inc., and author of
one of the best, integrated, all hazards planning template/processes available.  Here''s what he had to say:

A: There is no stock answer to this question. The correct answer will depend on your department''s tactical capability and the physical  design of your schools. In addition, what will work extremely well in one situation could be disastrous in another, with different tactics employed by violent perpetrators. If your tactical team does not have good optical equipment to peek under doors quickly, you may opt not to have staff cover windows as some teams do. Most teams prefer to have the windows covered.

One key point is to not request that the windows are covered as a standard practice during normal day-to-day school operations. There is a case going to trial in Georgia right now (and there was another last year) where school principals are being sued because teachers molested students and these teachers had their classroom windows covered with paper on a daily basis, affording them privacy to seduce students. We have seen other cases like this around the country.

Also, multiple victim shootings in schools are extraordinarily rare events compared to student attacks on teachers in classrooms, medical emergencies etc., and we don''t want administrators to lose the ability to see inside the room. I mention this, because I am seeing a lot of cases where officers are telling teachers to cover the windows every day.
Key points on lockdowns:

  • Staff must be trained to initiate both directed and self-initiated lockdowns.
  • The school(s) should have two types of lockdown (as recommended by the Georgia Office of Homeland Security): a preventive lockdown and an emergency lockdown.
  • They should not use codes to communicate the need for lockdown as they are unreliable (as was demonstrated in the murder/suicide in the bathroom of the high school in Carrolton, Ga. a few years ago — a number of staff did not recognize the lockdown code).
  • Be sure the school is conducting at least as many hazardous materials drills and reverse evacuation drills as lockdown drills. We see a lot more chemical incidents impacting schools than active shooters and the chemical situations can be even more deadly.
  • Make sure the school is operating on just one plan. I am reviewing a high profile active shooter case for an attorney and it appears the school was using three different emergency operations plans when the incident took place. The district has already paid all plaintiffs in the case and now they are contemplating suing the consulting firm who advised the school. This is another common problem we see a lot; there should be one central person at the school system who is the only person who can add or change the plan or issue plan components.
  • It is also important that the preparedness plan have job-specific components for major job categories, such as teacher, principal, custodian, etc. For your team to effectively respond to an active shooter, they all need to know what you need them to do, and each of these types of employees do different things in a lockdown.
  • Finally, make sure the principal, assistant principals and crisis team members have all completed the FEMA free NIMS for educators’ online training program and have had formal NIMS training. If they don''t know how to function under stress, they will usually make grave mistakes and may fail to perform simple yet critical tasks in an actual event.

You may want to sign up for our free e-newsletter at www.safehavensinternational.org. We have free topical papers with each issue ranging from 5,000 to 10,000 words and we have a 10,000 word paper on lockdown drills and procedures coming up later in the year.

Next, we put the question to firearms instructor and former West Point psychology professor Lt. Col. Dave Grossman. He writes:

The problem is:  it depends. 

In general, I''d say close the blinds. But: If there are not many people in the school, and the blinds are not usually closed, then the rooms with closed blinds may have identified themselves as being a target. If the kids can be easily moved into a corner or otherwise out of sight from the hallway (without closing the blinds), then there may be no reason to close them, and time is better spent doing other things. If there are adjoining interior rooms that do not have windows that face onto the hallway, then you should consider moving the kids to these ''safe rooms'' and forget about the blinds on the room that has been evacuated.

Another consideration: How are the blinds usually? Are some normally open and some closed, randomly, at the teacher''s discretion? Then the equation leans more toward closing the blinds, because it is common and the ones not closed will stand out. You just can''t stamp a cookie cutter over every school.

Another consideration:  How long will it take for armed police to arrive? If there is an armed cop on site, s/he will be there in seconds or minutes, and shutting the blinds and locking the door may  slow down the attacker enough, and you don''t have to worry as much about someone busting/shooting out windows and getting into the classroom. If you are a rural school and the quickest armed response is a half-hour away, you better have a hell of a good plan (other than just shutting the blinds) to keep an armed intruder out of whatever room you choose, for at least that long. Another consideration: Is the glass unbreakable? How does that affect things? Also, consider that whatever procedure you opt for, there will ALWAYS be someone who didn''t get the word. Substitute teachers, new staff, etc. So whatever policy you have needs to be simple and easily communicated.

But remember, there just isn''t any "Plan in a Can"

Do you have a question for an expert? Email askanexpert@policeone.com.


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