When the Valparaiso Community Schools District asked the Porter County Sheriff’s Office to review its school safety plan, it seemed like a good time to review all plans from throughout the county’s seven school districts, with a goal of possibly condensing and unifying them. The sheriff’s office ended up with the overwhelming task of dealing with a room filled with well-written but probably unread paper plans, each one different from the next.
Then Sheriff David Reynolds went to a basketball game at Indiana University in Bloomington, and saw a poster that changed their whole approach. Now, more than a year later, the seven school districts are united under “One County, One Protocol.”
The poster listed, in simple terms, the steps to follow in the event of an active shooter situation, and inspired the idea to develop something similar for the schools in Porter County. The sheriff’s office developed a message that would ensure all schools followed the same procedures and used the same terminology, then created versions for each school that included their colors and mascots (School Safety Response Plan posters, PDF - 1.5 mb).
But “One County, One Protocol” doesn’t end there. With funding from the school districts and the Lake County High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA), the sheriff’s office and the other law enforcement agencies in the county worked together to produce a 22-minute video that focuses on the plan in more detail (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QX9C20pqBAI), encouraged the school districts to sign up for a particular smartphone app that allows teachers and staff to connect directly with local law enforcement and began working on implementing training on the plan. The project has drawn attention from other counties in the state, some of which have adapted all or part of the program, and recently Chief Deputy Jeff Biggs and Dr. Julie Lauck, associate superintendent of the Valparaiso Community Schools, presented information on “One County, One Protocol” as a potential best practice at the Indiana School Safety Specialist Academy. (The academy is an annual re-certification event for the state’s school resource officers and others who have completed the state’s basic school safety specialist training.)
And it all started with the posters.
“I think the posters are very important tools in promoting ‘One County, One Protocol.; The schools have them posted in the lunchroom, in the hallways, all around the school,” Reynolds says, adding that the posters were inexpensive to produce. “Parents are always saying ‘What are you doing to keep my kids safe?’ I’m not saying this is a panacea, but it’s a constructive way of working together.”
Although other aspects of the project have entailed greater expenses than did the poster, teamwork and a variety of funding sources got schools on board with the smartphone app and led to the creation of the video. The video does use teachers, students and local law enforcement officers to act out scenarios that take place in the school buildings, rather than calling on acting talent and staged environments (which would have escalated the costs). And although the opening moments set the stage with some information directly related to Porter County, the majority of the video focuses on executing the simple steps outlined on the posters. With its availability on YouTube, it’s accessible by any law enforcement agency or school system in the country that wants to use it.
“Regardless of whether you’re in Utah or New York or Georgia, schools are facing the same issues,” Reynolds says. “We tried to use the video to show students, teachers and staff how to follow instructions on the PA when they’re given, and also to empower them to make decisions on their own when it becomes necessary to follow the principles of Run Hide Defend.”
The video and the rest of the project emphasize that message so well that representatives from the state Department of Homeland Security came to a Porter County Safe Schools Commission meeting earlier this year to discuss the possibility of presenting parts of the project to the governor as a potential “One State, One Protocol” project.
“With 92 counties in Indiana, that could prove difficult, but there definitely is talk about getting everyone on board,” Reynolds says.