The principal’s voice comes over the loudspeakers: “This is a lockdown. This is a lockdown.” The students crowding the bleachers for the annual homecoming pep rally stare at each other, confused. A lockdown? But they’re outdoors. Do they return to the school building? Run for the nearby woods? Get under the bleachers?
Fortunately for the safety of those students and their teachers, the lockdown was only a drill. A drill that showed a weakness in the school’s safety plan, and a need to address their confusion and make changes.
“Lives may someday depend on everyone’s knowing what they need to do in the event of an emergency. If you have a plan, if you train to the plan and drill to the plan, you will see things that need to be tweaked. That’s the key to making certain it’s relevant and not just a checkmark you make on a list,” says Dr. Victoria Calder, Executive Director of the Texas School Safety Center at Texas State University (TxSSC). “We encourage schools to drill at times other than when students are sitting in their homerooms and they can take attendance. We’re also aware, and we respect, that schools have a job to do, and that is to educate students. We don’t want to burden them with something time-consuming and tedious that distracts them from that.”
TxSSC, launched shortly after the school shooting at Columbine in 1999, serves as the state’s central location for the dissemination of safety and security information, including research, training and technical assistance for K-12 schools and junior colleges. The largest center of its type in the nation, TxSSC receives funding through a direct appropriation through Texas State University and also through grants.
“After the terrible tragedy at Sandy Hook, we were contacted by several other states that wanted to know how we’re organized and what the Center does," Calder says. "We’re ready and willing to answer any questions other states want to ask. We’ve gotten phone calls about using our materials and we want other states to know that all of the materials on our website are available for their use.”
The Center, located at Texas State University, redesigned and reorganized the website in 2013 (http://txssc.txstate.edu/), presenting resources, tools and training materials in context. Calder says because Texas includes approximately 1,027 school districts, TxSSC looks to provide universal materials and services that local districts can adapt to meet their own needs. The Center also offers a number of regional training programs throughout the state and trains on school safety at numerous statewide conferences geared toward educators, first responders and stakeholders.
In addition to being adaptable to local needs, Calder says all TxSSC materials must be “new, true and interesting;” that is, they need to be current, stem from a valid source and contain information that schools need and want to know.
“Everything we produce is based on a whole community, multi-hazard approach. We deal with all three types of hazards: natural hazards such as wildfires, floods, tornadoes or hurricanes; technological hazards such as pipeline explosions, train derailments and school bus accidents; and human hazards such as violence and bullying,” she says. That approach is evident in the wide range of publications, practices and tools available on the website, which address areas such as drug, tobacco and alcohol use; bullying; school emergency management; and digital safety.
“Before You Text,” a free online course, can be — and is — accessed by youth around the country. “Youth don’t understand that once you put something on the web, it’s there for all time. It can affect whether you get into college, it can affect your future job prospects. Many educators, including those in other states and other countries, are using all or part of the course in the classroom as well,” Calder says. “Also, Texas judges have the discretion to require youth to successfully complete the course in lieu of a much stiffer legal penalty.”
Law enforcement officers from other states, and even other countries, have attended the annual Texas School-Based Law Enforcement (TxSBLE) Conference. In 2014, Calder says more than 650 individuals, mainly from Texas but also from other states, participated in training on the unique challenges experienced by law enforcement officers who work with students. And the Center’s development of a youth preparedness summer camp that includes Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training, community-specific emergency action planning and leadership development has been hailed as a model and won a 2013 national award from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
“Maybe that’s how some of these other states knew to reach out to us, because of our connection with FEMA and our contributions to national publications. Or maybe it’s just word of mouth,” Calder says. “But whatever the reason, when it comes to school safety, we are here to help.”