KNOXVILLE (WATE) – An alarm rings and students file calmly out of their rooms to the nearest exit. Schools have done fire drills for decades in order to make sure everyone in the building is aware of how to to exit the school in the quickest, easiest and safest way possible.
Now with a steep rise in active shooter situations over the past 20 years, schools are faced with a new dilemma: how to make sure students and staff are prepared for an active shooter situation. School districts across the United States and in East Tennessee ramped-up security, but is it enough? Should kids go through active shooter drills as often as they do fire drills?
The number of United States school shootings in 2015 climbed to 52 with 30 people killed and 53 others injured. Of those 52 shootings, 21 have been at colleges and universities, 15 at high schools, three at middle schools, 10 at elementary schools, two at pre-schools and one on a school bus.
“We have to do drills. It saves lives, but research has shown over the past 20 years nationwide, we have not lost one child to a fire in a school in 20 years and we continue to do those fire drills on a routine basis,” said Knoxville FBI Special Agent Scott Johnson. “I’m not saying we shouldn’t, we should, but it’s time to start doing other drills. We’re losing a lot more kids, more people to other things than fire that we need to start doing drills for.”
During a presentation on active shooter training for Knox County Schools, Johnson said an active shooter situation can happen anywhere, but typically happen in areas with “soft targets,” like public events and schools. Theresa Cash, who has a daughter in elementary school, said she agrees with Johnson. She said the thought of a gunman inside the school with her daughter terrifies her and she thinks a school wide active shooter drill is a must.
“I think it is necessary,” said Cash. “I think sometimes we want to protect our kids with certain things, but they’re going to be exposed. It’s better for us if we expose them and prepare them and prepare them for situations like these.”
Tennessee state law requires schools have an intruder drill within the first 30 days of class. Sevier, Blount, Anderson and Knox county schools said they don’t do specific “active shooter” drills, but their drills do cover the possibility of an active shooter on campus.
“We have a variety of lock-down strategies,” said Knox County Schools Security Chief Gus Paidousis. “School security is about layers, the more layers you have, the safer your school is. There is no strategy that’s going to prevent these things from happening, but you do try to develop and build layers to make it as difficult as you can for someone looking to harm any of our children.”
Paidousis said some of those layers include having at least one school resource officer, Knoxville Police Department Officer or Knox County Deputy at every school, security cameras and new video keypads to buzz visitors in to the school. He also said the school system is working on a security fence initiative, where in time, every school will have a fence around it.
After the presentation from the FBI, Paidousis said Knox County Schools may try to mirror some of the terms used in the presentation in their safety plan for Knox County School Security.