Area school districts talk safety requirements following California school shooting

Students stand outside of Saugus High School after reports of a shooting on Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019, in Santa Clarita, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

COLUMBUS, Ohio — No matter where it happens, parents tend to hear about school shootings and immediately wonder, "Could it happen at my child's school?"

"You're always going to have to be concerned about an active shooter," Gary Sigrist said.

Sigrist is with Safeguard Risk Solutions. Among other topics, he helps school districts with planning, training, exercises and security and vulnerability assessments to help lower chances of situations at school and how to react if it happens.

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He helps six districts in Ohio, including in central Ohio, and 10 across the country.

"Just because something bad can happen at your school doesn't mean it has to," he said.

An Ohio law is helping that.

In the state, it's required for all schools to have an emergency operation plan that meets a certain standard of safety. The plans must be uploaded to a server so first responders have access to things like floor plans and contact numbers.

"All of that has to be done every three years," Sigrist said. "They have to review them every year, but every three years they have to start the process all over again."

Also, Sigrist says first responders are required to play a part in writing the emergency operation plan. They also have to sign-off on them before they are submitted to the state of Ohio, county EMA and local police and fire.

It's also a requirement that all buildings have to have one fire drill conducted in the first 10 days of the school year. One is required every month moving forward for a total of nine, unless the building has a sprinkler system. Those buildings are only required to do six fire drills and can substitute the remaining drills for other types of safety drills.

"All schools in the state of Ohio... it's mandatory they have a lockdown drill before December 4th of every year," Sigrist said.

The state's largest district, Columbus City Schools, says it does more.

"We try to not just meet the standard, but go above and beyond the standard," Chris Ward said.

Ward is the director of safety and security with CCS. His district consists of 109 buildings and more than 51,000 students. He says all buildings stick to nine evacuation drills per year. When it comes to lockdown drills, they're exceeding that requirement, as well.

"There are things that's beyond our control," he said. "What I mean by that, beyond the control of Columbus City Schools that take place in our communities."

Because of that, all 109 buildings do lockdown drills year round, once-a-month. It's muscle memory, Ward says, while acknowledging the sad reality of the society in which we live.

"It is [sad], but this is our reality," Ward said.

Ward says the district also works very closely with Columbus Fire and Columbus Police and even has a contract with the city for 19 school resource officers.

In Ohio, there's also a three-year cycle in which schools must do certain exercises, such as table top discussions, functional exercises and full-scale exercises.

When asked how school shootings, if at all, have changed or reshaped the way society and schools think about safety, Sigrist was quick to point out that guns have not been the leading cause of death for students.

"If we go back to 2011, more children have been killed in bus crashes than in school shooting events," he said.

Sigrist says something districts could do better with, especially after a school shooting, is to reassure parents of all the protocols and procedures in place to help protect their children. He says it's important to have the conversations and to have the necessities in place for if and when they need to be used. And that, he hopes, gives parents some peace of mind.