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To prepare for the worst

Published April 21, 2013

I can just imagine getting shot.

What if we’re outside, and you lock the door on us?

This is so depressing.

Screw that, I’m running.

As my teacher outlined how to barricade the door and find the safest position in the room, away from the line of possible gunfire through a window, the students whispered — some anxiously questioning the teacher, others giggling near the back of the room, some muttering under their breaths to their peers.

In the light of the recent tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT in December of 2012, the media has been raging over whether our schools are prepared in the case of such an emergency. In response not just to the news, but also to education code guidelines, Palo Alto Senior High School will have its first Code Red drill in around six years to prepare students and staff for a similar situation, according to assistant principal Jerry Berkson.

The question then for students, parents and faculty alike is, “Is Paly prepared?”

For many students, Paly seems to lack preparation for such a terrifying situation, even if the area is perceived to be in a safe “bubble.” Junior Young-Ju Lee and sophomore Noah Hashmi expressed similar views that Paly has not done much, at least that students have seen, to ready itself for an emergency.

“I was talking to my friends about them [Code Red drills], and we all agreed that we don’t have enough of them,” Lee said. “Our most recent drill was in 8th grade.”

Hashmi similarly echoed, “I don’t remember practicing the protocol for a Code Red Emergency, which is why I feel like Paly students might be slightly less prepared than they ideally should be.”

As returning Paly students, both Lee and Hashmi hope to see an increased number of drills to increase student awareness of the possibility of danger and smooth the actual initiation of the procedure in varying situations. Senior Ethan Cohen added that the drill will probably help the faculty practice and work out any flaws in “the organizational and communication systems.”

“That is probably the most important part of these drills because, after all, it doesn’t take a whole lot of practice to pile stuff up, hide in a corner  and be quiet,” Cohen said.

However, Hashmi, Lee and Cohen all agreed that Code Red drills, despite what their peers might think, are important and should become more frequent, although Cohen adds that the timing of the drill towards the end of the year seems “kind of silly,” especially for the graduating seniors. And while all three students voiced the importance of being prepared through more drills, all are similarly not very concerned about the probability of an armed intruder on campus.

Code Red drills are likely to be done earlier next year and follow a regular, annual basis in the future, according to Berkson. Due to the education code, many schools in California have Code Red drills; for example, Homestead High School also practiced an emergency drill earlier in the school year, and The Harker School holds such drills every year.

Despite any fears, Palo Alto Unified School District administrator Victoria Geen-Lew, who works in the insurance/risk/safety business service with the Palo Alto Police Department, said there is little to worry about.

“I believe we are well prepared district-wide,” Geen-Lew wrote in an email to The Paly Voice. “We partner with the City of Palo Alto Police Department and work with them closely in all our trainings and drills.”

“The two most important things to remember are that we, one, have a plan, and two, take this time we have now to better prepare ourselves,” she added. “The district will continue to work hard to keep our schools safe.”

Besides the drill itself, which Berkson says will mainly serve to give those in the classrooms hands-on practice with the drill procedure like building the barricades, the district has also taken other actions to secure Paly. Recently, it has distributed “door bloks” to the classrooms, which would expedite the Code Red procedure by allowing teachers to keep the doors locked at all times and simply pull the “blok” off the door handle rather than leave the room to lock the room.

What one gets out of a drill, Code Red or other emergency drills like fire drills and earthquake drills, also has to do with how willing one is to take the situation seriously – a fact attested to by my teacher’s grim warning to not “fool around” while the police and administrators patrol the campus.

“Even though many people think that it’s a waste of time, as the super cliché phrase says, I think it’s a good idea to ‘hope for the best but prepare for the worst,’” Lee said.

Lee, like Hashmi and Cohen, believe annual drills will help better ready Paly for such emergencies. In the meanwhile, while the kinks of the procedures are being worked out, Lee is comforted by the fact that Paly will have had at least one drill.

Perhaps most important for everyone, however, is what Berkson hopes everyone will understand: No one can ever truly be prepared for a situation like a school shooting.

“You work on some of this stuff, and there’s recommendations on what to do, but there’s no rules,” he said. “The number one thing is to survive, so you gotta kind of adapt to the situation as it unfolds.”

“I would say we’re as ready as we’re going to be in this situation,” Berkson added. “Again, there’s so many variables at what could be going on that I don’t think you can be always 100 percent ready. I think you can be prepared.”

And that is the purpose of the upcoming Code Red drill.


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