Delaware strengthens school safety plans

As the country prepares for the one year anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., Delaware continues what it calls their proactive approach to school security across the First State.

The Laurel School District showed off its web-based school safety platform which is part of the state’s Comprehensive School Safety Planning process. The plan stems from the 2012 passage of the Omnibus School Safety Act.

The online tool, called the Emergency Response Information Portal (ERIP), allows school districts to create a “crisis playbook” between school officials and local police, fire and EMS responders for any type of emergency.

Delaware Department of Safety and Homeland Security Secretary Lewis Schiliro said his department has spent three years developing the program. The program was piloted in the Laurel and Polytech School Districts and is now being implemented by districts across the state.

“This is a platform to allow our schools to really plan for and practice what they will do in the event that they had a crisis. The protocols that are established here really are the finest in the country,” said Schiliro.

The plans are based on the specifications of each public and charter school in the state including school size and building layout.

Local emergency responders have access to the plan on computers and using mobile devices such as an iPad. They practice drills with schools twice a year.

“This is a recognition that our true first responders are our teachers and our administrators in our schools. For a lot of the critical events that we plan for, the damage is unfortunately done in the first few minutes,” said Schiliro.

Gov. Jack Markell, D-Del., was at Laurel Intermediate School for the unveiling of the program. Now that the software is in place, the governor said he hopes other schools in the state will take advantage of the resource.

“It requires some time and effort on their part to make sure that all the information gets into the plans,” said Markell. “It doesn’t make any sense, it doesn’t do any good, if all you have is a great website but it doesn’t have any of the key information with photographs and school specific plans and the like. So we’re expecting people to recognize that with some effort, they can take advantage of this tool and really make progress for our kids.”

More safety precautions to come

In neighboring Pennsylvania, Delaware County schools recently added panic buttons inside their buildings. While a silent alarm bill was introduced in Delaware’s legislative session last year, the proposal hasn’t made it out of committee.

Schiliro said the online school safety portal is a crucial first step to strengthening school safety and opening the conversation for more ideas.

“There are many tools in that tool box,” said Schiliro. “This is one of them. There’s a lot of ideas out there, some we agree with, and some that we don’t. But I think, above all, what we’ve raised is a level of consciousness. We are now talking about how best we can provide for the safety of our students.”

Rep. Tim Dukes (R-Laurel) said he wants to see school resource officers in every school.

“They are ultimately for the protection of the school staff and students but they also serve as counselors and serve as a line of authority, that I think are very healthy in our schools and they do a lot of various things,” explained Dukes.

Dukes added that resources officers, which are armed, active duty, state police officers, were recently able to locate two pedophiles near playgrounds in the Indian River School District earlier this year.

“As a legislator we are protected and I’m thankful for the capitol police when we walk in legislative hall they do a fantastic job through out the state, but I think it’s sad when our children are not protected,” said Dukes.

Guns and mental health

With less than a month until the Delaware General Assembly returns to work, two big issues, mental health and guns are already being discussed.

“We got a couple of really important bills done, we got our universal background check done and we got our reporting of lost and stolen weapons,” said Markell. “You look around at just about every other state in the country, we got more done in terms of gun safety then just about any other state. So, we’ll continue to have dialogue with members of the general assembly about additional things we can do to keep kids safe.”

Markell also noted that the state has increased access to mental health professionals by investing in 30 behavioral health consultants, one for every middle school in the state.

Ideas for keeping schools safe was the topic of a WHYY forum last Saturday.  You can watch a summary of the event on First, Friday at 5:30 and again Saturday at 5pm on WHYY-TV.


Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal