In the wake of last week’s school shooting in Parkland, Fla., local school districts — including Long Beach — are taking a closer look at their emergency preparedness plans.
Long Beach School District officials said that although they had decided to focus on security this school year even before the shooting that left 17 dead, they adjusted their safety protocol in response to it to “ensure even a greater degree of safety for our students.”
“On behalf of our entire administrative team, I want to reassure you that your children’s safety is our top priority in the district,” interim Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Gallagher wrote in a message posted on the district’s website on Feb. 15. She cited a presentation led by the district’s chief operating officer, Michael DeVito, at a school board meeting in September, when DeVito said that his focus for the school year would be on emergency preparedness.
“We were already wanting to heighten everybody’s attention and state of readiness,” DeVito said last week. “I’ve been personally going around to the buildings and working with staff to increase their skill sets and awareness, and go over the different types of emergency responses we have in our plans.”
Last year, the district applied for $250,000 made available by the state’s Smart Schools Bond Act to upgrade some of its emergency response technology and install an automated lockdown system. The district is awaiting state approval, and DeVito said he didn’t know when that might come.
Once the district receives the anticipated state funds, officials plan to purchase under-desk lockdown buttons and a lockdown mobile application that would automatically notify local police and fire departments of an emergency. “The buttons are going to be placed strategically throughout the school buildings,” DeVito explained, “and certain administrators will have the application to engage in a lockdown automatically on their mobile phones.”
To comply with state policy, DeVito said, each district building is required to undergo 13 drills every school year: eight evacuation drills, four lockdown drills and one early-dismissal drill. Eight of the 13 drills were completed in each school before Dec. 31, another state requirement. “Drills have been practiced at all of our buildings,” Gallagher said, “and our staff debrief regularly about changes and adjustments.”
The Long Beach Police Department also conducts drills in collaboration with the district, including an active-shooter drill at Lindell Elementary School last spring. “If, God forbid, we ever face something, we feel confident in our ability to respond,” Police Commissioner Michael Tangney said. “The Long Beach Police Department is prepared for all emergencies. We constantly train our officers in the use of their weapons.”
At the main entrances of each school, state-licensed security guards man security vestibules that all visitors must pass through to enter. Earlier in the school year, two security vestibules were installed at the high school and East Elementary School.
The guards collect identification from all visitors, run their names through the national sex offender database and make sure they have appointments before visitors passes are printed and they are allowed to enter.
“When we have a visitor come to the school, they show their ID, their ID is swiped and checked in, and there’s going to be a temporary visitor’s pass,” explained Orlando Garcia of Summit Security, the security company that works with the district. “That visitor is expected to leave through the same entrance and hand that visitor’s pass back.”
“Everything seems to be very electronic-based,” Central Council PTA Co-president Sharon Powers said at the September meeting. “Is there ever a potential that somebody could cut all the electricity, and would there be a battery backup?”
DeVito said he believed there was a battery backup for the system.
“Your security staff is phenomenal,” Richard Corbett, the parent of a student and a former fire chief, said at the meeting five months ago. “You can never get by them even in uniform — they stop you.”
Additionally, DeVito said in September that more than 300 cameras have been installed throughout the district. Once the Smart Schools Bond Act funds are approved, he added, the district plans to replace the cameras at the high school that were installed about 10 years ago, and install about 75 new high-resolution cameras.
“A consultant who observed our district has said that we’re already at a high state of preparedness compared to other districts around the state,” DeVito said.
Gallagher added that counselors were on hand last week to provide support to students who were anxious or scared as a result of the Florida shooting, and she encouraged parents to reach out to her or other staff members if needed.
“I held my children extra tight this morning, and I am sure you all did as well,” she wrote in last week’s posting. “Let’s continue to be a support for each other in Long Beach, and let’s keep the families of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in our thoughts and prayers.”