Douglas County

Schools' security processes ever changing

Lessons learned from Arapahoe and other tragedies prompt changes

Douglas County Sheriff's Deputy Brian Cogil talk with students at Cougar Run Elementary during a fall 2013 event. Cogil is among the many officers who frequently visit schools as part of DCSD's marshal program. Photo by Jane Reuter
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Douglas County School District's security plan constantly changes. In the wake of the Arapahoe High School tragedy, district leaders said they are making further adjustments to a system they already believe is sound, but never will be concrete.

“Safety is not an event,” said DCSD chief operations officer Bill Moffitt. “It's a process of continuous improvement. I think there are things we've already learned in Littleton we could deploy quickly, and there are other things I think deserve study with our law enforcement partners.”

Near the top of the list are adjustments to district communications technology, which was overwhelmed by heavy traffic after the Dec. 13 Arapahoe High School shooting that ultimately left two students dead. Emails about DCSD's response that were supposed to reach parents shortly after the incident arrived three or more hours later, eliciting a flood of complaints.

“That particular incident highlighted and brought forward some concerns about technology and how quickly we could get that information out there,” internal communications officer Randy Barber said during a security update presented at the Jan. 21 board meeting. “We'll be doing testing of these systems as we go forward on a quarterly basis. That's not something we've done in the past.”

In addition to emails, parent notifications are sent by voicemail and text, and posted on DCSD's website, Facebook and Twitter pages.

While parent notification is important, school leaders said it's not their first priority in an emergency.

“Our priority is going to be on the kids and making sure those buildings are taken care of first,” Barber said, referring to safety procedures including building lockdowns and secured perimeters.

There also is a clear line between informing parents and releasing potentially harmful information.

“It's very clear the faster you can lock down the better,” Superintendent Elizabeth Fagen said. “The faster law enforcement can respond, the better.

(But) “We don't want the bad guys to know our evacuation sites, how long it takes to roll our buses or contact our parents. We prepare as if it will happen but we hope that it never does.”

DCSD's security, perhaps most well-known for the marshal program that circulates armed law enforcement officers through all schools twice daily, takes a multi-faceted approach.

“We believe not one single strategy will keep our kids safe,” Moffitt said.

Enhancements include capital improvements like added cameras, improved exterior doors and established safe areas, as well as ongoing training and intervention programs. District staff also is emphasizing the relationship between physical and psychological health.

“We understand there is a relationship and a crossover,” Moffitt said.

In August 2013, DCSD launched its marshal program in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings. Officers from the Castle Rock, Lone Tree and Parker police departments, as well as the Douglas County Sheriff's Office, now make random, twice-daily visits to the district's elementary and middle schools. The annual program cost, which reimburses the departments for the officers' time, is about $674,000.

Each of Douglas County's nine high schools also is assigned an armed, uniformed school resource officer.