West Linn-Wilsonville schools' safety features nationally acclaimed
When it comes to school shootings, every minute counts.
The average school shooting lasts about 6 minutes, and the median time for law enforcement to arrive on the scene is around 3 minutes
In May, when a gunman entered Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, through an unlocked side door, it took an hour and 29 minutes for 376 law enforcement officers from several local, state and federal agencies to eliminate the threat — 10 times the average length of time.
The shooting in Uvalde renewed national discussions regarding mass shootings on school campuses and how to prevent them. But for the West Linn-Wilsonville School District, officials say the conversation never paused.
Throughout the years, the district has revamped, reshaped and upgraded its security systems and protocols to ensure confidence that, in the event of an active threat, students and staff will remain safe, according to West Linn-Wilsonville School District Chief Operating Officer Pat McGough. Some of the district's work also has been used as an example of safety and security in other parts of the nation.
"Minutes mean everything in these events," McGough said.
Leading way for security
A few years back, the district hired True North, an IT and security firm formerly known as Ellerton and Associates, to review and assess the current systems in the schools at the time and advise the district on what should be upgraded.
Some of these critical points were entryways. Before the evaluation, the district's schools had various points to enter through.
"They recommended that we limit the entry points to some that were highly visible and secure. So we changed our protocol to have everybody come through the front door once school is in session," McGough said.
The Robb Elementary Investigative Committee Report outlined how some school safety protocols fell short during the Uvalde shooting, with procedures not being updated or instilled in staff.
While Robb Elementary's active shooter policy called for classroom doors to be locked during classes, multiple witnesses testified that staff often left interior and exterior doors unlocked or propped open — which was how the gunman entered the building.
This year, the district announced that WL-WV visitors can only walk through the front door, and they need to pass through a multiple-step secure entrance. Community members must show a driver's license and have a valid reason for entering the school. If they are denied entry, they cannot enter the school as they are trapped in an entry hallway.
Another feature that was first of its kind in the district was adding security hardware on each classroom door, including unbreakable glass, curtains that easily block viewing of the classroom from the outside and automatic systems to close doors.
"We have installed a system called the shelter locks that have the ability to lock down every classroom door with the press of a button on a fob. Those fobs are given to every teacher. So anybody who sees a risk that comes in from anywhere can activate that system and there is a beep on the door itself that will alert teachers that the system has been activated, and they simply have to close the door," McGough said.
Further, the district implemented "radio systems" which allow teachers and staff to communicate with one another in any emergency, like the power going out.
"It's not that unique any longer, but we were one of the first school districts in Oregon to focus on (high-level security like door hardware) and our district is used as an example on how these systems can work successfully in the state but also across other parts of the United States," McGough said.
WL-WV worked to lead the way alongside other school districts in Beaverton and North Clackamas when security in schools became a focal point a few years back.
McGough was once told that the district was the third in the nation to implement a shelter lock system on doors.
"Our district (has been) used as an example of how (the lock systems) can work," he said.
Since the evaluation back in 2016, the district has continued to prioritize security and safety with its capital bond work. Each school has — or will have — the same secure entrances, hardware and communication systems with bond funding.
The district uses a three-tiered approach to review, revise and implement security procedures on all school campuses. The first two tiers encompass building safety through two teams responsible for reviewing and brainstorming security procedures each month. The two teams are made up of school staff and administration.
McGough also said district officials meet with neighboring communities frequently and are in constant conversation about emergency threats and solutions.
Security changes this school year
Starting this fall, the school district will tweak some of its terminologies. The district uses a Standard Response Protocol from the "I Love U Guys" foundation.
The national guideline is based on the following actions: hold, secure, lockdown, evacuate and shelter. During a potential emergency, when a school's safety is questioned, the district initiates one of the responses based on the threat level.
What was formerly known as "lockout" is now called "secure." Clackamas County made the change to avoid confusion with a lockdown protocol.
Schools in the district also will add the "hold" protocol, used in situations requiring students to remain in classrooms so that hallways are clear.
"We've made huge efforts, not only with our district partners but with local law enforcement and first responders, to make sure we're all on the same page in the event that an emergency event takes place — that we have the same terminology that we use so that we can communicate effectively and efficiently and be prepared ," Director of Communications Andrew Kilstrom said.
Conversations after Uvalde
In 2022, there has been an average of 13 mass shootings a week, according to data from the Gun Violence Archive. Since the Uvalde shooting, there have been 13 shootings on school campuses.
Although the school district already has state-of-the-art safety features, there is always room for improvement.
"(Uvalde) prompted us to reach back out to True North and we will have them come back and do a review of not only what we've implemented, but perhaps the next level of safety in our buildings and site security," McGough said.
The school district officials said that additional security measures are not reactive to school shootings, but rather items to be addressed daily to prevent tragedy.
"This is not (a topic) that we talk about every now and then when a tragic event happens in the nation," Kilstrom said. "We really are working on (security and safety) every day. This is a priority, and we're going to keep improving our systems in place as much as possible. It's an unfortunate topic that schools face, but it's the most important one that we are always working on."
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