Stars and Stripes
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany | December 17, 2012
Security measures are under review at Department of Defense Education Activity schools worldwide in the aftermath of last week’s mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, DODEA officials said Monday.
“We know this tragedy in Connecticut affects every school district across the country, including our DODEA schools,” said DODEA spokesman Frank O’Gara.
Given what happened, “it’s incumbent upon us to take a look at the safety and security procedures at our schools,” O’Gara said. “We’re in the process of doing that.”
A statement posted on DODEA’s Facebook page on Saturday reads in part: “Events such as these have focused our attention on developing, implementing and reviewing crisis plans in our schools. We are also mindful of the need for constant vigilance in preventing tragedies before they happen and coping with the unthinkable should it happen.”
On the same site, DODEA posted various online resources to help parents and educators talk with their children and students about the tragedy, in which a 20-year-old shooter killed 20 students, ages 6 and 7, and seven adults before taking his own life. Parents were being encouraged to seek counseling support for their children Monday at school if needed.
“Everyone is trying to come to terms with this,” said Harvey Gerry, chief of staff for Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Europe. “How to react to something like this, basically has no precedent.”
At military schools in Europe, school officials were focused on ensuring students were provided any needed support and assuring parents that their children’s schools were safe and secure, Gerry said.
Robust security measures are already in place at all schools, Gerry said.
“I feel pretty good about that to begin with,” he said.
The schools are supported by military and local national police, he said. A military security official contacted the school system to ask about “what type of support we require … what types of things would we need to respond to an incident like this,” Gerry said.
Sandy Hook compels a hard look at whether enough is being done to ensure the schools are safe, even with the added protection that comes from being on a military base, where access is already restricted, he said.
“When you hear about something as horrific as this, you really want to stop for a second and say ‘Is this enough?’ ” Gerry said.
DODDS-Europe schools routinely run mock drills to prepare for different types of emergencies and scenarios, Gerry said, declining to say whether these included “active-shooter” exercises. These are “lockdowns,” he said. “I’m not talking about the usual fire drill that you and I remember having when we were children.”
Schools have controlled access, Gerry said. “In Wiesbaden, you actually have to make eye contact with the person behind the glass” before letting them in, he said.
But at Sandy Hook, which seemed to have “a decent security access system in place, it didn’t seem to make a difference,” Gerry said.
It’s “a real challenge for any school” to maintain a secure school environment that also feels welcoming to parents, Gerry said. At one school in the Kaiserslautern district, there can be hundreds of people on any given day coming and going. It could be a parent dropping off lunch for a child, meeting with a teacher, or volunteering in the child’s classroom, Gerry said.
Whether security measures will be tightened “might be a little early to say,” Gerry said. “No system is perfect. I’m sure there will be a lot of lessons learned from the particular incident. We’re all watching this very carefully.”