Local consultant recommends school lockdown over evacuation

Rick Wagner • Apr 18, 2009 at 12:00 AM

KINGSPORT — A decade after the deadly Columbine High School attack in Colorado, the question remains how much and what kind of security is needed at schools.

Columbine, for instance, had a video camera monitoring system and other security when two students came in with weapons and killed 13 before committing suicide on April 20, 1999.

Larry Holloway, a security consultant for Kingsport City Schools, also recalled the Oct. 2, 2006, case of a man who came into an Amish school in a Pennsylvania village and killed five girls, ages 6-13, before committing suicide.

“If it can happen to the Amish, it can happen to anybody anywhere,” Holloway said. “There’s only one way to eliminate that type of thing in schools, and that’s not have schools.”

He said the goal of his company, LGH Safety Services LLC, and that of school officials nationwide is to reduce the likelihood and severity of incidents to as low as possible.

He said a prime way to do that is to have instant lockdowns when schools have intruder alerts or other information indicating an intruder may be lurking.

“Lockdown is much more effective (than evacuating schools),” Holloway said, adding that older fire codes that required outside entrances to all classrooms have for the most part been replaced by mandatory sprinkler systems for new or renovated schools.

“Every time you have a door to the exterior, that’s another entry point,” Holloway said. “If you’re in a lockdown and the fire alarm sounds, you stay put.”

He said emergency responders will arrive in three or four minutes and can decide if evacuation is better since intruders could use fire or smoke as a ruse to get people out of classrooms. Holloway said all fire doors in the system should last at least 30 minutes, and sprinklers would go off in a real fire.

He said one thing tabletop security exercises — where an intruder scenario is played out for school officials, police, fire and EMS — show is that custodians, or at least the chief custodian, are crucial because they have keys to almost every room and know the layout of the building.

Emergency responders in Kingsport have CDs with photos and floor plans of all city schools, which can be used if time permits, but Holloway said the chief custodians are supposed to leave the building and meet emergency responders so they can be a resource for them.

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