No amount of preparations can prevent a disaster or attack, but staff, teachers and students in the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows school district do what they can to best prepare for most eventualities.
Six times a year, three times each term, students do fire drills to meet the B.C. fire code. Twice a year they go through scenarios to practise responses for an earthquake.
And twice a year, they practise lockdown drills to prepare for the eventually that someone gets into their school with ill intent.
On Tuesday, a man got into the cafeteria area of Abbotsford senior secondary, stabbing two students, one of them fatally.
“The key to all of this is to try to use education as a tool so we can get the kids so that they’re prepared … so this becomes something they’re familiar with. What are the things that they need to think of,” said Judy Dueck, manager of health and safety with the school district.
At the secondary school level, RCMP participate with staff and students in the lockdown drills. Students practise staying inside their classrooms, staying quiet and staying off cellphones, which could draw attention to them.
Drills are also practised in elementary schools, involving staff and teachers,and students but not police.
Sometimes lockdowns are implemented to keep a someone from taking refuge from a situation that’s going on outside the school.
Following the Abbotsford attack, the Chilliwack school district sent out letters to parents, while police visited the city’s three high schools.
“Violent events like this one remind us of the importance of our collective efforts to keep students and staff safe.
“Be assured that we have school emergency management guidelines to assist schools in preparing for and responding to any type of emergency, including human caused events such as this one,” the Chilliwack school district said in a letter to parents.
In Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows, “We believe we’re preparing people to be prepared in these situations. There’s no doubt this situation is very upsetting to anyone in the education sector,” Dueck said.
Anytime the school district hires a new employee, emergency procedures are reviewed. All visitors to schools should also sign in at each school office, so that administration knows who’s in the building.
Under B.C.’s Emergency Management Planning Guide for schools, principals are responsible for the safety of their students in the event of an emergency or disaster. “Principals are expected to maintain order during an emergency and to ensure that students are able to return safely to parents or approved guardians. The principal, or designate, is the person-in-charge during an emergency at their school,” says the guide.
The guide also says that an incident command system uses a unified command structure that provides “a common language so that … responders are able to communicate and be understood during a critical incident.”
Dueck said the use of code words to describe emergencies has been abandoned because it’s too confusing.
In the Tuesday’s incident at Abbotsford senior secondary, Gabriel Brandon Klein, 21, has been charged with the second-degree murder of Letisha Reimer, 13, and the aggravated assault of a 14-year-old girl, whose name appears to be under a publication ban.