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Expanded Training is Key to Protecting Students

By Dennis Godek, Advisory Board Member, A Better Delaware

As the 2023 school year begins, the safety of our children in a changing world is at the forefront of our thoughts. School shootings have become too frequent, and we must be ever vigilant to try to prevent these incidents and be ready to respond quickly and effectively when they occur. Preventing school attacks requires direct action, and sometimes, the courage to challenge the status quo. Many tend to criticize school and other officials when it becomes evident, after an attack, that an attacker displayed signs of disturbing behavior that may have predicted violence. These same critics often decry the “abuse of rights” when officials investigate and take definitive steps to determine a person’s propensity for violence. We cannot have it both ways. Law enforcement, education leaders and social workers, acting in good faith and with the resources they need, must use the utmost discretion in this pursuit, but the safety of all students must override a hesitancy to act.

The Delaware education system has made improvements in “safety from attack” for all students. Security policies have been reviewed and amended, many schools now have either school resource officers, armed constables, or both, and schools are required to have plans for action in the event of an attack.

Law enforcement in Delaware have been trained to the national standard of tactical response to active assailant incidents for almost 10 years. Law Enforcement and Fire/EMS, statewide, have been training together, again to national standards, for the integrated response to active attacks. That integrated training incorporates the provision of trauma care to victims in as short a time as possible both during, and immediately after, an attack. Along with specific medical treatment, this response has saved many lives after an attack. These training efforts, and the commitment of the agencies involved, are part of an effort to ensure that the horror of an attack like that which occurred in Uvalde, Texas, will not occur in Delaware.

Lessons learned from reviews of attacks across the country are constantly utilized to update response policies. Regardless of the number of victims, the location of the incident, or the number or armament of the offenders, these are complex incidents which require coordinated and precise response by public safety agencies, augmented by pre-planned actions by school officials. The Delaware Emergency Management Agency oversees the Delaware Comprehensive School Safety Program (CSSP) which is responsible for enhancing school security in all public and charter schools through maintenance and development of comprehensive safety and preparedness plans. The CSSP ensures that mandatory drills and exercises are conducted in all schools on an annual basis and works with school administrators on annual updates to school emergency plans. Any new school construction must include specific target hardening. Secure vestibules, hardened glass and windows in certain areas, improved door security, and panic buttons in office areas are some of the requirements.

While difficult for everyone involved, it must be emphasized that parents and family of students are not to respond to the school when learning of an attack. Law enforcement MUST protect the scene from the introduction of more potential victims, the escape of suspects, and provide for the free movement of emergency vehicles. Technology can be utilized to notify parents and family of a reunification location which is away from the scene and will facilitate the most efficient means of reuniting family and students.

The level of accountability for compliance with drills, exercises, plans, and physical plant improvements, must remain high and require vigilance by overseers and diligence by stakeholders. The law enforcement, fire and EMS community of Delaware is committed to do whatever it takes to protect our students.

“It is not enough that we do our best; sometimes we have to do what is required.” – Winston Churchill

Dennis Godek previously served as a New Castle County Police Officer and as Assistant Chief of Career Services at the Christiana Fire Company. He currently serves as Chair of the New Castle County Fire and Ambulance Advisory Board, which is the liaison between county government and the Fire/EMS service in New Castle County. Godek is a founding member of the Delaware Statewide Active Assailant Committee, which includes Law Enforcement and Fire/EMS agencies from across the state. Dennis Godek is a member of the Advisory Board of A Better Delaware.