Metro school security director says proactive approach needed to combat escalating number of threats

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Threats like the one at Oak Park High School Monday are all too common at districts across the metro – prompting security experts to reassess their plans and responses.

“I can’t imagine a worst situation than sending your children off to school and being afraid that they`re not coming home,” said John Douglass.

Douglass is the former Overland Park Police Chief, and although he wasn't involved in Oak Park’s emergency response, he has spent the past three years fighting similar threats as the executive director of emergency services for the Shawnee Mission School District.

“You have to be proactive,” he said. “Reactive is a tragedy. The only way to react reactively is after something has happened. We have to get out in front of it, get the information, stop things from happening. That’s the only way we win.”

Douglass said school safety strategies have evolved in recent years, as the number of threats posted to social media apps like Facebook and Snapchat has spiked.

“As soon as you put it on social media, it is gone to the world and it is in the ether and doesn`t go away,” he said. “I know there`s programs that say it develops and then it goes away after a short period of time. But it takes on a life of its own and a great number of people see it and pass it on to each other.”

That's what happened in Belton, where the high school and middle school received seven threats last month alone, some via Snapchat.

“I`m not sure kids are wired to totally grasp the consequences of what they say and do right now,” Douglass said.

Two Belton students are now facing criminal charges for terroristic threats for their posts – something Douglass said is happening more often thanks to new state legislation and should serve as a warning to others.

“There is no such thing as, ‘kids will be kids,’” he said. “If you threaten a school, or threaten a teacher, or threaten other students, charges, if they can be proved, are automatic.”

As for safety at SMSD schools, Douglass said the district has had numerous lockdowns and threats in recent years, but all have “been successfully resolved.”

“We’ve employed a lot of security measures, a lot of restricted access, a lot of verification,” he said. “We have a very dedicated staff of teachers and police officers in the district who are constantly looking.”

That includes school resource officers and district resource officers at every high school, an SRO at each middle school, and floating officers who roam between all of the elementary schools.

But he believes the biggest defense against violence is the students themselves.

“We actually get most of our information from the kids,” he said, “who hear it from other kids, and it tends to be if they start talking about what they’re thinking about doing or wanting to do."

"Or they send out a tweet or they send out a Facebook page or other kinds of things that allow them to know what other kids are thinking, gives us quite a bit of information to be able to act and react.”

Douglass recommends all parents use this opportunity to talk with their kids about reporting what they hear to school staff or law enforcement.

Below are all the safety, security and crisis communications methods and changes that have changed at Belton schools in recent years:

1. Conduct annual safety drills for staff, including an advanced class for those who choose
2. Conduct quarterly drills with students
3. Certified ALICE instructor on staff, who also is a part-time Belton Police Department
Officer
4. Safety Coordinator position who works with staff and the police department
5. Badge entry system for staff
6. Buzzer entry for guests, with camera (all exterior doors locked)
7. Indoor and outdoor camera systems
8. Guardian Angel door locking/protection mechanisms -- installed in about ½ of our
buildings; the rest are scheduled to be done by the end of the year
9. School Resource Officers (5) permanently assigned to the Belton School District
10. Mass notification system which allows us to send an email, text, call, post to social
media and our app immediately
11. District communications specialist position -- coordinates crisis communications &
monitors social media in the event of a crisis to get a pulse on what the community is
saying & feeling
12. Use of a website tool, Sprigeo , and our BSD app for people to “say something” when
they “see something”
13. KeepNTrack sign in system -- all guests have to sign in upon arrival in the office; it does
a quick background check for outstanding warrants
14. Volunteer applications -- anyone who will be in the building for an extended period of
time (or go on field trips, etc) needs to fill out one of these applications to have a
complete background check completed (also KeepNTrack system)