After Florida shooting, Berkeley High School examines preparedness for active shooter

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Amanda Ramirez/File

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In the wake of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, members of the Berkeley High School community are attempting to grapple with the possibility of a similar event on their own campus and their level of preparedness to respond to such an incident.

In a schoolwide announcement Thursday morning, minutes after a moment of silence was held for the Parkland shooting victims, BHS Principal Erin Schweng acknowledged that preparing for the possibility of a similar situation was scary but necessary.

“As we watched the terrible events in Florida unfold last night, I couldn’t help but notice that the high school there has almost exactly the same number of students as at Berkeley High,” Schweng said. “It is horrific to imagine anything like that happening here, and yet we also know this is the 18th school shooting in 2018 alone.”

Later that day, Schweng sent an email announcement to parents and students about the high school’s two upcoming lockdown drills that will take place sometime in the spring semester. One will be conducted during school hours, and the other will occur either at the end or beginning of a school day.

A lot of preparation has been put into the upcoming drills, according to Schweng. The administration is working with BHS’s video production students to create skills videos in order to increase the drills’ effectiveness.

Like many schools in the United States, BHS uses a protocol known as Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate — or ALICE — for its active-shooter drills. ALICE differs from other response methods in that it encourages students and staff to be proactive in ensuring their safety. The protocol teaches students and staff to adapt their response to each scenario.

BHS senior and Berkeley Unified School District student director Uma Nagarajan-Swenson said she cannot remember any previous lockdown drills in her four years at BHS. In her sophomore year, however, there was a real lockdown. Teachers’ responses to the lockdown, she remembered, were inconsistent, with some even continuing to teach after locking their doors.

BUSD is considering removing three safety officers from BHS as one of its proposed cuts for the 2018-19 academic year. Although Nagarajan-Swenson was previously indifferent to the cuts, after the Parkland shooting, she said she is now hesitant to support the removal of safety officers if it compromises the security of the campus.

Nagarajan-Swenson added that she does not believe that she and other students are prepared but that conducting drills could help ease some of the fears brought up by the Parkland shooting.

BUSD spokesperson Charles Burress said in an email that in light of the Florida shooting and other tragedies, district officials are currently reviewing BUSD’s drills to make sure they are as effective as possible.

“It’s really scary as a student to know that it could happen at Berkeley, or just happen anywhere,” Nagarajan-Swenson said. “I’ve always felt protected living in California, but you sort of realize these types of things could happen anywhere — nowhere’s really immune to them.”

Contact Alexandra Stassinopoulos at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @AE_Stass.