HomeOperationsJeffco DeAngelis Foundation Reflects on Columbine While Expanding School Security Training

Jeffco DeAngelis Foundation Reflects on Columbine While Expanding School Security Training

Twenty-five years ago, the administrators who experienced the Columbine High School massacre in Littleton, Colorado, weren’t afforded the same training that is available to school staff today. The DeAngelis Foundation aims to make that training more widely available, while also focusing on expanding the knowledge base of student transporters.

“The active shooter response training 25 years ago, is not even remotely similar to what we have today. And it’s a sad circumstance, no question about it,” Steve Bell, president of the DeAngelis Foundation board told School Transportation News. “Those situations, unfortunately, still seem to happen from time to time in our country.”

He noted that while Columbine wasn’t the nation’s first school shooter event, it was the first major event of its kind to unfold live on national television.

“I would say the lessons learned were many. How do you manage an active shooter situation when that individual or individuals is inside the building and they’re not an external participant? As you know, in Columbine those were two students, they were internal. They weren’t someone from the outside,” Bell explained. “Managing the internal active situation has become paramount in the thinking of not only law enforcement and how law enforcement manages those events, but also the internal school workings.”

Frank DeAngelis, the principal of Columbine High School at the time, reacted that day solely to save his students. “And Frank would tell you today that there really wasn’t much training,” Bell added. “No one saw the need at the time. So, now we’re teaching administrators, how do you respond? How do you prepare?”

The Frank DeAngelis Center for Community Safety was created to support law enforcement and school safety training and tactics for mass casualty and active killer tragedies by providing consistency of best practices. Prior to being the DeAngelis Center, the building served as Martensen elementary school in Wheat Ridge, Colorado. It was renamed in April 2017 in honor of Frank DeAngelis. The center focuses on incident prevention, preparation, response and recovery.

“We the foundation decided that what we should do is create an organization that would foster and promote those best practices and sophistication of trainings so that we have consistency around communities and schools throughout the country,” Bell shared, adding that the training is now offered nationwide. “Prior to the DeAngeles Center, first responders were being trained at multiple venues, and so it really wasn’t efficient.”

He noted that after some retrofitting of the building, the elementary school turned training facility became unlike anything of its kind in the U.S. Bell said that people visit the facility with the hopes to creating something similar in their areas.

“But right now we are the only one of its kind in the country,” Bell added. “I would like for many of these to exist throughout the U.S., such that there could be a consistency of training and consistency of best practices that are being taught and promoted throughout the country. So that those best practices are something that everyone is aware of from time to time, on an as needed basis, unfortunately as that seems.”

The foundation has expanded to the point where training reservations at the center are booked months in advance. The facility is used by school district personnel as well as safety departments, school staff and administrators, and law enforcement agencies, to name a few.

“They also include the operational staff such as cafeteria workers, transportation employees, bus drivers, dispatchers and such because by simply circumstance those individuals, whether they’re an elementary school principal, a bus driver, a school cafeteria person, quite frankly, custodian or maintenance individual, a teacher or an administrator, could be by circumstance a first responder to an incident in one of our facilities, or in any facilities,” Bell said.

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He added that the foundation is working to expand its training opportunities so that people involved in any situation will have some training and confidence on how to best handle the situation. In terms of expansion, he added, the board is growing from five to seven members, due in part to a growing need for increased awareness and also participation with individuals that expand their board presence into various venues, such as the private sector.

“What we want to do as the foundation is be a partner with communities,” he said. “And those communities include the law enforcement agencies. They include the educational communities to municipal communities, the residential communities, every participant that is in a venue that may or may be your target at some point in time.”

He said that transportation is a target for violence that is quite uncomfortable to discuss because as many as 77 passengers and as few as one adult can be confined in one space.

“We want to expand our efforts into that particular venue,” he said. “Because not only does that present a real target for us but also prevents a staging area where you have … 15 to 25 or more students at a single bus stop, at an intersection as the bus pulls up to load them up,” Bell explained, adding there may or may not be other adults at the stops. “For us, it’s an awareness of that situation and an awareness of the risks that could be involved. And then how do we best train our folks to be prepared for something like that? And what is the proper response? It’s, it’s a tough one.”

In addition to hands-on training provided at the Center, the Foundation also participates in train-the-trainer events.

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