Saugus High School Prepared Extensively for Thursday's Tragedy

Saugus High School's safety plan details how students and staff should respond to several types of emergencies, including natural disasters, biological attacks, fires and an active shooter on campus.

The Orange County Register

By Scott Schwebke

SANTA CLARITA, Calif. -- Saugus High School's extraordinarily detailed safety plan likely helped students and staff remain calm and enabled Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies to quickly secure the scene Thursday, Nov. 14, of a campus shooting that left two students dead and four others wounded, according to a law enforcement expert.

The 245-page plan updated in 2018 is a model of preparation that should be emulated by school districts across the nation, said Rob O'Donnell, a former New York City Police Department homicide detective.

The plan is one of the most in-depth I have ever seen," O'Donnell, who has helped hundreds of school districts prepare for campus shootings and other emergencies, said in a phone interview from his home near Scranton, Pennsylvania. "I was thoroughly impressed."
2 Lockdown Drills a Year

Each school within the William S. Hart Union School District maintains a comprehensive safety plan that includes policies for dealing with a variety of potential emergencies, according to district officials.

The plans are developed in collaboration with multiple stakeholders, such as the Sheriff's Department and Los Angles County Fire Department, and are updated annually.

Every school is required to schedule a minimum of two lockdown drills per year to train for various scenarios. Information was not immediately available regarding when the last lockdown drill was held at Saugus High School.

Saugus High's safety plan details how students and staff should respond to several types of emergencies, including natural disasters, biological attacks, fires and an active shooter on campus.

For example, it assigns staff members to various teams on campus responsible for first aid, mental health issues, communications, and search-and-rescue. It also spells out evacuation procedures.

The plan offers a glimpse of lockdown procedures that may have been implemented during Thursday's shooting.

During lockdown, teachers are instructed to move all students away from windows and doors. In addition, teachers are to position themselves between students and the door that opens to the outside. Then teachers are instructed to order all students to the floor under desks or available tables for cover.

Everyone is told to remain in lockdown mode under sheriff's deputies come to provide further instruction.

O'Donnell, who viewed news footage from Saugus High, said the evacuation seemed to have been handled well, which is no small feat for a school with about 2,500 students.

"Everything I saw was orderly," he said. "It makes it that much easier so that police who can move on to other things."

Planning Paid off

Daniel Navarrete, 17, who attends Saugus High, said the preparation paid off Thursday.

We have a protocol where we turn off the lights, lock the door, turn off our cellphones and get away from the windows and that's what we did," he said.

"When the shooting started, we were in the band room and not in a traditional classroom. We never had anything like that in a band room. I knew a group of students was practicing outside and as soon as they heard gunshots they fled the campus and hid in a church across the street," he continued.

The shooting is a stark reminder of the importance of constant training and cooperation between the Sheriff's Department, school districts and other stakeholders, sheriff's Deputy Armando Viera said.

"We train, train and practice, practice," he said. "God forbid that something happens. But if it does, we are prepared."

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