How Quad Cities schools plan for crises like active shooters

Feb. 12, 2024
This is the first in a three part series about how Quad Cities schools address safety. This story focuses on the planning process.

(Editor's note: This is the first in a three part series about how Quad-Cities schools address safety. This story focuses on the planning process.)

Feb. 11 — Last week, Quad Cities schools saw a hoax bomb threat, a juvenile who was suspected to be near campus with a weapon and reports of a potential safety threat circulating social media that law enforcement ultimately deemed to be false.

Preparing for and responding to emergency situations is a constant concern for school officials. But a school shooting in Perry, Iowa, last month again brought the issue to the forefront, as did the safety concerns this week.

On Jan. 4, a 17-year-old student opened fire at Perry High School, killing 11-year-old Ahmir Jolliff and critically injuring Principal Dan Marburger, who died 10 days later. Several others were also injured in the shooting. The shooter also died after he shot himself.

How do schools in the Quad Cities metro prepare for an emergency?

While local school districts follow and utilize state-mandated emergency response plans, training and drills, many implement additional safety features or frameworks to stay proactive.

Both Illinois and Iowa require schools to update their emergency and crisis response plans annually — though many district leaders say school safety planning is a "constant" endeavor.

"It's not in its final form, ever," Bettendorf Superintendent Michelle Morse said of the district's Emergency Operations Plan (EOP), later adding the district plans to refine its response protocols for large-scale events and guest staff.

"Over the last 12 to 18 months, we've really started to go through this document and update it in great detail, section by section," she said.

Andy Neyrinck, security director for Davenport schools, echoed those sentiments, saying Davenport schools have a security meeting once a month to keep the plan up-to-date and ready.

Neyrinck said Davenport schools — like most districts — learn from every school crisis, near and far.

"In every one of those (school emergency) situations, ultimately the goal is to look at that final report — and that's shared with everybody on the security team — to see what we can learn," and what protocols might need to change, Neyrinck said.

In wake of the Perry tragedy, he said the district has already put more focus on security and staffing while students arrive at the beginning of the school day.

Susan Roelle, who has a kindergartener at McKinley Elementary in Davenport, appreciates the adjustments staff are making

"For the general student body, drop off and pickup is pretty secure. The kids don't leave until the parents are recognized," she said. "If there's someone other than a parent picking them up, there are special protocols they have to go through."

She also thinks McKinley staff do a good job monitoring the playground and blacktop when students are outside.

Resources Iowa provides

In Iowa, the Governor's School Safety Bureau provides the following materials for every public, non-public and independent school in the state:

An upgraded emergency radio.

Active shooter training for schools, law enforcement agencies and first responders.

Safe+Sound Iowa, an anonymous threat-reporting platform accessible via app, website and phone.

All Iowa Quad-Cities districts use Safe+Sound, while day-to-day school safety practices vary between districts on both sides of the river, including in terms of secure entryways, check-in procedures, surveillance cameras and using P3 Campus, an anonymous threat reporting app.

Davenport schools have more than 1,000 cameras across the district, including Brady Street Stadium.

"They cover all of our entrances, and throughout the building different (common) areas," Neyrinck said. "They're not in classrooms."

In the neighboring Bettendorf schools, a state-backed School Safety Improvement grant will fund internal surveillance cameras for each district building, as well as upgrades to existing devices.

Local districts also leverage support from school resource officers (SROs), employed at each public school district in the Quad-Cities metro.

"We're budgeted for five, but that's a staffing capacity issue," with Davenport police, said DCSD communications director, Sarah Ott. "There used to be a floater at the middle schools (...) I know that there's a desire to refill that position when staffing allows."

In November, Rock Island High School hired an SRO after more than three years without — a vacancy spurred by Rock Island Police staffing shortages during the 2021-22 school year.

Managing school visitors and safety

Davenport, North Scott, Moline-Coal Valley, East Moline and United Township (UT) High School districts use the "Raptor" visitor management platform.

Raptor allows schools to run timely background checks on visitors before they enter the building.

"Our new front entrance vestibule has a double-entry, where once the Raptor system generates a visitor pass, the person gains entrance to a second set of doors, which are bulletproof," said UT Superintendent Jay Morrow.

At UT, students are also required to keep bookbags in lockers during the school day and aren't allowed to wear coats in class.

More recently, several local schools have installed devices — namely, HALO sensors — that detect vape and THC smoke, along with sounds or keywords that may indicate violence, such as gunshots or loud crashes.

North Scott was the first to implement HALO, and the district is now exploring IntelliSee, a video monitoring software that uses artificial intelligence to detect threats.

"Outside of putting up prison gates, I think we're about as safe as we can make this place," said Jack Schwertman, North Scott's SRO. "Every year we get new safety stuff or (think of) different things that we can implement ... It's just trying to prioritize where we spend our money."

Both Iowa and Illinois require school districts to deploy some sort of crisis response team, tasked with revising and updating their district's response plans.

At Bettendorf, this includes building administrators, parent representatives, Bettendorf Police and Fire Departments; Scott County Emergency Management Agency and MEDIC EMS.

Moving forward, Morse said the district plans to explore the "CrisisGo" communication platform and refine its emergency response protocols for large-scale incidents like athletic events and guest staff such as substitute teachers.

Davenport schools' crisis response team consists of superintendent TJ Schneckloth, each building principal, instructional leadership directors, Neyrinck and Ott. The team works closely with area law enforcement.

Davenport Fire and MEDIC are also at the table in these discussions, Neyrinck added, and the district shares its EOP with law enforcement personnel.

"...So if something happens, the information is in that document and they know what we're going to do and what they need to do," he said.

North Scott's team follows a similar format, including a representative from each of the district's seven schools.

Schwertman said this representation is crucial, particularly since emergencies may vary significantly across grade levels.

Pleasant Valley School District combines a variety of safety measures along with updating their emergency operations plan on an annual basis, Superintendent Brian Strusz said. Each morning when school starts, the exterior doors are all locked and only the main entrance to the school is open for students, parents and visitors to access. Visitors must provide an ID when checking in, which is then held until they check out. They also wear visitor badges while in the building.

"We do have camera systems in all of our schools and will be updating and adding cameras upon receiving the State Safety Grant that has been submitted," Strusz said in an email to the Quad-City Times.

Those involved in updating the district's safety plans include school resource officers, director and assistant director of operations, technology director and administration from all levels.

"We will also include additional individuals from the community as needed," Strusz said.

Morrow and Kristin Humphries, superintendent of the PreK-8 East Moline School District, work closely with East Moline Police and Fire Departments when assessing their safety plans and procedures.

East Moline conducts a threat assessment with administrators, law enforcement, parents and other key people to update safety protocols.

"I think half the battle is just making sure we're keeping an open mind listening and trying to be adults that can be open to students coming to us if they see anything or have any concerns," Humphries said.

Following the Perry High School tragedy, Strusz said the district's safety teams met to assess the events that occurred and to adjust the Pleasant Valley emergency plan. The school resource officers do a monthly assessment of each of the district's buildings to ensure all safety measures are working including that doors are locking when initiated, automated phone calls to 911 are in working order, messages over the intercom system are going through and that safety radios are also working as intended.

How Quad-Cities districts, agencies train for crises

Many local school districts, including North Scott, Pleasant Valley, Davenport and Rock Island, hold regular ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) drills, a leading program for violent critical incident (VCI) response training.

"Teachers and staff are trained on how to react to an actual situation," Schwertman said. "People that are in law enforcement don't think about (crisis response) the way that a teacher is going to think about it."

Like all educators, parents and students, Schwertman hopes to never encounter a situation warranting ALICE at school, but acknowledges school districts need to stay proactive.

This June, North Scott plans to hold a "full-scale" active shooter-to-reunification exercise with multiple law enforcement agencies.

"We're testing the limits on what we have," Schwertman said. "Obviously, we have paper copies of everything — but it's just to kind of see how it works."

Davenport schools hold ALICE and weather-related drills and discussions at the beginning of each quarter.

"State law requires two tornado drills and two fire drills every six months," Neyrinck said. "Part of the reason we do it every quarter is because we have different kids coming in; at the high school level, your classroom can change by quarter."

This helps ensure crisis response expectations are clear, he added, especially when students might be moving among their buildings throughout the school day.

Davenport Police Department is also involved in maintaining school safety protocols.

"On an ongoing basis, Quad City first responders collaboratively evaluate nationwide best practices and responses in order to ensure the safety of our community," said Owen Farrell, DPD's public safety communications manager.

This includes trainings such as the multi-agency active killer and rescue task force training conducted at Vibrant Arena last summer. This year, a regional active killer rescue task force training will be held at Davenport Central High School.

"This allows Quad City first responders from Scott and Rock Island Counties to practice a multi-agency response that an active killer incident in our community would require," Farrell said.

Farrell also said one tactic the department uses when responding to these types of incidents is a rescue task force concept, in which a team of law enforcement and fire personnel enter the scene and provide medical care and evacuation directions.

When law enforcement holds active shooter training, Neyrinck said his team tries to get as many Davenport school leaders in attendance.

"They may just be role players, and it just may be for them to be able to witness and see," he said. "...It may help them prepare a little differently when they watch (crisis response) in action."

Rock Island-Milan schools also use ALICE. Administrators of the Rock Island school district were not immediately available for comment due to two threats to safety earlier this week.

Illinois State Police officers are trained in Rapid Deployment, which is designed to stop an active shooter/threat. To assist local law enforcement agencies, who are typically on scene first, ISP has offered training to local law enforcement agencies on rapid deployment curriculum, according to Melaney Arnold, ISP public information officer.

"Also, when invited by school administrators, ISP provides stop-the-bleed instruction for faculty, staff, and students, along with American Heart Association CPR and First-Aid," said Arnold. "Additionally, ISP offers educational programs to schools, including active shooter response training, internet safety, and other presentations through the Safety Education Unit."

In the event of an active shooter, UT teaches the "run-hide-fight" method.

"If there are gunshots, do one of three things: If shots are heard from a distance, run (or get out of the building) if possible," Morrow explained. "If near, but not immediate, lock doors. If possible, turn out lights and hide — stay away from windows or lines of sight."

Only if confronted by a shooter are UT students and staff instructed to "fight" — that is, throw objects, create a distraction and/or do anything possible to protect themselves.

How districts communicate plans

In larger school districts like those in the Quad-Cities metro, it's especially important to keep emergency response protocols clear and consistent.

To do this, Bettendorf schools partnered with the "I Love U Guys" Foundation — a nonprofit crisis response and post-crisis reunification program developer — for district-wide signage, professional development and reunification planning.

"We had the (I Love U Guys) template to work from ... and we were also working with our police and fire departments," to develop Bettendorf schools' reunification plan, said communications director Celeste Miller, who led much of this outreach work.

Reunification sites, Morse said, ultimately came down to accommodating, "what experts said would be the most efficient and safest way to reunify."

Additionally, the district will station mental health experts, such as school psychologists and counselors, at the off-campus reunification sites.

Bettendorf school leaders have hosted reunification walkthroughs for building administrators, school board members and all middle and high school building staff, and are working on finding a time for elementary staff.

In the future, Morse hopes to simulate a reunification event with students, staff and parents to gauge what the process might look like in real-time.

The district's School Improvement Advisory Committee (SIAC) — a board-appointed group of parents, teachers, administrators and Bettendorf community members — participated in a walkthrough on Monday, Jan. 29.

Michael Burns, a SIAC member with five children in Bettendorf schools, said the district does a "tremendous job" of addressing school safety proactively, including with community partnerships.

"It's very good to see (the district) has thought through some of those (school safety) challenges — some of those lessons that were learned the hard way in other areas," he said.

While he notes how "no district" is perfect, Burns said Bettendorf schools' day-to-day safety measures help put his mind at ease.

"(Secure) entrance into the schools is a really big one for me, ensuring the right people are getting into the facilities," he said. "The automatic locking doors is another good one, I think that's huge."


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