Senator proposes panic door study

DSHS continues to implement school safety initiative
December 31, 2012

Sen. Dave Lawson, R-Marydel, announced Dec. 21 he would introduce a resolution to research the feasibility of constructing panic doors in Delaware public school classrooms.  The General Assembly is scheduled to convene Tuesday, Jan. 8.

Lawson announced the proposal one week after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., when a 20-year-old man shot and killed 20 children and six school employees before turning the gun on himself.

In a press release, Lawson said he aims to introduce a bill to fund construction of an escape door in each ground-floor, exterior classroom through which students and teachers could escape in the event of an emergency. “We have to know what the cost is, and that’s what the resolution is asking,” Lawson said.

The resolution would charge state agencies with investigating whether Lawson’s plan makes fiscal sense. Lawson said the departments of education, homeland security and the Office of Management and Budget could possibly spearhead the study.

OMB Director Ann Visalli said in an email the department would review Lawson’s resolution after it is introduced.  “Until that time, we continue to focus on access to mental health services, improved school safety planning and stricter gun laws as three areas that should be addressed in the wake of recent tragedies,” Visalli wrote.

Lawson spent 27 years with the Delaware State Police. During that time he served as commander of the Special Operations Response Team, which specializes in hostage rescue.

“Most classrooms have large windows,” Lawson said. “If there was a panic door in place of one of the windows, the occupants could escape quickly. These doors would be secured in a manner that they could only be opened from the inside. This type of exit would also be valuable for fires, bomb threats and any time that a quick evacuation was necessary.”

Lawson said lockdown procedures, put in place after the Columbine shootings in 1999, are flawed.  “In my opinion, a lockdown places the children in much more danger,” Lawson said. “They’re locked in a room where they’re at the mercy of an assailant. This is the problem; they’re trapped. With an escape door they would be out of the danger zone in seconds.”

A representative of the Department of Education said the Department of Safety and Homeland Security had taken over school safety initiatives.

In September, Gov. Jack Markell signed the Omnibus School Safety Act, which requires DSHS to work with schools and first responders to develop comprehensive, individual safety plans.  Each plan will be coordinated with local law enforcement agencies, fire departments and other first responders and will comply with the National Incident Management System. The act is mandated to be operational by Sept. 10, 2017.

DSHS Secretary Lewis Schiliro said in an email he has not been involved in research related to panic doors, but all Delaware schools regularly test emergency evacuations.

Schiliro said his department is working to implement the Omnibus School Safety Act.

“Our assessment during the comprehensive plan review will certainly review and evaluate that process,” Schiliro said of evacuating procedures. “We are also monitoring all national school security changes and welcome any idea that would improve safety in our schools,” Schiliro said.

“We continue to work with all our partners on providing the safest possible environment for Delaware students. There are many ideas that we will continue to assess with the school districts and with the first responder community,” Schiliro said.


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