`Hard to compare' security before Columbine

From tactics to building design, shooting left an impact

Posted 4/17/19

Chris Wilderman was a Northglenn Police officer back on April 20, 1999, when the first calls about a shooting at a metro Denver High School first started coming in. “I was heading to a school, …

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`Hard to compare' security before Columbine

From tactics to building design, shooting left an impact

Posted

Chris Wilderman was a Northglenn Police officer back on April 20, 1999, when the first calls about a shooting at a metro Denver High School first started coming in.

“I was heading to a school, ironically enough, when Columbine happened,” said Wilderman, now Director of Safe and Sustainable Environments for the Adams 12 Five Star School district. “Our whole world changed that day. From police tactics and more recently to fire tactics to much more collaboration between schools and first responders, everything has changed for the better.”

School safety and security is just one of the things that Wilderman manages for the district, but it’s become a bigger job since the Columbine shootings.

“It’s not to say we didn’t take it seriously before, but it just wasn’t on our radar like it was after Columbine,” he said. “We do a lot more preventative type training and work to prevent it from happening in the first place — as opposed to being reactionary. It’s hard to even compare where we were before with where we are now.”

The police tactic used in 1999 was to surround the school with a SWAT team. That’s no longer the case.

“Now, we realize that law enforcement has to get in and do something right away,” he said. “We went from teams of five officers going in, to teams of four officers and then three. If you saw what happened at Arapahoe High School a couple of years ago, that School Resource Officer didn’t wait. He went in right away.”

One vulnerability was school entrances. Wilderman notices that some older high schools have as many as 60 potential entrances that were in use before Columbine. Today, all school administrators try to funnel students, parents and visitors into a single controlled exit.

“It’s a lot easier to do with a new school that we build, but it’s not like we tore down all of our schools that were built before 1999,” he said. “We’ve done a lot better corraling people to one point of entry, but that’s still on our minds.”

Staffing is a big issue, as well. The district spends much of its time working with teachers and other staff to make sure they are helping the kids.

“When we look at school safety and security, we don’t just consider entrances and cameras and buzz-in systems,” he said. “We need to make sure we have the proper amount of social and emotional counselors in the building and do you have evidence-based programs to rely on?”

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