Emergency protocols in place for Lower Mainland students

Vancouver school officials say they empathize with those mourning after Friday's massacre of 20 young students and six adults at a school in Connecticut, but insist local schools - and students - are safe.
Parents leave a staging area after being reunited with their children following a shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. (Jessica Hill/AP)

Vancouver school officials say they empathize with those mourning after Friday’s massacre of 20 young students and six adults at a school in Connecticut, but insist local schools — and students — are safe.

"The safety measures we have in place at the school board are excellent and I wouldn't expect any changes at this time," said board spokesman Kurt Heinrich.

"But certainly any time something like this happens, one of the first things we're more concerned about and thinking about is to make sure that our students feel secure and safe in their school."

Heinrich said school officials run regular drills with students to make sure they're familiar with what to do in case of emergency.

He also said school counsellors are standing by to help students affected by Friday's distressing news.

If there is a disturbance near a school, officials will lock a school's outside doors in a Code Yellow.

If a threat is closer, it will go to Code Red and go into a full-scale lockdown.

"We're always really careful and we'll always overreact if need be," Heinrich said. "The safety of our students is the core thing for us."

Similar precautions are taken by the Abbotsford School Board, according to spokesman Dave Stephen.

"We have a critical incident response team that meets throughout the year that includes members from the police department and other external agencies and we plan and look for any material that needs updating," Stephen said.

School officials in Burnaby also sought to reassure parents of school-aged children that protocols are in place to respond to crises.

"While the potential for such an incident taking place in our schools is low, in response to this incident, our school staff has reviewed our emergency management procedures," Burnaby Mountain Secondary School principal Brian Jackson said in an email to parents Friday.

"Additionally, a strong partnership with the Burnaby RCMP ensures that we work together to keep our schools and communities safe. Staff has been asked to watch for student reaction and to offer support if needed."

Dealing with children when tragedy strikes

How pre-school age children might respond to the tragedy:

  • Stomach cramps or headaches.
  • Reluctant to go to school.
  • Bed-wetting, thumb sucking, baby talk, or a fear of sleeping alone.

What you can do:

  • Reassure young children they are safe, especially at night.
  • Provide them with loving comfort and care, both physically and emotionally.
  • Answer all questions they may ask, find out each child’s particular fears and concerns through discussion.
  • Structure children’s play so it serves as an outlet for them to express fear or anger  

How elementary-school age children might respond to the tragedy:

  • Have many questions about the tragedy.
  • Concerned for a parent who is distressed.

What you can do:

  • Be honest. Don’t tell your child not to worry as it will just make him/her worry more.
  • Remind your child that they are now safe and that tragedies are rare.
  • Fears usually increase around bedtime. Try to stick around until child falls asleep.
  • Schedule an activity – story reading, drawing, movies or letter writing, for example – during news show to limit your child’s exposure to the media.
  • Some children find comfort in expressing themselves through playing games or drawing scenes of tragedy. Allow them to do so and then talk about it. This gives you a chance to "re-tell" the ending of the game or story they have expressed in pictures with an emphasis on personal safety.
  • Don’t be afraid to say, "I don’t know." Temper this by explaining that adults are always working hard to keep children safe and secure.

How adolescents might respond to the tragedy:

  • Trying to down-play their worries.
  • Expressing fear by acting out.
  • Regressing to younger habits.

What you can do to help:

  • Talk about their issues, keep lines of communication, be honest. Children with existing emotional problems such as depression may require careful supervision and additional support.
  • Monitor their media exposure to the event and information they receive on the Internet.
  • Adolescents may turn to their friends for support. Encourage friends and families to get together and discuss the event to allay fears.

Source: Mental Health America

With files from the CBC's Dan Burritt