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North Carolina law requires all public schools to have at least one lockdown drill per school year, with many schools opting to have more. In addition, officials may choose to place their schools on lockdown because of real or perceived threats throughout the year.
While these instances appear to be becoming part of a routine school year, no one seems to be keeping track of how much these drills and lockdowns are costing the school systems.
However, Mike Anderson, N.C. Department of Public Instruction community development and training manager, said this is something he thinks about, even if he cannot put a dollar amount on the cost.
“I have never been able to really put a cost on it,” Anderson said.
“The minute you call for a lockdown, the cash register doesn’t start going, per se. If you’re doing a drill, it’s really going to cost nothing other than time.”
That changes when schools respond to an actual or perceived emergency. “That’s where all the costs start coming in — first responder time and equipment,” Anderson said.
Anderson’s inability to put a cost on lockdowns is not unique. He said he speaks with people across the country, and while they all agree there is a cost, no one can agree what that cost is.
Going into lockdown
According to the Public Schools of North Carolina Report to the North Carolina General Assembly 2016-2017 Consolidated Data Report, there were 105 cases of possession of a firearm or powerful explosive and 89 bomb threats in public schools in the 2016-17 school year.
Anderson said threats such as these often cause lockdowns, which he described as a chain reaction.
“What you want to do is get anybody and everybody out of the immediate area,” Anderson said. “Evacuate everybody out of the immediate area. You start trying to secure people in secure places as quick as you can, whether that’s in a closet or in a cabinet or in a locked classroom, somewhere where you’re going to put a barrier between you and whoever is trying to cause you harm.”
The purpose of drills is to practice getting everyone to a safe location in a timely manner in the event of a real emergency. In this case, Anderson said, the only real cost is time.
Unlike other drills where students need to be out of the building in a certain amount of time — 10 minutes for a fire drill, for example — there is no time limit for lockdowns. The only goal is to get everyone safe.
However, when a real threat is perceived and a lockdown is called for, timing becomes important.
“An average shooting lasts three to 12 minutes usually, and average law enforcement response is five to 20 minutes, so it’s in that zero- to five-minute mark where schools kind of have to fend for themselves,” Anderson said.
“Usually by the time you get everything locked down and secure, the event is over.”
Renee McCoy, executive director of communications for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, said school administrators work with the local police department to determine when a lockdown should take place and determine the steps to be taken.
When emergency services are called to the scene, costs are generated for the city, but these costs are not always monitored.
Christina Hallingse, Asheville Police Department public information officer, said APD does not keep a record of the cost to send law enforcement to lockdowns.
“There are many variables — rank of officer, time served in the department, how long the officer was on the scene — that would affect the total cost,” Hallingse said.
“The Asheville Police Department takes all potential threats to schools seriously and responds accordingly.”
When a juvenile called in a bomb threat to Asheville Middle School in early November, there was no bomb, but the school was on lockdown for several hours. APD was on the scene assessing the situation and escorting students to safety.
When asked how much this incident cost the city, the answer was simply, “We don’t know.”
Likewise, McCoy said CMS does not keep track of these expenses either. However, after a fatal shooting at Butler High School in Matthews on Oct. 29, the county is putting more money into security.
According to the new CMS safety website, Superintendent Clayton Wilcox has already purchased 50 metal-detecting wands, costing around $300 each, to use starting in January with new safety measures.
Before the shooting, Mecklenburg County commissioners approved $9.2 million for additional safety measures. According to a Nov. 16 press release, the school system plans to use this money for panic alarm cards, fences and security measures.
McCoy said while these new safety measures will help, CMS will continue to follow its current lockdown procedures and consider every lockdown necessary. Anderson said while some may see it as a waste of time, it is necessary.
“If a school is deeming it fit when they put a school on lockdown, they’re not going to do it half-heartedly,” Anderson said.
“I haven’t seen any schools that say, ‘Well, we should have never done that, and that was a bad call on our part. There’s nothing that justified it.’ They’re going to play on the side of caution and be proactive in that.”
For more information:
- CMS Safety Website: http://www.cms.k12.nc.us/cmssafety/Pages/default.aspx
- Public Schools of North Carolina Report to the North Carolina General Assembly 2016-2017 Consolidated Data Report: http://www.ncpublicschools.org/docs/research/discipline/reports/consolidated/2016-17/consolidated-report.pdf
- Article 8C: https://www.ncleg.net/EnactedLegislation/Statutes/PDF/ByArticle/Chapter_115C/Article_8C.pdf
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