The Jefferson County (Colo.) district is considering whether to tear down Columbine High School.

20 years after Columbine, the Jefferson County (Colo.) district stresses school security

April 5, 2019
Since the attack that killed 13 on April 20,1999, the suburban Denver district has established what some call the most sophisticated school security system in the United States.

Twenty years after a shooting attack at Columbine High School killed 13 people and wounded 24 more, the Jefferson County (Colo.) school district continues to work on ways to prevent the horrific violence that scarred the community and shocked the nation.

The Washington Post reports that since 1999, Jefferson County has built what is likely the most sophisticated school security system in the nation.

Among its elements: locks that can be remotely controlled and cameras that track suspicious people; a 24-hour dispatch center and a team of armed patrol officers; monitoring of troubled students and their social media; training from world-renowned psychologists and former SWAT commanders; researching and investing, practicing and re-practicing.

At the center of it is John McDonald, a police officer turned security expert who became head of safety and security for the Jefferson County district 11 years ago because his only daughter was going to attend Columbine.

He is responsible for the safety of 157 schools and the 85,000 students who attend classes in the district.

As the 20th anniversary of the April 20, 1999, shooting approaches, interest in Columbine, which has long festered on the Internet, is spilling into the real world with greater frequency. Every day, multiple times a day, people show up at the high school wanting to see it, photograph it and get inside it. McDonald’s team usually stops them before they can even step out of their cars.

Despite a $3 million budget and a team of 127 people working beneath him, McDonald personally checks every alert from Safe2Tell, the online system Colorado students and parents use to report anything of concern.

In the world of school safety, so many of the practices taught in 2019 have their origins at Columbine and in all that went wrong there in 1999.

Police did not go into the building that day until a SWAT team arrived. Now, officers are trained to enter immediately and take down the shooter, even if it means stepping over bodies.

The radio McDonald was using to talk to dispatch also connected to the area’s other first responders and law enforcement agencies. Twenty years ago, schools, police and emergency medical services had no single frequency on which they could all operate.

First responders also didn’t have a blueprint of Columbine when they arrived, meaning many had no sense of the layout inside. Now McDonald keeps detailed floor plans of all 157 Jefferson County district schools in his trunk.

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