On Dec. 14, a gunman walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School and killed 26 people - 20 first-graders and six adults - before killing himself as police arrived.
The shooting left the people of Newtown, Conn., heartbroken, and it has hit close to home for educators and administrators at Whatcom County schools.
"My heart bleeds for the families there," Ferndale Superintendent Linda Quinn said. "But also for families here who have to worry."
School districts throughout Whatcom County have policies and procedures to keep students safe - from required visitor check-ins to drills - and some will be reviewing those policies once school is back in session after the winter break.
"I think it heightened our awareness that those things can happen and they can happen in any community," Lynden Superintendent Jim Frey said. "You make the best plans you can and hope you never have to use them."
In Lynden and Ferndale, part of their safety procedures are tabletop discussions with teachers, administrators and law enforcement representatives to flesh out what staff should do in a variety of emergencies. They'll go over a particular scenario and discuss who would be in charge and how people should be responding to make sure that their plans make sense.
Quinn said she plans on reminding staff and parents to keep an eye out for anything suspicious, and call 911 or the office if they see something that seems out of the ordinary.
"Take no chances," she said.
At Bellingham, administrators will get together after winter break to review training and look over school maps the district shares with law enforcement officials to make sure they are updated and accurate, said Bellingham Superintendent Greg Baker.
The district opens up its schools for law enforcement training several times a year. On Wednesday, Dec. 19, the Whatcom County Sheriff's Office used Wade King Elementary to stage training for its Special Response Team, which practiced how it would respond to a shooter in the school. The training had been planned before the Sandy Hook shootings, and the team usually does three or four of them per year at local schools.
"The more places we can get familiar with, the better it is," said Kent Catlin, deputy director of the Sheriff's Office Department of Emergency Management. "You get to know the key people at that building, that agency or that organization, then you know who you need to call if a situation starts developing."
Building strong relationships between districts and local agencies is an important piece of the readiness puzzle, Catlin said, and something he'd like to see districts continue to work on.
"I like what I see, but there are areas we can improve on, as there are in all communities," he said
Schools throughout the county practice lockdowns and evacuations. For lockdowns, teachers practice locking classroom and outside doors and keeping themselves calm to keep children calm. In evacuations, they practice keeping track of all the students and getting to somewhere safe in an emergency. Then they collect feedback on any issues during drills to try to figure out what doesn't work and what does.
"That's a regular part of schools these days, regular practice for students and staff of procedures in case of emergencies," Baker said.
Though it seems impossible to predict when a tragedy will occur, prevention is a big piece of the puzzle. Bellingham recently brought back its district resource officer, a Bellingham Police officer who works in schools full time. The district also added counselors to elementary schools this year to add another resource for students who may be in crisis.
"Big picture: Our schools are safe places," Baker said. "When these crises hit it gives us time to pause, reflect and improve what we do. We don't want to lose in the midst of that that overall schools are safe places for kids. We want to maintain that feeling of security, balanced with always keeping in mind to always make sure that they are as safe as can be."