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Schools look at safety in wake of Conn. shootings

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‘I do believe we keep them as safe as you possibly can, but with that said, we are still trying to improve on everything.’

By Calen McKinney

Local school systems are safe, administrators say, and plans are in place should an emergency situation arise at them.

In the wake of a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where nearly 30 people were killed, discussion about safety plans has taken place at the public school systems in Taylor County, along with Campbellsville University.

At the two local public school systems, emergency drills are scheduled throughout the year. At Campbellsville University, students who live on campus practice emergency procedures and all students receive alerts about emergency situations.

At Campbellsville Independent Schools, according to Superintendent Mike Deaton, there are more than 1,300 people on campus each school day.

Deaton said Campbellsville schools undergo fire, tornado, earthquake and lockdown drills to practice emergency procedures.

“We also have routine safety inspections of our buildings and playgrounds.”

He says the schools perform fire drills on a monthly basis, and tornado drills are done in late winter and early spring.

Students practice earthquake drills at the beginning of each school year and then again during each semester. Lockdown drills are done each semester, Deaton said, and safety inspections are done throughout the year.

If someone came into the school with the intention of hurting someone, Deaton said, the school would follow its lockdown procedures.

“If someone were to come into one of our buildings and made threats to the safety of our people, then all doors, both interior and exterior, would be locked and students would be moved away from doors and windows by staff members in as calm a manner as possible,” he said.

“Students would be supervised at all times and roll call would occur in order to report any missing students to the principal’s office. Obviously 911 would be called immediately if needed. The lockdown would remain in effect until the all clear is given.”

When law enforcement officials arrive on the scene, Taylor County Sheriff Allen Newton says, their focus is eliminating the situation.

“We go straight to the problem,” he said. “We take care of the threat. That’s what law enforcement does. You can’t practice for that.”

Newton said schools and businesses can practice how they should react in emergency situations, but should keep in mind to expect the unexpected.

“Every situation’s different,” he said.
Newton said he recommends that schools and businesses stay up-to-date on their emergency procedures.

“Handle every situation for what it is.”

And though many places have emergency procedures, Newton says he believes there is no way to make a public building completely foolproof. He said there will always be people coming in and out of a school. The key to maintaining safety, he said, is to balance safety precautions without making people angry.

“And still not make the parents feel like criminals when they come get their children.”

Across town at Taylor County Schools, on any given day, Superintendent Roger Cook says there are about 3,200 people on campus. Safety measures at Taylor County schools include locked doors, resource officers, cameras, office check-in procedures and more. Cook said students practice evacuating for fires and have tornado and earthquake drills. Students also practice their lockdown procedures, as they did last Monday.

“All schools were mandated by me to practice lockdown drills on Monday morning,” Cook said.

“Because of the chance of scaring the small children, the elementary did it class by class instead of doing it over the intercom all at once.”

Taylor County students go through fire drills once a month, earthquake drills once each semester and go through tornado and lockdown procedures twice a year.

“But [lockdown drills are] going to be more often now, probably once a quarter at random times,” Cook said.

“Students are taught what to do during an emergency and practice it.”

If an emergency situation should arise at Taylor County Schools, Cook said, teachers call for school resource officers, who contact local law enforcement.

When learning that a threat has been made at a local school, Campbellsville Police Chief Tim Hazlette said, his officers would respond and find out as much about the allegation as possible by interviewing witnesses. The last interview would be the person accused of making the threat.

Hazlette said it is important that law enforcement know if a threat has been made. It’s also important that the accused know that police are investigating.

“Let them know that we know.”

A rumor circulated years ago that those involved in a shooting at a school told people about their plans before putting them into action, Hazlette said. He says those who are told this kind of information should report it.

“They’ll tell it to somebody,” he said.

Hazlette said he began reviewing the local school systems’ emergency plans last week to become more familiar with them.

“On the face value, they look like they follow the pretty standard template or protocol,” he said.

Hazlette said he recently sent the school systems a letter asking for a review of their traffic flow in the afternoons. If an emergency happened then, he said, it’s very important that law enforcement be able to get to the schools quickly.

At CU, there are about 2,200 students, faculty and staff members on campus on an average day.
Kyle Davis, CU’s director of campus safety/security, said the university has safety officers patrolling the campus at all times.

“These officers have direct radio communication with local emergency responders and local law enforcement agencies,” he said.

CU also has an alert notification system called “CU ALERTS that Davis says allows students, faculty and staff members to receive information about severe weather, a campus crisis situation or other important information via text messaging, email and voicemail. “CU also uses HD cameras to monitor areas throughout campus along with access control systems that limit individuals going in and out of sensitive areas such as resident halls, computer labs and other areas vital to securing campus property.”

CU students participate in emergency fire drills as directed by Campbellsville Fire & Rescue on a regular basis, Davis said.

“Students who live on campus will also be briefed by resident assistants and resident directors about what to do if there is an emergency during hall meetings at the beginning of each semester.”

Students receive an emergency procedure handbook when they arrive on campus that outlines what they should do in an emergency situation. Those who attend CU but don’t live on campus also have access to the information, Davis said.

If there was an emergency situation on campus, Davis said, local law enforcement officials would be called. If the situation is serious, he said, the CU ALERT system would notify students and faculty of what to do.

“School administrators will also discuss other options such as ‘locking down’ the school or evacuating specific areas of campus.”

Though administrators at local school systems are reviewing their emergency plans, they say they believe they will keep students safe in an emergency.

Deaton said he believes Campbellsville schools provide a safe environment for students to learn.

“ ... And it is important that our parents and guardians believe that is the case,” he said. “Since the tragedy in Newtown, all of us have gone back and practiced our safety procedures in order to determine if further measures need to be taken. We also sought the advice of the Campbellsville Police in assessing our emergency procedures.”

Deaton said he and his staff members will continue to look for additional safety precautions to take to assure parents that Campbellsville schools are the safest place to be during the day.

Cook said Taylor County officials have discussed safety procedures since the shooting in Newtown.

“I do believe we keep them as safe as you possibly can, but with that said, we are still trying to improve on everything. I am talking with the sheriff about adding another resource officer.

“I am adding another buzzer to the back door of the middle school and some new cameras. There will be ongoing further discussions.” Davis said he CU officials often discuss how to make the campus safer. This month, he said, officials facilitated a discussion about campus emergency preparedness by simulating what would happen if there was a severe weather event and someone with a gun on campus.

“In addition to cross-agency training, we continue to look at other security technologies and upgrades to our current systems to improve campus safety,” Davis said. “It is always better to be proactive than reactive.”

Davis said the CU family sends it prayers to the Newton community.

“CU administrators have noted that the recent shootings are a reminder of the importance of emergency operational planning, and that we must continue to review our emergency plans and procedures on an ongoing basis,” he said.