St. Clair Police Department Chief Bill Hammack and Franklin County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Steve Elliott are in agreement that awareness is one of the first key components to being able to handle an active shooter situation in one of the R-XIII district schools.
The two law enforcement officers attended last week’s board of education meeting and along with Superintendent Mike Murphy updated those in attendance with action plans if a security situation is warranted and buildings need to be locked down.
“The most important tool teachers have is their mind set,” Elliott said during the school safety discussion. “They have to be prepared. Preparedness is part of that mind set. They have to be aware of what can happen and how they can best handle a situation.
“It’s part of the job now, unfortunately. We have to prepare for the worst. For teachers and students, we have to prepare them for what this could be like.”
Murphy said the district has had lockdown procedures in place for several years. However, the tragic shooting deaths of 20 students and six teachers in Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut last month has served as a catalyst for districts to take a closer view of what they have in place and to see if anything can be done to improve security upgrades.
St. Clair R-XIII has done exactly that in recent weeks.
“We are continuing to review procedures and will elevate training,” the superintendent said. “We need to have the discussion about new levels of training with teachers. They didn’t get into the business to have to deal with this. They’re in this to educate. But, it’s important for us to discuss the philosophy of the level of training we want in our buildings.”
No decisions were made by the board of education during the Jan. 10 meeting, but the discussion served as an informational conversation for everyone involved.
Hammack took the awareness aspect a step further when he addressed the R-XIII board.
“The goal is to have all school districts on the same page and following the same plan,” he said. “If there is an active shooter, all police departments (in the area) will respond in some manner. It will help if we can respond in the same manner and know what to expect in each school.”
“It is important for everyone to be on the same page,” he said.
Hammack said in order to reach that common ground, it’s key to have districts have a specific plan in place.
“It’s important for districts to think about what you’re willing to do to prepare yourself,” he said.
And that preparation, both law enforcement officials said, comes with training.
“You have fire drills to practice,” Hammack said. “Practice this kind of training, too.”
“After awareness is actually putting a plan together,” Elliott said. “Everyone has a plan, but how far has it been implemented? You should have actual rehearsals and practice over and over again like a fire drill.”
Elliott said the chances of a shooting event happening in a local school are slim, but the randomness of the acts should have all districts as ready as possible to deal with a situation like it.
He said there have been about 58 school shootings in the United States since 1996, or more than three a year. In those shootings, he said, 135 children have been killed and another 165 wounded. Also, 35 adults have died and about 12-13 injured.
“This (threat) isn’t going to go away,” Elliott said. “The trend to me is that it’s going to get worse, not better.
“So, our challenge is what can we do as a school and as law enforcement to best deal with this?”
Area superintendents and other school officials met with local law enforcement officers earlier this month at East Central College where a dialogue on preparedness was started as a group. Another meeting is scheduled for Jan. 31.
Murphy said St. Clair R-XIII currently has one of three options in place to deal with district security issues. The levels of lockdown are for an active shooter, other kinds of actual lockdown situations and a precautionary lockdown. The procedure dictates that the building principal or designess determines if a lockdown is warranted. The central office and police immediately are contacted.
When any level of lockdown is activated, all district buildings, including transportation and the Franklin County Cooperative, will be on lockdown status. They will remain in that mode until an all-clear has been issued.
“Communication will be a point of emphasis we now will practice,” Murphy said. “We will practice this process. The next steps will be to initiate drill processes and move toward any kind of training.”