How prepared are we?

Published 11:00 pm Monday, December 17, 2012

School administrators reflect on local safety plans after school shooting

The tragic deaths of 20 children and six women during a gunman’s rampage at a Connecticut school sent shockwaves of grief and concern throughout the country.

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Locally, Pike County school officials are looking hard at their own safety plans and, in some cases, even considering new measures to ensure the safest schools possible.

“We’ve watched our babies come down the hall this morning and get out of the car with their parents. You look at those big bright eyes and then think that there are parents are out there burying their children this week,” said Pike Liberal Arts School Headmaster Ceil Sikes. “We don’t want this shooting to define us, but we want to do everything we can to make certain to protect our children.”

At PLAS, staff members are briefed on comprehensive safety plans at the beginning of each year and the entire school practices different drills so that students are prepared, too.

“We’ve got almost every scenario in our comprehensive plan and law enforcement agencies have copies of those,” Sikes said. “They also have a map of our building and know where each room and entries and exits are.”

Sikes said local educators and administrators have gone through so many emotions and feelings of “what if” since Friday.

“I don’t think you can ever be too prepared, and you hope that those kinds of things never happen,” said Sikes. “But we are always in discussion with local authorities. We are always looking to make things better. Nothing is a perfect situation.”

At Troy City Schools, Superintendent Lee Hicks said the school system has a crisis management plan in place that deals with everything from fire and tornado situations to armed intruders.

“We have a strong relationship with our police department and city officials,” Hicks said. “We are very fortunate. We have a School Resource Officer that covers the schools and we have four police officers out every morning directing traffic.”

Troy City Schools are currently upgrading security cameras at all campuses and those cameras can be viewed by the police department and administrators using a secure computer, Hicks said.

“We will sit down and re-evaluate our plan,” Hicks said. “We try to be prepared. The school in Connecticut was following their plan and it saved some lives. They were trying to protect those children when the adults were slain. We will try to learn from what happened there, too.”

One way TCS will be better prepared in the future is with the use of Virtual Alabama which gives first responders information about specific schools. Another way is by taking the relationship between first responders and the school system to the next level.

TCS has set up a meeting with police concerning school safety with training planned at the beginning of the new year.

“We want the police and fire department and other responders to feel they know the school grounds as well as our teachers do. We want them to know exactly where to go and not have a question in their mind as to where things are,” Hicks said. “We will definitely have that in place within a year.”

Pike County Schools in partnership with the Pike County Sheriff’s Department had a deputy at every campus Monday to help ease the minds of parents and students after Friday’s shooting.

“The events in Newtown are just absolutely horrible,” said Pike County Schools Superintendent Dr. Mark Bazzell. “I just can’t imagine what those parents and students and school system and community are going through. It’s just a horrible, horrible situation.”

Bazzell said PCS has system safety plans in place and also local school safety plans. Those plans call for schools to practice a variety of different scenarios, which include weather drills and a situation similar to what happened in Connecticut.

“We do have lockdown drills where schools go through a procedure much like the one at Sandy Hook Elementary,” Bazzell said. “Teachers lock classrooms and seek safety for their students.”

PCS also incorporates the use of Virtual Alabama to help first responders be efficient if they need to respond to a school.

“The coordination between the outside agencies and the school system has been great,” Bazzell said.

Pike County Sheriff Russell Thomas agreed.

“We have a good relationship with our county schools. If ever a problem arises we talk about it and communicate our concerns,” Thomas said. “After what happened on Friday, Dr. Bazzell and I talked and decided it would be a good idea to be present on all of our schools’ campuses Monday morning.”

Thomas said other deputies stopped in throughout the day for lunch and to visit and the extra presence from deputies was well received. That increased presence will continue at least until the Christmas holidays.

“We want to continue to be more visible,” Thomas said. “We never want to experience anything even similar to what happened in Connecticut. Whatever the schools need us, they call us. That is what we are here for.”