2007-05-05 / News

Local schools prepared for emergencies

By Scott Rawdon

LAKE AREA- Lakewood School District Superintendent Jay Gault absolutely believes his school district is prepared for an emergency situation, in the wake of the Virginia Tech tragedy where a lone gunman killed 32 students and wounded many more April 16.

Buckeye Lake Area schools are no more or less vulnerable to violence than other rural American school districts, but it's still best to assume our schools are vulnerable, and take every precaution possible, said area superintendents.

Gault said all of Lakewood's lockdowns and security measures have been monitored by the Licking County Sheriff's Department as well as the Hebron Police Department and other emergency response units. "The reality of it all is you that you can prepare for it and pray it doesn't happen, but in the end, can we really stop someone who wants to hurt us?" he said. "I hope and pray we can."

Last spring, the Liberty Union-Thurston School District requested the assistance of the fire, police, and sheriff's departments to update its crisis plan. "It was helpful to have those enitities look at our plan and make suggestions for improvement," said Superintendent Paul Mathews. "We live in a society which places a high priority on freedom, not security. Because of that, we are always somewhat vulnerable to attack." Without divulging security information, Mathews said his district's crisis plan provides direction for dealing with many emergency situations, and the district relies on quick response from emergency personnel.

"It is important to remember that some of our best protection is provided when we all work together to look out for one another, are observant to warning signs, and are quick to report potential problems so that they can be investigated," said Mathews. "I hope this is the message we that we are encouraging at home and throughout the community."

"We never stopped working on (security)," said Northern Local Schools Superintendent Jack Porter. "I don't think you can ever be prepared enough." His district has an updated plan, he said. Se curity is one of the most common issues when he talks to the building principals, said Porter. The district's newest buildings can be locked down from one desk and the older buildings are always locked, except for one door.

Northern Local's challenge, said Porter, is that the district covers nearly 165 square miles and the individual buildings are far apart. "That's a lot of territory. It's not just securing buildings," he said. His staff discusses security on buses and tries to keep the spaces between the schools in mind. The buildings have security cameras, he said, as do many of the buses, which also have radios and cell phones. Porter said the students do their share to help bring security issues to light.

No school district can afford to be complacent, he said. All superintendents agreed that it's impossible to prepare for every emergency situation, but it's imperitive to be prepared for as many as possible.

Licking County Sheriff 's Deputy Dan German, who is stationed at Lakewood High School, said that it's not a matter of changing security policies as much as being diligent about following the existing policies. He wants to be sure that the students working the front desk are sure always to contact him or a staff member if a person enters the school without stopping at the officefirst. From his perspective, it's important to check the doors regularly to make they are locked during the day and to follow up on every every call or claim of a suspicious person or situation.

"It's not to make parents panic," said German. "It's to heighten awareness." The Virginia Tech tragedy brought home the importance of staying alert and not allowing what could be a suspicious situation, however minor, to be ignored.

German said in general the students are being more careful since the Virginia Tech incident, which is good, but everyone also needs to keep everything in perspective and not become alarmed at every situation. In fact, it's necessary to stay calm in all circumstances, especially if there is an emergency. "People still need to use some sense of reality," he said.

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