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Schools increase security measures

LAKE COUNTY — Local school districts have revamped safety plans and increased security measures in the year that passed since a gunman stormed Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., but officials say there is still room for improvement. 

Many schools across Lake County added electronic security systems last year, said Charlo School Superintendent Thom Peck in a September school board meeting. The systems have electronic locks that only open to staff with an electronic key. Some also have camera systems. 

“Everybody’s doing it and Mission Valley Security is swamped,” Peck said. “It’s almost become commonplace.” 

Parents still felt the need to ask board member Dianna Kelley why security doors for the school were necessary after they were installed. 

“I’ve had several people call and ask about why we have to have security doors. They have no idea of the number of people who may be around that we don’t want to have around our kids,” Kelley said.

Board chairman Shane Reum said because Charlo is a small town many people “think it won’t happen here.” 

But school shootings, as unthinkable as they are, have become more commonplace. In 2013, there were 22 shootings at schools or colleges in the United States. That’s more than the 13 shootings reported in 2012, the eight reported in 2011, and 10 reported in 2010. 

By July 2014, all Montana school districts will be required to have a safety plan in place and annual disaster drills, that may include, though don’t require, active shooter drills. While safety plans are step one to responding to an active shooter, there are many others that also need to be followed in the event the plan is needed, Lake County Emergency Management Coordinator Stephen Stanley said.

“Emergency planning is a real challenge, but also to practice is a big challenge,” Stanley said. “We’ve got great staff, but to make it work you have to practice.” 

One of the largest obstacles to running a practice drill is finding ample time, resources, and funding to complete the drill. 

“The goal is to make sure our kids have a safe environment in a world that can be pretty ugly, and I don’t think anyone disagrees on that, it’s just taking the time and resources to sit down and practice together,” Stanley said. 

An actual price tag for a drill is difficult to estimate, but some schools can barely afford to hire a professional to help write a safety plan, Lake County Superintendent of Schools Michelle Wood said. 

“We have a district like Ronan that had a grant and was able to update their safety and procedures a few years ago, whereas other school districts have not had that financial opportunity, so not everybody is on the same level and we need to get everybody on the same level,” Wood said.

Stanley, Wood and Polson safety consultant Allen Bone have been working collaboratively in an attempt to bring area schools together so that they can perhaps drill together, and help bear the burden of the cost collectively. 

One thing Stanley would like to see implemented is as-close-to-identical safety plans from district to district as possible. This allows law enforcement to know how to appropriately respond, without having to know the minute differences in districts’ plans. In the past during bomb threats, small variations from school to school have caused problems, Stanley said. 

“I feel like law enforcement, as well as anyone else involved in any type of emergency, would be more efficient if it were collaborative and consistent across the reservation,” Wood said. 

Wood hopes to have a reservation-wide meeting of school district representatives and law enforcement in January about holding an active shooter drill. 

As officials try to prepare, new shooting events give a constant stream of new feedback to consider. Before the shooting at Sandy Hook, safety plans told teachers to huddle children in a corner of the classroom, Bone said. When the gunman entered the Sandy Hook school, this strategy made the children easy targets. 

“Now we’re thinking they should scatter and run away from the school, if possible,” Bone said. 

Bone observed an active shooter drill at Corvallis High School last week that was very successful. 

“The idea is to have one (in Lake County) one day,” Bone said. 


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