The Norman Transcript

December 15, 2012

Massacre makes local officials take hard look at emergency readiness

By Hannah Cruz
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — In the aftermath of a Connecticut elementary school shooting Friday morning that killed 26, including 20 children and six adults, many Norman residents are left asking: Could it happen here?

Norman Public Schools Superintendent Joe Siano said a tragedy like this is felt by parents and educators everywhere as their “worst nightmare.” Though district-wide safety and security is already a high priority, Siano said such events offer a moment of reflection.

“Certainly, in light of today’s events, we will take the time to review our current procedures with our staff,” Siano said Friday afternoon. “We have messaged our families to remind them of schools’ crisis planning, and informed them that school counselors are available to their children if they believe their children would benefit from their counsel.”

The district and each school site have crisis plans in place, including conducting yearly lockdown drills for both teachers and students. With the recent bond issue, Siano said security entrances have been added to 10 of the 12 schools, with security entrance construction pending for the last two sites.

Siano said every district principal has received active shooter training by the Norman Police Department this year.

In case of an emergency, Siano said the district also has a push notification system to communicate with parents and direct them on how to proceed.

“There’s no perfect way to deal with this type of tragedy but awareness, communication — those are all keys and certainly when a situation like this occurs, like any district, we reflect back on our procedures and where we could tighten those and get better,” he said.

For questions or concerns about district emergency policy contact the district at 405-364-1339.

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If such an event were to happen locally, Norman Police Department Capt. Tom Easley said city officers have been trained to handle active shooters. Easley said police would handle the situation by detaining the shooter, asking for assistance from a SWAT team if necessary, and organizing a staging area for parents to be reunited with their children.

Easley said the police department has been considering a long term plan of integrating school resource officers on campuses. Though the school district has their own officers, school resource officers funded by the city would increase police presence and offer additional security. The police department has no definite plans to attain school resource officers due to a matter of funding.

For more information about the police department’s emergency policies call 405-321-1600.

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Tom Pecore, Norman resident and teacher at Putnam City North High School, knows first-hand that acts of violence in public schools aren’t reserved for only certain places — he was in the line of fire at a shooting at Western Heights High School in Oklahoma City in the late 80s.

Still, Pecore said for the most part Oklahoma schools are very safe places, with a great deal of attention paid to teacher and student safety. What does need to change, he said, is not necessarily school policy — but family and community involvement.

“What I would say is communities need to rally around and support their schools and support their teachers,” Pecore said. “Communities need to become bigger parts of their schools. Just because your children are no longer involved in your public high school doesn’t mean you don’t have a role.

“I challenge businesses to come to our schools, to make themselves known, to see what they can do. I challenge community leaders to come to our schools. It’s your school. The school belongs to the community. Everybody, everybody has an interest to the schools and we need to be committed to lifting our teachers and our students up.”

Hannah Cruz366-3533hcruz@normantranscript.com

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