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Training, Communication Top Tools in SCPD Response Strategy

Partnerships with school districts play key role as well in emergency planning.

As Suffolk Police increased patrols around schools this week, in light of last Friday’s shooting massacre at a Connecticut elementary school, they have continued outreach efforts with schools to keep communication strong and are conducting training in rapid deployment response to active shooter scenarios.

Nearly every SCPD patrol officer had already undergone a one-day tactical training program long before gunman Adam Lanza allegedly shot his mother, killed 20 first graders, six staff members and himself at the Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14.

Refresher training is ongoing for police officers, as is communication with school leaders regarding school building changes and security measures.

The training, and ability to have real-time data about school floor plans, accessible doors and building security insight has been a prime focus since school shootings at Columbine and Virginia Tech, according to Deputy Inspector Kevin Fallon and Deputy Inspector Chief of Patrol Stuart Cameron, both of whom talked with Patch about ongoing police efforts regarding school safety.

“It was primarily after Columbine that we started looking at ways to make sure we were doing as much as possible to keep schools safe, which is one of our top missions,” said Cameron, who headed up the department's Special Patrol Bureau and Emergency Services for over a decade.

“One of the reasons for the increased patrols is that we want to reassure people and the public that we are very concerned about students and staff safety and take any potential threat as very seriously,” said Fallon.

Police now have computer programs that let them access school information such as building locations and access points, number of floors and security systems within seconds of an incident report, unlike many years ago when that information was paper-based and housed at a precinct or headquarters.

“Every second is critical in active shooting situations and we’ve continually been looking for ways to make sure we’re responding as fast as possible and wasting no time in getting to the scene where a shooter is,” explained Fallon.

The department also updates response plans based on incidents around the country. Knowing how assailants have attempted to thwart police action such as blocking doors with cars and boarding up windows is valuable to a speedy response.

“We constantly look at what was done [by an assailant] and change our plans if needed. We’re always looking to make sure that our plans are up to snuff,” said Cameron.

About six years ago the SCPD began a school safety outreach program providing one-day training for school superintendents, principals and security staff on explosive threats and active shooter scenarios.

The department now uses a ‘train the trainer’ approach in which a district undergoes refresher or new training and becomes a ‘trainer’ to share the knowledge with other districts.

The training exercises use real district data which allows school leaders to see how their plans will work in such emergency scenarios.

“This way they’re learning how their particular plan may work or not work and so it helps improve security and response to incidents,” noted Cameron.

For example, many districts had long stipulated that only school principals could authorize a lock-down in an emergency situation. This philosophy, through training and exercises, proved not to be a good approach given the time that is wasted trying to get a lock down in place.

“In some cases it was a long process and that isn’t a good thing in a real emergency. So one best practice that came out was to delegate the lockdown power to many people, or allow any teaching staff member to initiate it. This save seconds and minutes that could prove vital in saving lives,” said Cameron.

The department said the training exercises using real-life insight has proved valuable in the past few years in thwarting bomb and violent incident threats at local schools.

“We have always taken a proactive approach over the course of the years with schools, universities and colleges and we’ve stopped some potentially big threats,” said Cameron, noting two incidents in recent years in the Connetquot school district

“We have never taken the attitude that it can’t happen here.”

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