Pauls Valley, OK, Pauls Valley Democrat

January 14, 2013

Preparedness the theme for officials

Ezra Mann
Pauls Valley Democrat

emann@pvdemocrat.com — As recent national tragedies have confirmed, being ready for the worst case scenario does not mean that one will always be able to prevent it from happening, but being unprepared is not a risk those like Pauls Valley’s police chief Mitch McGill is willing to take.

A sentiment McGill made clear at a preparedness meeting on Thursday at the Reynolds Recreation Center .

Rrepresentatives along the lines of emergency officials and school districts throughout Garvin County were all gathered to discuss what to do during an active shooter situation.

Made more important in part by events like the recent Connecticut school shooting, many felt it was important to make sure they had plans in place to try and lessen the impact if something similar happened in this area.

“What we’ve got to do is we’ve got to realize this could happen here,” said McGill. “If we can save peoples’ lives, that’s why we’re here today to do that.”

The meeting was also a follow-up to an ALERRT (Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training) exercise held in August, where law enforcement officers from around the county used one of the buildings in the district to simulate a live shooting incident.

As a result, McGill and other representatives who spoke believe that while one cannot guarantee the measures will stop someone who is determined to cause harm, if districts are diligent enough, there are ways to respond and reduce the impact.

Part of the recommendations shared included advice by Deputy David Lansdale of the Garvin County Sheriff’s Department on how it is important to not treat every situation of this nature the same way.

While he agreed with McGill in that locking down the school if a shooter enters and making sure this person cannot enter without being noticed early is important to consider, both also noted how getting the students out safely should be done if the opportunity is there.

“If it does happen here are we going to be prepared to take those actions to stop the killing and minimize the amount of deaths we have at any of our schools,” said McGill, sharing that plans should be subject to changes depending on how things progress.

“Take what you learned today, take what you learned last time and let’s continue forward with a plan.

“If we don’t continue forward we can talk about it all day long, but if we don’t continue forward and get these plans in place and know how each other is going to react we’ve wasted our time.”

Among those in attendance was David Morris, Paoli High School principal, who responded to discussions about previous incidents where students have been shooters by saying they’ve implemented several things for the students and teachers in all the Paoli schools.

Paoli Police Chief Johnny Turner shared a sentiment how there are weaknesses every school can address be it entry to buildings or monitoring hallways that also need to be considered if these plans will be effective.

Morris also touched on another part of the issue where teachers and other administrators can be more connected to those attending the schools by addressing problems with students before they go too far.

After McGill said many shootings have signs that could have been noticed ahead of time, Morris said one way he connects with students is sharing his mobile phone number for texting if students need to talk to him or inform him of something going on at the school.

Toward the end, the discussion focused on cooperating with law enforcement in said situations and even using existing technology like Garvin County’s emergency texting plan as a way to spread a thin budget while money is raised to bring in updated security measures. Opting into the county’s texting program is done by each community and all one has to do to sign up is text the plural form of their school’s mascot to 888777.

In the end, McGill said it is up to each of the administrators at the districts to sit down with their officers in the area and then discuss the plans with fellow community leaders in case other departments are needed to respond.

“I want you to take these suggestions and figure out what is the best plan,” said McGill. “I can promise this is not going away.”