In response to last year’s Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, local law enforcement and education officials held a community forum on safety last week, speaking on school, workplace and home safety.
The townhall meeting, which took place on March 12 at Flathead Valley Community College, allowed law enforcement and education officials to explain protocol for emergencies in schools and public places, and the speakers also provided tips on how to deal with such an emergency.
Frank Garner, Kalispell’s former police chief, moderated the event, telling the audience that growing up in Kalispell and sending his children through the school system here, he never would have thought this type of a forum would have been necessary.
“Times have changed,” Garner said. “The word ‘lockdown’ is a common phrase (in schools).”
Kalispell Middle School Principal Tryg Johnson presented the middle school’s plans for emergency situations, including gas leaks, chemical spills, fires and intruders.
“One of our big goals tonight is to assure people that we are very aware of the threats that are out there,” Johnson said.
Along with KMS Assistant Principal Dallas Stuker, Johnson told the audience that KMS hopes to prevent crises by investigating each rumor or report it receives. From there, the goal of its crisis management plan is to provide an orderly response that gets students and staff out of harm’s way while mitigating the threat.
The school runs drills for lockdowns, on- and off-site evacuations and earthquakes, Stuker noted, and the plans are regularly updated.
After the Newtown shooting, law enforcement went through KMS and identified ways to make the crisis plans better, Johnson said; one such improvement was providing law enforcement with updated school property maps that number the doors and windows to help with communication in the event of a crisis.
The school also has plans for staging areas, Johnson said, where students are grouped by grade and where parents can come collect their children.
In the event of such a crisis, Johnson said parents should watch or listen to news reports, contact the school’s administration offices – not the office onsite, and to go to the parents’ staging area so a school official can sign off on the child’s release.
Post-incident protocol involves getting back to a familiar routine as soon as practical, debriefing those involved, conducting parent and staff meetings as appropriate and providing grief and trauma counseling.
“Safety is of the utmost importance to us,” Johnson said.
Doug Overman, a patrol sergeant with the Kalispell Police Department who has experience as a school resource officer, said intruder lockdown drills are as important as fire drills, and hopefully the lockdown drills produce the same results as fire drills have.
Overman also gave some tips on workplace safety, which included knowing about unique workplace concerns, such as adjacent businesses or medical facilities, and knowing what sort of issues coworkers may be dealing with.
If threatened, an employee should follow the aggressor’s instructions and hand over what it is they want, while maintaining that employee safety is the top priority.
Overman also suggested taking a minute each day to visualize a unique scenario and how to respond to it. This allows a person to slip into that mindset for a little while, and could help mentally prepare them for a real emergency.
FVCC will host another roundtable discussion on violence, titled “100 Days Past Sandy Hook,” on March 26 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. The event will be a partnership with the school and he Abbie Shelter and LOVE LIVES HERE, and will include representatives from the Western Montana Mental Health, the Kalispell Police Department, and the Flathead High School Guidance Department.
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