The national plight of school and medical office shootings has led some local officials to think more about reviewing and tightening security to prevent unwanted intruders who want to cause harm.
“In light of the horrible loss of life in Uvalde, Texas, we feel a thorough analysis of all school safety procedures, including staff training and building technology, be evaluated and, if necessary, enhanced or upgraded,” said Steven W. Cappelli, South Williamsport borough manager and public safety director.
Cappelli, South Williamsport Police Chief Dan Embeck, Assistant Chief Norm Hager and Detective Devin Thompson, along with outgoing Superintendent Dr. Mark Stamm, high school Principal Mark Hill and SWASD Police Officer Mike Samar converged in a meeting to go over security and law enforcement response protocols should an active shooter incident occur.
“Preparation is always the best safeguard against serious injury or loss of life when facing this type of nightmare scenario,” Cappelli said.
“As public officials tasked with providing for the safety of residents, including students, faculty and staff in our schools, the responsibility for safeguarding school facilities has become, unfortunately and sadly, our highest priority and a daunting one to say the least,” Cappelli said.
Other school districts in the region have security and safety plans in place with information regularly shared by superintendents.
As an example, ensuring student, faculty, administration and visitor security priority is a priority at Williamsport Area School District.
“We always have and continue to make the safety and security of all our students and staff our number one priority,” said Dr. Timothy S. Bowers, superintendent.
“We always have and continue to make the safety and security of all our students and staff our number one priority,” Bowers said. “For more than a decade, the district has relied on its incident command team to help in making recommendations on school safety and security.”
“This incident command team is made up of district administrators, local law enforcement agencies and emergency providers from across the county. The team meets on a monthly basis to discuss and review safety needs in the district,” he said.
Bowers continued: “Based on a recommendation from this team, the district was one of the first districts in the state of Pennsylvania to trail all of its staff in the ALICE activate intruder training.
“At this point, the district has not yet met with state legislators regarding security in light of recent events,” he said.
Jersey Shore Area School District Superintendent Dr. Brian Ulmer also sent a message to parents and homes in the community in light of recent tragic events in Texas.
“As a school leader and parent, it pains me to think about what that school community is going through. Please know that our staff and I take school security seriously,” he said.
The district have multiple steps in place to include:
• Building access is limited and staff is present as students enter in the morning.
• The district has a relationship with Tiadaghton Valley Regional Police Department and a School Resource Officer on site daily.
• Visitors to buildings enter through the offices and a policy is in place that visitors call ahead and make appointments to limit traffic in district schools.
• Video surveillance systems are in all buildings.
• District teams review emergency plans regularly and meet to discuss changes to make schools more safe. Dr. Kenneth Dady is district Safe Schools Coordinator and recently presented his annual report to the board.
The district recently completed a Risk and Vulnerability Assessment with the State Police and is making changes based on their recommendations.
The district provided support to teachers in helping respond to students who are dealing with tragedy. This is in addition to the curriculum and school-wide behavior processes that are already in place.
Training of students occurs on the Safe to Say program and encourages them to report any problematic behavior.
“I do not take lightly that the district has a responsibility to care for your children while they are with us,” Ulmer said. “If you see anything concerning, please report it to a member of our administrative team.”
“Together, we can keep students as safe as possible,” he said.
In a recent survey by the National Center for Education Statistics, data was gleaned from principals for the U.S. Department of Education report.
Among the top preventative measures to ensure school safety included:
• Controlled access to buildings during school hours.
• Security cameras used to monitor the school.
• Required faculty and staff to wear badges or picture IDs.
• Random sweeps for contraband.
• Require students to wear uniforms
• Mandate students wearing badges or picture IDs
• Random metal detector checks.
Recently, former U.S. Rep. Tom Marino, R-Cogan Station, who also served as Lycoming County district attorney and U.S. Middle District Attorney said more should be done. He called for release of $2 billion in American Rescue Plan fund for Pennsylvania to go to school security instead of what Gov. Tom Wolf has advocated — $2,000 direct payments to those earning $80,000 a year or less.
As for hospitals, they are mostly tight-lipped on their security in place, but the Sun-Gazette asked UPMC and Geisinger Medical Center the question following an attack in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where a gunman shot and killed four people and himself at a medical office.
UPMC of Northcentral Pa. has on campus law enforcement and works with city and area law enforcement.
“For the safety of our patients, visitors and employees, we do not discuss our specific security measures,” said Tyler Wagner, UPMC spokesman.
“UPMC’s elite police department closely monitors events in the communities we serve and is highly trained and prepared to respond to emergencies,” he said.
Geisinger officials did not respond to a request for a statement.
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