Archive for Thursday, May 3, 2007

School security, procedures discussed

May 3, 2007

In response to the bomb threat situation in the Baldwin School District April 19, former School Resource Officer Mike Gammage -- a former agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms -- met with Supt. Paul Dorathy Monday to discuss security.

"It was an excellent meeting," said Gammage. "Paul and I had a very candid, open discussion. The ball is in their court whether they want it (his help) or not.

"We discussed a lot of what did happen, what didn't happen and what should have happened," he said of the district's response to the threats on April 19. "I made some suggestions about what to do and he had explored some of them."

On April 19 at around 5:30 a.m., "generic, nondescript" bomb threats were made to 911 dispatch in Lawrence. All the caller -- who was arrested later that day -- said in the threats was that it was at a school and/or City Hall. No exact locations were given. Dorathy said he wasn't notified of the threats until around 8 a.m. when a reporter from a Lawrence radio station called.

Bottom line was, communication failed all the way around. That is being corrected and the meeting with Gammage is a part of that.

"I thought it went very well," Dorathy said of the meeting. "Mike seems to be very knowledgeable about this kind of thing. He had some suggestions.

"The key thing is we need to work with law enforcement on communication for the next time something like this occurs," he said. "We've got an obligation to communicate to parents with the most accurate information possible."

Once that's obtained, the next step is contacting the parents, which is where the current system failed on April 19. Dorathy met with the administrative team Tuesday after the meeting with Gammage and all agreed that needed an answer.

"We are looking to recommend to the school board to purchase next year the services of School Reach, a telephone system out of St. Louis," said Dorathy. "It allows me to get on the phone, enter my information and code word and make a message that will go out to everyone in the system within 10 to 15 minutes. It calls all numbers given, whether that's home phones, work phones and cell phones.

"Among the concerns the parents had (after April 19) was having contact to know if they wanted to come get their child," he said. "We encourage them to do so if they feel that's what they want to do."

The Eudora School District has the service and parents there were notified on April 19. Dorathy also said the Lawrence School District is looking at purchasing the service, too.

Dorathy said Gammage suggested a district wide code word for such emergencies. Currently, each school has its own code word, but this would be another to be able to alert everyone district wide.

"That way we can go into the same mode quickly," he said.

Another of Gammage's suggestions regarded cell phone usage by students during emergencies.

"Cell phones were the main reason for communication breakdown at Columbine," said Dorathy. "He suggested strict rules for cell phones during things like this. Too many calls jam the lines and prevent law enforcement from communicating."

On April 19, each building was searched for possible bombs by members of the Baldwin City Police Department. Gammage had another idea.

"He did talk about the fact that probably the quickest way to check a building is have the staff check their rooms," said Dorathy. "They are the ones that know their surroundings best."

There will be more sessions with Gammage, he said.

"Mike is volunteering to work with our staff to train them," said Dorathy. "That's the result of our A-team meeting -- what to do in a case of a threat.

"I think it went very well," he said. "I think we will utilize Mr. Gammage for this."

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