Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

January 15, 2013

Local police working with schools to create emergency, disaster plans

By KATE COIL
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD — Police, city officials and principals met Monday to discuss and update current procedures regarding emergency, disaster and evacuation preparedness in local schools.

Interim Police Chief D.M. Dillow and City Manager Jim Ferguson met with officials from Memorial Elementary, Whitethorn Elementary, Bluefield Intermediate School, Bluefield Middle School and Bluefield High School as part of an ongoing, proactive approach to keep local schools secure.

During the meeting, officials agreed part of the re-evaluation process should include running more mock drills at all of the Bluefield area schools.

“I want to set up a date and time to do a disaster drill on a Saturday, have the teachers there and run through a few scenarios with them,” Dillow said. “Teachers who want to participate can experience what will happen. I’d be willing to do that at each school, so no one gets left out. I know it will make the parents, teachers and even the children feel better to know that is happening, to know we’ll be ready.”

Dillow said schools will notify parents before the drills occur.  

“We should send home information with the kids telling the parents that at this time on this day we will be running a mock drill so the parents know what is going on and don’t think something is happening at the school,” Dillow said. “I know it can concern a parent to see five or six police cars at their child’s school. We are going to be setting up specific training days at each school to revisit and get reacquainted with each school. It is something we need to readdress and go over.”

Bluefield Middle School Principal Jeff Matthews suggested officers come speak with school personnel to discuss and review current procedures.

“Even with the heightened sense of awareness, I still think it’s important to talk to them,” Matthews said. “I tell my teachers if they see anything to report it to the office. I’d be more than willing to open my cafeteria up for you to come and speak with our teachers. They have to know to remain vigilant. To me, it would be a great deal of help. It would be good to have you all there to see what we are doing right and what we could be doing better.”

Dillow also asked each principal to provide him and local officers with up-to-date blueprints of each school in case of an emergency situation.

“We would like the best ones you can get to us, but I’ll take whatever you have,” he said. “The better details of each school we can get, the better for us. That way, I can hand that off to the SWAT team leader to see what we have. There are different issues with each school and scenario. The more we prepare — even from the point of view of the teachers and principals — the better we will be able to handle anything that happens.”

Memorial Elementary Principal Rebecca Peery said she felt it was important for officers to know the details of each school’s layout.

“We are an old building with add-ons and two basements, so it is very difficult to get around if you don’t know where you are going or are unfamiliar with the school,” she said. “I know having the drill would make my teachers feel a lot better.”

Dillow said blueprints would come in handy, as officers must clear every area of a school before allowing school to resume as usual.

“We have to be efficient, but fast,” he said. “It does take some time to eliminate a threat, especially from a building as big as a school. The team has to clear every inch, nook and cranny of your school to make sure it is safe to let the children back in or out.”

City Manager Jim Ferguson said frequent reviews of current lock-down procedure will help school staff in the event of an emergency situation.

“I think there is a process we all have to go through, which is explain, demonstrate, try out and correct,” Ferguson said. “You have to explain the procedure to the teachers. You have to demonstrate what you are going to do, then try it out and correct. You look at the issues, and see what you need to correct. It is good to see everyone being proactive and revisiting these ideas.”

Bluefield High School Principal Michael Collins said it is important to keep procedures simple, as teachers are not trained in the same manner as police officers.

“You all are trained for panic, but we aren’t,” Collins said. “We don’t know how we would react if something like this happened. We have to keep it simple for that reason. I want us to all work together to help these kids be as safe as possible not just at my school but at all of our schools.”

Dillow agreed the main priority of everyone involved is the safety of students.

“You do what you have to in order to keep the kids safe and leave the rest to us,” he said. “There is little stuff you can be prepared for that can save a child. There are so many little things you can do that can help. Being in Bluefield, I want you all to know that we will be here for you. This is a continuous process, and we will continue training at each school. We want to re-evaluate our plans and make sure we are all on the same page.”

— Contact Kate Coil at kcoil@bdtonline.com