Independence Co. agencies meet to discuss safety plans - KAIT-Jonesboro, AR-News, weather, sports

Independence Co. agencies meet to discuss safety plans

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INDEPENDENCE COUNTY, AR (KAIT) – In the wake of the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., local leaders are convening to review how their agencies would handle a similar situation.

Robert Griffin, the Independence County judge, met with several local agencies to discuss how to better coordinate if a tragedy like Sandy Hook should occur here at home.

"What we're hoping here is to start the dialogue to understand what needs we have," Griffin said, "and how to proceed to make the overall situation the best it can be."

Griffin set up the meeting a week before the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI encouraged communities nationwide to meet and discuss school safety and preparedness.

The meeting Tuesday featured the superintendents from local school districts, including Batesville, Midland, Southside and Cedar Ridge. They were also joined by representatives from Lyon College and the University of Arkansas Community College at Batesville.

The Independence County Sheriff's Office sent its school resource officers and SWAT team members to the meeting as well as local emergency responders and senior staff at White River Medical Center.

Their discussion provided one of the first chances for some of these groups to interact and figure out what the operations will be in the event of a crisis.

The school officials spoke first at the meeting, sharing how they have all reviewed their security plans with their staff again during the past few weeks.

They, however, suggested bringing in local law enforcement to provide them with more training.

"We all went to school to educate children and to discuss curriculum and why your child cannot read," said Dr. Ann Webb, the superintendent at Cedar Ridge. "We did not go to school for this, so we need to learn from one another so that we can be better prepared."

Some of Dr. Webb's peers echoed recent claims by the NRA that having an armed officer in their school would better deter violent crime. The idea was further supported by some of the police officers in attendance.

A proposal also surfaced at the meeting about helping qualified teachers possibly train as law enforcement officers and providing them financial assistance to do so.

Other ideas emerged during the discussion, including outfitting school buildings with panic buttons and creating keyless entries.

These additional security measures, though, require funding, which most of these rural districts are unable to afford.

That's why collaboration and protocol were highlighted next, featuring presentations from the local SWAT team, the Independence County Coroner and Vital Link Ambulance.

Local leaders hope this meeting, and the others planned in the future, sends an assuring message to the community.

"We are learning," Dr. Webb said, "and that it is a learning process but that your child's safety is our foremost concern and that we're going to do everything in our power to take care of your child."

"You're trying to preserve life," Griffin said. "You're trying to give security to parents in the case of the schools, where they know where the child will be in the event something does happen and where they can feel secure that they know that their children are as safe as they possibly can be."

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