Independence Co. agencies meet to discuss safety plans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some of Dr. Webb's peers echoed recent claims by the NRAthat 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 helpingqualified teachers possibly train as law enforcement officers and providing themfinancial assistance to do so.

Other ideas emerged during the discussion, includingoutfitting 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 CountyCoroner and Vital Link Ambulance.

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

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

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

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