Jonesboro Learns Lessons From Westside and Virginia Tech Shootings

JONESBORO, AR--Can a community ever truly be ready for a tragedy like the one at Virginia Tech?

Nine years after the Westside shootings, it's a question local emergency responders can now answer through the lessons they learned in the days after one of Craighead County's darkest days.

While the nation watches the aftermath at Virginia Tech Region 8 sympathizes as they experienced the same pain more than nine years ago at Westside.

"The emotions were tremendous. This is our community, these were children of people we knew," said St. Bernards Chief Nursing Officer Brenda Million.

Million was at work when the injured students were transported to the hospital. Million like Craighead County Deputy J.R. Thomas, who was at the school, remember that day vividly.

"When you see a small child hurt like this, it shocks police officers too," said Thomas.

Because of the events of that day, Deputy Thomas feels local law enforcement is better equipped to deal with an event of that magnitude.

"We have met with all the schools in our district. We have schematic diagrams of all their buildings," said Thomas.

Some of the lessons that were learned at Westside are now being used at Virginia Tech. It's allowing those who were associated with the tragedy to turn a negative into a positive.

"We have gone out on a speaking tours nationally, and spoke to a number of organizations that have learned from our tragedy that we had here," said Million.

Million feels St. Bernards medical handling of the Westside shooting was fantastic; however the tragedy did show the hospital that communication needed improvement.

She says twice a year their disaster plan is practiced and updated when needed.

Both Deputy Thomas and Million feel Westside forever changed the way they do their job.

"I think that impact has changed me professionally to know that I am part of that responsibility to make sure that we have things in place and we are prepared for those disasters and we are there to take care of the community," said Million.

St. Bernards says that every time an incident like the Virginia Tech shooting takes place they sit down and revise their disaster plan based on lessons learned.