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Editorial: Schools need to better prepare for threats

Jan. 20, 2013 @ 11:12 PM

The state of Ohio got its own wake-up call about school shootings just about a year ago, when a teen killed three people at Chardon High School near Cleveland.

So, a series of regional meetings about school safety were already in the works when the tragedy at Newtown, Conn., occurred last month. But the first of those workshops, held in Columbus last week, shows it is a productive approach, and it is good to see West Virginia planning a statewide summit on school safety in February.

While the nation is embroiled in a heated debate about gun control and the availability of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, many question how effective such legislation would be -- especially since so many weapons are already in circulation and the black market for gun sales is well entrenched.

Improving school safety and readiness for emergencies is needed whether those measures go forward or not.

With a year to reflect on the shootings at Chardon, Ohio officials advise schools around the state to start with a simple premise -- consider the possibility of a threat or shooter at your school, develop a planned response, and practice it.

About 200 teachers and administrators attended the Columbus session, and discussions included a range of ways to protect classrooms, make sure students are not stationary targets, devise evacuations and identify needed resources.

The Newtown shootings and others show that just locking down the entrances to the school is probably not enough. Schools need plans on how individual classrooms or sections of the school can be closed off -- even with temporary barricades.

"We have to try to slow them down," Instructor James Burke of the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy told educators. "We have to make it difficult."

Burke also stressed that school plans should be coordinated with local law enforcement.

U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin of West Virginia plans to bring together law enforcement and school leaders in Charleston next month to talk about many of the same things.

"First, how do we identify potentially violent situations in schools and handle them before something bad happens," Goodwin said in a news release. "Second, what should our schools and first responders be doing to prepare in case the unthinkable comes to pass?"

After dozens of school shooting incidents across the country in recent years -- affecting communities large and small -- the biggest mistake we can make is to think "that could never happen here."

Every school needs a fresh security assessment and a plan for potential threats.

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