Missoula County Coverage

Feb 27, 2013 9:28 AM by Bernie Riggs - KPAX News

Emergency officials discuss safety at Missoula schools

MISSOULA - Safety at schools has been at the forefront for many educators, parents and law enforcement officials over the past few months.

Several Missoula County Public Schools committees have been looking at how to prevent a tragedy like the one that hit Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

The Public Safety Advisory Committee met for the first time on Tuesday night, and already one problem has been pinpointed.

Committee members outlined crisis plans, drill procedures, and response protocols, but the biggest emphasis was how critical every second is.

When a 9-1-1 call is received from any pubic school, the address the call center sees is the Administration Building on Sixth Street.

"It would be helpful at least from the 9-1-1 side and the emergency response side if we can get that 'We need help, CLICK,' to not have to call back the switchboard, but to at least know what building it is and I think there are some ways we can do that with the technology that's out there," explained Missoula Office of Emergency Services Director Chris Lounsbury.

Law enforcement officials praised the crisis protocols already in place, but said that more needed to be considered. Suggestions included having an active threat component during lockdown drills, improvised barricades or weapons, escape routes, or ballistic covers for doors.

"Empower these people that are in charge of our children to listen to what's going on around them and think, be able to think. I think when you lock people in and give them a sheet of paper, and you say this is going to save you and it will, but you have to think beyond that a little bit," commented Brad Giffin with the Missoula County Sheriff's Office.

While members said no one thing can prevent a tragedy from happening, the hope is that everyone will be prepared and ready in the event of an emergency.

"I don't know that we can identify where this problem comes from and therefore stop it. The only thing we truly can do is try to be as prepared as we can be, so that when seconds count, and the cops are a minute away, we can maybe delay the crisis long enough that the cops can show up," added School Resource Officer Pat Malone, who works for the Missoula Police Department.

The Public Safety Advisory Committee plans to meet again sometime in March or April to make further recommendations.

This was the second of three meetings taking place this week. The Facility Safety and Security Advisory Committee will meet on Wednesday, from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. in the MCPS Business Building Board Room at 915 South Avenue West in Missoula.

They will review building safety in regard to physical design and identify recommended improvements while the Public Safety Committee will review emergency response plans with local police, fire services and other emergency personnel, and make recommendations for improvements or additional collaborations.

MCPS Superintendent Alex Apostle announced in December, after the Newtown, Connecticut school shooting that MCPS, along with St. Patrick Hospital President Jeff Fee and Missoula Police Chief Mark Muir, would convene committees to review school safety procedures.

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