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WHAT started out as separate emergency situations were resolved peaceably last week. In resolving them, officials had to take what might be considered extraordinary measures.
Responding to reports of a suspicious package found just outside the Bartholomew County Courthouse on Thursday, police evacuated the building, shut off traffic on Washington Street between Second and Third streets and called in fully suited members of the Columbus Police Department bomb squad to X-ray the package.
The next day, the Columbus Police SWAT team was activated to resolve a situation in which an individual had barricaded himself in an apartment after reportedly telling acquaintances that he would not be taken alive. A SWAT sniper was positioned on a balcony of the apartment complex. Nearby, school administrators instituted a lockdown procedure at Smith Elementary School.
Owing to the resolution of the incidents — the suspicious package turned out to contain a collection of CDs left for a courthouse employee and the individual in the apartment surrendered — some questions were raised about whether the responses were overreactions. Those questions can be easily answered with two other questions.
What if the package did contain a bomb?
What if the man in the apartment had been armed and determined to carry out his initial pledge to not be taken alive? The responses in these instances are particularly praiseworthy in that they demonstrated that key personnel are trained and equipped to deal with emergencies. The quick access to a member of the Columbus Police Department’s bomb squad who not only had the safety gear but the means (X-ray) to view the contents of the package at the courthouse saved valuable time. Discovery of a pipe bomb outside the courthouse in 1996 required officials to call on the Marion County bomb squad to examine the device and detonate it in a controlled explosion.
Preparedness extended beyond the Columbus Police Department in the apartment incident.
Informed of the situation, Smith Principal Laura Hack quickly announced a code blue over the public address system, initiating a lockdown of the building. Students, led by school staff, responded calmly.
According to prescribed procedures, the teachers assembled their students in designated classrooms, closed the blinds, shut off lights and had students line up against a wall to give the appearance of an empty classroom to someone who would pass by on the outside. Teachers also grabbed emergency bags that had been equipped with items such as flashlights, batteries, adhesive bandages and a class list of students. Some even had books that could be read to students to help calm them.
The books were not needed because the staff and students quickly and easily adapted to the situation.
The emergency procedures at the school were eased after the principal heard from Columbus Police that the incident at the apartment complex did not appear to put students, several blocks away, in immediate danger.
Far from being overreactions, the responses in these two situations should be viewed as comforting evidence that authorities have the training and means to deal with potentially dangerous situations.
In these instances the adage “Better to be safe than sorry” certainly holds true.
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