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Local schools prepare for worst, hope for best

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Local school officials and police say they prepare the best they can for a school shooting. But each time violence breaks out — as it did Friday at a Connecticut elementary school — they look at their plans anew.

In the wake of the Newtown, Conn., elementary school massacre, with a reported 27 deaths including 18 children, plans and preparations always will seem inadequate, said Larry Perkinson, student assistance coordinator for Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp.

Perkinson said emergency plans are reviewed annually, spanning several days. Those sessions include bringing in experts such as local and state police, fire officials and counselors.

“How can anybody be prepared for this?” Perkinson asked. “We spend most of our day planning and setting goals that are rational. We want to prepare for graduation, making sure are kids are fed, that they have a good day at school.”

He said school officials want their students to be as safe as possible, but there is no way to guarantee that something like the Connecticut shootings could ever happen here. The local district goes through a continual process of looking for ways to revamp the plans and ask what can be done better.

“We review (the plans) every time an incident like this occurs,” Perkinson said. “When something happens that you never dream of, you go back and take a look at your plans.”

John Quick, superintendent of the 12,000-student BCSC, said: “We design active and passive kinds of (defense) systems ... lockdowns, cameras and those kinds of things. But the school in Connecticut probably did a lot of things, too.”

Quick said Columbus also has a “code blue” system where school rooms are locked down, sometimes even if there is a police emergency near a school and not actually inside it. A system of “e-alerts” or emails to parents also exists to communicate better with parents in case of emergencies.

Maj. Todd Noblitt, spokesman for the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department, said emergency officials have access to copies of floor plans of all of the local schools. Deputies have done some combined training with school district officials, including a simulated attack exercise at Columbus East High School, where students played the role of victims and bystanders.

“You go through mock situations and you try to throw everything you can think of into a situation that would be realistic,” Noblitt said. “An officer is going to respond and deal with a situation the way he is trained.”

Within the past two months, the sheriff’s department sent an instructor for further training in school-attack situations and from that expertise, the department has another training for deputies scheduled for early next year.

“It is something that you do a lot of,” Noblitt said. “Hopefully you will never need it; but if we do, we need to be prepared. It is an ongoing process that we go through, and we just hope and pray that it never materializes.”

Perkinson said there are no immediate plans to have counselors address the student body when students return to school Monday; but should individual students need help processing the tragedy, experts will be available.

Quick said it’s time to have “an adult conversation” about what types of weapons are easily available to people in America.

“We have a great and safe community in Columbus — and we take every precaution we can — but we need to talk about assault rifles and why you even see fliers at Christmas time encouraging people to come pick up an assault rifle. That doesn’t make any sense to me,” he said.

Quick said, “You hear reports of 100 rounds of ammunition fired. I think we need to continue to have an adult conversation around a person’s right to have a firearm versus what type of firearms are easily available to people.”

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