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Schools join alert network

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It took a bank robbery for leaders of several local private schools to realize that something was missing.

What’s missing is a way for them to be notified when there’s potential trouble in their vicinity.

What got educators’ attention afterward was hearing that a man robbed the Jackson County Bank downtown Jan. 22. Police said he ran north on Washington Street.

He was potentially armed and near six schools — Columbus Signature Academy — Lincoln, First Christian Preschool, Central Middle School, Busy Bees Academy, Learning Tree Preschool and First Presbyterian Preschool — but only a few of those schools were alerted.

Lincoln and Central were placed on lockdown, but the private preschools in the area were not notified of the situation.

“The part that he may have been armed is the concerning part to me,” Elisabeth Jones of Learning Tree Preschool said. “He could have ducked into this building.”

Other members of the Columbus Association of Private Preschools shared the concerns and brought them to the Columbus Police Department, which responded by creating an emergency notification system specifically for schools.

Using Everbridge, a mass communication system the city and county currently use for citizen alerts, supervisors on the scene of an emergency — which could be a violent crime, a gas leak or severe weather — can send an alert to every public and private school in the county.

It’s a system police spokesman Lt. Matt Myers said he wishes was in place for the 2008 flood.

But it would not have changed anything in the situation of the bank robbery at Fourth and Washington streets, he said. It won’t send out a notification for a standard arrest or domestic disturbance, and it won’t send out a notification if the police do not feel schools are in danger.

“I understand their concern,” Myers said. “We’ll consider the risks and make a decision if the school needs to be notified. There was not a school right next to the bank.”

But Larry Perkinson, student assistance coordinator for Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp., said he has learned from more than a decade of safety training from the State of Indiana that a bank robbery is a situation that warrants a lockdown.

Someone at Lincoln heard rumors of the robbery and called the emergency management center, which advised schools in the area to lock down until an all-clear was given.

“If you brought the kids inside, they wouldn’t be available as hostages was the thought,” he said.

Myers said he encourages such behavior.

He told the Columbus Association of Private Preschools that if school employees notice suspicious or police activity near their building, they can call dispatch or the emergency management center for more information.

Everbridge will act as a second set of eyes, and Perkinson said it will be a good thing for schools.

“I don’t think it’s about spreading fear,” he said. “Our knowing what’s going on just clarifies the situation a little bit, it allows us to be a little more in control of the stories.”

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