(TNS) - A deadly shooting incident in Altoona may seem unlikely, but the city’s police department wants community members to know they have a plan in case such an occurrence happens.
Altoona police Chief Jesse James and school resource Officer John Lauscher are scheduled to discuss school safety plans amid the backdrop of the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., in which 17 people were killed and others were wounded. The suspect in those deaths, Nikolas Cruz, 19, confessed to the shooting spree.
A public meeting to discuss responses to dangerous situations is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Altoona High School auditorium. James and Lauscher will discuss safety response plans at the event.
Given the intense media attention that incident has generated, James said he decided it is a good time to educate parents of Altoona students and others in the community about the efforts of police and school officials to protect children. Several community members contacted him asking what his department’s plans would be in the case of a dangerous situation after the Florida shooting, he said.
“A lot of times people wonder what we would do in a case like that,” James said. “We want people to know that we do have a plan, that we are being proactive about these kinds of issues ... We want people to know we are there to protect them.”
Altoona police sometimes deal with potentially dangerous situations, including those at school, he said. But typically don’t publicize those incidents in an effort to protect identities of those involved.
“Because of that, people really don’t know about all of the planning and training we do,” James said. “This shooting in Florida gives us an opportunity to have that discussion with the community.”
Acting Altoona schools Superintendent Michael Markgren said he backs public discussion of community safety plans.
“Jesse approached me about having this discussion with the community and it seemed like a good idea,” Markgren said. “He wants the community to know that his department has a plan for this in case some serious event like this should happen, that they are on top of things.”
District officials work closely with police in situations deemed as potentially dangerous, Markgren said. The district has developed an emergency management plan and communicates details of the plan to staff members in case of a problematic scenario, he said.
An incident involving a gun or other weapons would be among the most serious such a plan would be implemented for, Markgren said. Such plans also would be used for a range of situations, from a tornado to a building evacuation to a train derailing and spilling dangerous chemicals.
“You can’t foresee everything, but we tried to come up with plans for a wide array of possible scenarios,” he said.
Regional school districts including Eau Claire, Chippeawa Falls and Menomonie enacted lockdowns at school last fall in which students and staff were confined to classrooms after notes were discovered in those buildings threatening bombings or shootings at those locations.
James said his department will receive money as part of this year’s city budget to buy helmets, rifles and other equipment to respond effectively to dangerous situations.
“We have to be ready to go protect everybody wherever it may be,” he said. “That requires lots of training.”
Included in that training is how officers should respond to different situations. He called reports that law enforcement officers in Parkland, Fla., failed to confront the shooter there “very disturbing.”
“The bottom line is we have to do whatever we need to do to protect people’s safety,” he said.
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