“Some of the schools have very little entry access control. Others have cameras and you need a secret password to get in. That’s what we want. The end game is the safety and welfare of our young people.”
(TNS) - Officials with law enforcement agencies and school districts in Lincoln County, New Mexico take seriously the threat of live shooter or bombs. They have been meeting for months developing protocols and firming up plans for quick responses to threats.
During the county commission meeting last week, Commissioner Dallas Draper said he has attended the meeting of the Lincoln County Interagency Unified Command Task Force and the Board for School Threat Assessment and Preparedness regularly and “it was enlightening to see the type of work being done.”
“Back in May of last year, there was an incident at the Mescalero (Apache) School (that officials there) believed to be a serious threat to students,” Ruidoso Police Chief Darren Hooker said. “They pushed the panic button that they needed help and the response came from all over the county. From that (incident), it was determined we need a plan for the next time. Tom Battin (who still was on the village council at the time) visited with the tribe and started the ball rolling and it continued after he left.”
Hooker listed the various agencies that have officers “who would and could respond” from municipalities, from the county, from the state and from the federal level. The meetings involve partners from the schools, parents, the district attorney. local and state government, he said.
“We’ve established protocols and how to react and what do,” Hooker said. Maps and points of contacts for the schools were drawn up. Walk-throughs were staged for leaders of the agencies to become familiar with each campus, but now the emphasis needs to shift from the leadership level to deputies, state police, Game and Fish Department officers and others to ensure they know their way around each campus.
Areas of weakness were discussed.
“Some of the schools have very little entry access control,” Hooker said. “Others have cameras and you need a secret password to get in. That’s what we want. The end game is the safety and welfare of our young people.”
Protocols set out the ability to respond to any school for any situation, he said.
“We may only have a few officers on duty and when (a school) needs help, it will be everybody and anybody,” he said.
A Memorandum of Understanding was signed to show possible grant programs or the state that multiple agencies and schools districts have been working on threat assessment and preparedness for some time, he said.
Undersheriff Mike Wood said the sheriff’s office is interested in becoming an integral part of school safety.
“We’ve been able to identify some of challenges,” which include the widespread geographic nature of the county. “We’re continuing to meet as we do. I agree that it has been at the leadership level up to now.”
However, the sheriff initiated specific training on mitigation and assessment, and recently sent one deputy for other specialized training in Hobbs, where he became a certified instructor.
Wood thanked the sheriff’s law enforcement partners and said meeting every couple of weeks “has helped us stay focused on this matter.”
County Emergency Director Joe Kenmore has been an active participant and State Sen. Bill Burt, a Republican from Alamogordo who represents the county, attended the last meeting. Wood said the senator was surprised to see so many different agencies working together and he pledged to keep the group informed on state money that may become available.
Campuses are being digitally mapped as one step to familiarization.
“There’s a lot we do that is important, but to me there is nothing more important than our young folks,” Wood said.
Commission Chairman Preston Stone asked how swiftly school districts will be able to address weaknesses once they are identified.
“Are the boards willing to address them as soon as possible,” he queried.
“We’re all on the same page,” Wood replied. “We’re only limited by resources. Most of our schools weren’t built to be impenetrable, but the administrations are on board and willing to take our suggestions and offer suggestions as well.”
Draper suggested that the interagency board make presentations to each school district, because he didn’t think school board members had attended any of the sessions.
“I know there is a large concern in today’s society and when schools were built at that time in rural Lincoln County, New Mexico, who was going to walk in and shoot our children, but today, we are just as vulnerable as anywhere in the United States,” Draper said. “I’ve attended a couple of meetings and have been very impressed and commend everything being done.”
“The saying is that it takes a village, and there is a village on this one,” Wood said. “I assure you when something happens, we’re the guys you want around.”
County Manager Nita Taylor handed out a packet showing the statewide support for proactive programs, noting that Homeland Security is involved. Presentations are being developed by the team for each school board.
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