By John L. Ross / Staff Writer
It’s a long-established Boy Scouts of America motto, and being prepared is just what Williamsburg Independent Schools Superintendent Denny Byrd wants.
After Friday’s massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Conn. Byrd decided the school needed to “have a refresher” on its emergency procedures.
And so on Monday, with the help of the Williamsburg Police Department, the school held a practice lockdown.
“We already do this on a regular basis,” said Byrd. “We are very proactive when it comes to the safety of the children.”
He said police officers are regularly on campus. “Our local police department is on our campus quite a bit,” Byrd said. “It is not uncommon to see a police car around the school.”
After the Connecticut tragedy, Byrd said they have increased the number of officers on campus. “We’ve had three since Monday morning,” he said. “But that’s not unusual for us — the police department is very good about responding to here or being here.”
He also said this drill “was good practice for everybody.”
He has ideas about further improving security measures at the schools, including a buzzer-entry door. “It is a precaution we are looking at,” Byrd said.
Diagrams of the school, including the new addition, were provided to officers. “They even went on the roof,” he said.
During the Christmas break, Byrd said the Williamsburg Police Department plans to do training in the school “to get a feel where everything is.”
According to Byrd, after the holiday break, a committee will be formed to include the police department, crisis management personnel, Mayor Roddy Harrison and the school system to review current procedures to make the school as safe as possible.
“We are always being proactive to make the school a safer situation for the students,” Byrd said.
Williamsburg Police Chief Wayne Bird expressed his eagerness to get involved with the school safety committee. “We want to look at the plans in place to see what we could be better to improve student safety,” Bird said.
“We’ve always had a plan in place for an active shooter in the school,” he said. “We have lockdown drills followed by after-action reviews.”
He said the school shooting in Colorado prompted changes. “Right after Columbine, we’ve had in place a Rapid Deployment Team,” Bird said. “Now that team would respond to the schools when an active shooter is inside.”
He said his department is ready for the training planned for the Christmas break. “Since the new addition the police department will be in the school going through various active shooter scenarios,” Bird said. “We’ll utilize these 12 days while the children are not here to practice.”
He said Monday’s drill was routine, but timely after Friday’s school massacre in Connecticut. “These drills already performed at the schools are just like tornado drills or fire drills,” he said. “And it went well. They (the school) felt (the procedure) needed to be practiced.”
He said he’s increased the department’s presence at the school. “We always have police officers in and out at the school,” Bird said. “In the last two days, four have been there.
“We know some of the kids have seen (news about the school deaths) all day long,” continued Bird. “And some of them will have insecurities and questions — we just want the kids and parents to feel safe.”
Bird plans to seek grant monies for a full-time School Resource Officer. “With everything that’s happened, there needs to be an SRO here five days a week,” he said.
However, Bird feels there are no guarantees. “You’ll never stop it unless you make the schools fortresses,” he said. “But with law enforcement constantly present you can try to deter criminal activity.
“It’s not a matter of if — it’s a matter of when,” he said. “Everyone needs to keep on their toes.
“The school has a good plan in place,” continued Bird. “But the school (in Newton, Conn.) did everything right — it was one situation they couldn’t control.”
Byrd agreed. “That school did everything they could,” he said. “They didn’t see anyone attack — they tried to protect their students.
“We have the same kind of staff here,” Byrd said. “And if it does happen you’ve got to have people available to help these students.”