District Attorney Craig Stedman has extended a standing offer for safety-assessment consultation to any Lancaster County school – public or private.
The assessment consists of a review of school facilities blueprints and procedures, and, if requested, a walk-through of the facilities to diagnose lacking security measures and identify opportunities for improvement.
Lancaster County Detective Sgt. James Zahm, also commander of the county SERT unit, is the director of the assessment program and has been going to schools for discussions and walk-throughs.
District Attorney Stedman first offered the consultation in 2013, following the Sandy Hook school massacre in Connecticut, when the focus heightened on school security and respective administrators across the country searched for ways to avoid becoming a target location.
The consultation is free to any district or school. Costs associated with security improvements would be paid by the schools. However, Detective Sgt. Zahm offers many suggestions that are free and focused on layout (i.e. camera positioning) and markings (i.e. labels on windows).
District Attorney Stedman sent a letter to all Lancaster County schools in 2013. Following a mass shooting earlier this year at a high school in Parkland, Florida, Stedman mailed another letter – with essentially the same offer.
The schools are certainly of no obligation to request the service.
“While there is no requirement, I continue to ask our school administrators to strongly consider this free service, which I have seen for myself to be eye-opening in its exposure of potential issues,” District Attorney Stedman said.
Detective Sgt. Zahm has already provided consultations to three public districts and seven private schools this school year.
Since the initial offer in 2013, most county districts have requested the consultation.
In the recent letter, District Attorney Stedman also requests current blueprints for all facilities to provide to the SERT unit, in the unfortunate event that an active-shooter incident happens. The blueprints would be crucial to SERT personnel in combatting the threat.
Also outlined in the letter as offered services:
- A review or establishment of emergency plans
- Training for teachers and/or students
- Table-top exercises for staff
- A drill to test emergency plans and policies
About 21 percent of all active-shooter incidents in the United States, between 2000 and 2017, happened at schools, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
Detective Sgt. Zahm works from a Homeland Security guide on best practices when offering suggestions in making his assessments.
Of course, building layout and safety is only one piece of being best prepared for an active-shooter incident.
District Attorney Stedman stresses that relationships between school staff and students is vital, so students feel comfortable in providing information about a student or behavior causing concern, and so a student who is perhaps under stress and a potential behavior risk feels comfortable to open up about it.
District Attorney Stedman credits the School Resource Officer programs in most county schools as invaluable tools in strengthening those relations, while providing someone trained and able to deal with a direct threat should one unfold.
“A camera-location adjustment on its own will certainly not do enough to alleviate a potential threat,” District Attorney Stedman said. “Through my office’s community-outreach program, I have seen that our schools do a great job of focusing on the mental health of their students. The value of that work can not be understated; it absolutely could make a difference in turning an at-risk student toward a rational decision, as opposed to an erratic act.”
(In photo, from left: DA Stedman, Detective Sgt. Zahm, Bill Gleason)
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