Local schools address security issues

Officials say they believe Clark County children are safe

By Susan Parrish, Columbian education reporter

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When the Clark County Safe Schools Task Force recently applied for a grant to help beef up school security plans, they were told the task force and the school districts were so far ahead of the game that they wouldn't qualify.

That was good news for Mick Hoffman, director of safety, security and athletics for Vancouver Public Schools. Hoffman also chairs the task force, formed in 1998 after the Thurston High School shooting in Springfield, Ore.

The task force is composed of security and operations directors from all nine Clark County school districts, as well as public safety, health, mental health and other agencies and nonprofit organizations from throughout the county. The panel meets several times each year to discuss the work that school safety and security subgroups are doing throughout the county. The group's first meeting of the year was Wednesday.

Before the task force, each district designed its own safety and security plans. Now, with resources representing the entire county, the group works together to develop safety plans and protocols for all schools and agencies to follow in case of emergency.

Shooting reactions

On the morning of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, "our phones lit up," said Bryan McGeachy, director of operations at Camas School District. Parents called the schools to make sure their children were safe. It was the district's last day of school before winter break.

McGeachy said he spent that weekend reviewing the safety plans for the district's 10 schools. It was his way of dealing with the tragedy.

The first week of school in January, all the building principals in Camas were asked to bring a list of their security needs -- such as additional security cameras, fencing and door locks.

"We've built that list. Now we're addressing each concern," McGeachy said, adding that the district has detailed security plans about what happens in a severe emergency.

New security steps

In the weeks since the Sandy Hook shootings, Camas changed its security at its extended day care center. Now all visitors --

including parents picking up their children -- must be buzzed inside through locked exterior doors. Other measures the district has added are panic buttons that immediately lock all exterior doors.

"If something like that happened that could have been prevented, I couldn't live with myself," McGeachy said. "Do our students feel safe at school? Yes. They do."

Hoffman, from Vancouver Public Schools, also feels assured that Clark County schools are safer and more prepared for an emergency than most.

"My wife and daughter work in schools here. My son goes to school here," he said. "I don't worry about them being safe."

Susan Parrish: 360-735-4515; http://twitter.com/col_schools;susan.parrish@columbian.com