School leaders say threats help districts modify responses

Officials in Austintown and Struthers school districts discuss their safety protocols in the event of a threat
Officials in Austintown and Struthers school districts discussed their safety protocols in the event of a threat in January.

AUSTINTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – School leaders said they can learn something from almost any situation involving school lockdowns and threats.

On Wednesday, United Local Schools evacuated after two bomb threats and a threatening note also was found in a bathroom at the Mahoning County Career and Technical Center. School officials in Austintown and Struthers talked on Thursday about their safety protocols and how they are always changing.

There is only one way in to Austintown Elementary School. Visitors have to be buzzed in and show their ID to a police officer. There are five officers on campus at all times, including Lt. Tom Collins.

“One of my functions is the liaison between the Austintown Police Department and Austintown Local Schools,” Collins said.

Struthers also has an officer in its buildings.

Right now, Collins is working on training staff and students on how to evacuate.

“There are circumstances that might require a teacher and the students to evacuate should the opportunity exist. The problem is, they need to evacuate to the nearest, closest building, which for here is the Austintown Fitch High School so that building needs to be put on preparation to receive  those students,” Collins said. “It is a domino effect that occurs so if one building goes into lockdown, in theory, all four go into lockdown or the other three go into preparation mode to receive students. So it is a training philosophy that we are trying to educate the staff and students.”

Teachers can lock classroom doors from the inside in the district’s new school buildings.

The district is getting ready for a new safety measure: A program called NaviGate Prepared.

“That group will come in and do a video shot of every classroom, every door way and that will be a tool, an app that police will be able to use on their phones,” Austintown Superintendent Vincent Colaluca said. “We are always looking and trying to make our buildings even more safe.”

There are 64 electronic eyes at Struthers Middle School. It has procedures in place to lock down and evacuate and has surprise lockdown drills for teachers and students.

“What would happen if you’re in the hallway, what happens if you’re in the bathroom, you’re not in a classroom,” Struthers Middle School Principal Pete Pirone said.”Sometimes the administration does not even know. Our police chief and our superintendent will walk in and we’ll say we are practicing a lockdown drill so that you are prepared because you are never going to be just sitting in your office waiting for a situation to happen.”

When Austintown schools do a lockdown drill, officers take note of issues and mistakes and give them to the principal. Those issues have to be fixed before the next drill.

“All we do is we monitor what transpires. We’ll note any mistakes or any issues that occur, we give it to the building principal and it’s the building principal who then takes responsibility to ensure that those actions are corrected when we conduct another lockdown later on,” Collins said.

Struthers does what it calls a hybrid version of ALICE training. ALICE stands for alert, lockdown, inform, counter, evacuate.

“Originally it was lockdown and wait for the situation to be over. ALICE is a full, get of the building, fight, do anything you can to be safe. So we kind of did the hybrid where we lockdown first and then, when and if, it’s safe to get out the building, then we will evacuate,” Pirone said.

School officials said they know they can’t be prepared for every situation, but staying a step or two ahead is another level of protection.

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