The fatal shooting of 26 people, most of them children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. two weeks ago is still reverberating on the opposite coast in Pierce County.
Officials of public safety agencies and schools are redoubling efforts to reassure communities that their schools take measures to be as safe as possible.
In addition, individuals such as Eatonville resident Sheri Phillips are demonstrating their support of Newtown in the wake of the tragedy there.
Phillips is organizing a candlelight vigil for 7 p.m. this Friday in Eatonville at the corner of Washington Avenue and Center Street, in front of Dawn’s Floral.
“It’s been on my mind since the shootings happened. I thought it would be a beautiful way for people here to show our love for their town,” Phillips said.
She’s posted information about the vigil on Facebook and passed out a few flyers. The reaction “has been awesome,” she said last Thursday.
Thinking about how schools locally would respond if they were the target of a shooting, the Pierce County Department of Emergency Management, school districts and area first-responders began collaborating with one another in 2007 to develop training for school staff members. The result – the All Hazards Emergency Preparedness Training Program for Schools – covers natural and human-caused disasters, as well as violence in schools. Steve Bailey, director of Emergency Management, said the program continues to expand as a proactive approach to school emergency training and as a way to help schools provide a safe and secure place for children to learn and grow without fear.
Pierce County has experienced school shootings. The most recent were in Tacoma at Foss High School in 2007 and Birney Elementary School in 2010.
On the day of the Newtown shootings, Eatonville School District officials immediately responded with an online letter to parents and families. The letter suggested ways to help students feel safe about their own school environments.
“I want to reassure you that we take safety very seriously,” superintendent Rich Stewart wrote. “We are continuing to work with local authorities and Pierce County Emergency Management as we practice our lockdown procedures and stay current” with emergency steps.
In plans that were made before the Connecticut incident, the town of Eatonville’s police and fire departments will host an active-shooter drill next June. Fire chief Bob Hudspeth said other participating agencies will include the county’s Emergency Management and Sheriff Department, Metro SWAT team, Fire District 17 and Mount Rainier National Park rangers.
“Although we may not be able to eliminate chaos, we can effectively manage chaos and save lives” through training such as the countywide all-hazards program, said Tacoma Police Lt. Mark Feddersen. He said the program enhances the partnerships between first-responders and school districts and helps standardize schools’ responses to emergencies.
The program taught to schools covers bullying, building evacuation, lockdowns, shelter-in-place, threat assessments, medical treatment, and active-shooter exercises.
Bailey said a majority of school districts are involved in the program and have strong emergency plans and procedures in place.
Parents can contact school administrative staffs with any questions or concerns about emergency plans. Another resource for parents is the U.S. Department of Education web site, which has information on helping children cope with traumatic events, officials said.