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Sandy Hook staff handled shooting crisis properly: PRIMA speaker

Sandy Hook Shooting
Photo by AP Photo In this photo provided by the Newtown Bee, a police officer leads two women and a child from Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where a gunman opened fire, killing 26 people, including 20 children, Friday, Dec. 14, 2012.

TAMPA, Fla. — The staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. acted according to the school's crisis plans during the December shootings, a police chief told attendees at the Public Risk Management Association's annual conference.

Lawrence J. Leon, police chief of the Palm Beach County School District in West Palm Beach, Fla., said the teachers, staff and administrators at Sandy Hook attempted to create the illusion of empty classrooms to delay the shooter until law enforcement arrived.

“That staff did everything right,” Mr. Leon said during a PRIMA session on active shooter events. “They had crisis plans,” which he said they followed.

“Single-point entries funnel people through the main office,” which is important to control an event. “But not all the (classroom) doors were locked,” he said, noting that public schools need to lock classroom doors at all times.

While such efforts are frustrating for teachers and difficult for schools to implement, “You have to work through it and make adjustments,” Mr. Leon said.

The Palm Beach County school system has more than 175,000 students and is the 11th-largest school district in the United States, he said. The school district's police department has 165 sworn law enforcement officers and 40 support personnel.

Crisis plans for active shooter incidents at schools are necessary for mitigation and survival, and must be realistic and address immediate follow-up actions, Mr. Leon said. Such plans establish a command structure with redundancies as well as a crisis response team of at least 10 people handling various responsibilities, he said.

In response to the Sandy Hook shootings, Florida legislators are considering a bill that would allow teachers to carry loaded guns to address active shooter situations, something Mr. Leon opposes.

“We're saying no” to teachers carrying loaded guns, he said. “Let the law enforcement handle it. They're trained.”

The session was moderated by Benson Meyers, risk manager of Portland Public Schools in Oregon.

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