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AHS threat means added security

Dec. 19, 2012

There are too many questions and not enough answers after last Friday's mass shooting in Newtown, Conn. Twenty children and six staff members, including a teacher and a principal, lost their lives after a gunman entered the school and opened fire. While the nation tries to recover in the wake of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary, questions about children's security here in Lake Country are also taking center stage.

Rumors at Arrowhead

On Tuesday, administrators at Arrowhead became aware of a rumor that had surfaced regarding a possible threat, planned to occur on Friday, Dec. 21, at Arrowhead High School. Arrowhead Union High School District Superintendent Craig Jefson sent a notice to Arrowhead parents the same day to answer questions and dispel rumors.

According to the letter, the Waukesha Sheriff's Department and the Hartland Police Department have been working with the school district. Their investigation indicates there is no credible threat, the letter stated.

In any case, Arrowhead and area law enforcement "will take additional security measures towards ensuring the safety of our students and staff."

Jefson said that law-enforcement agencies "don't want to show their hand" by giving more detail about their plan, but Waukesha County Sheriff's Department Capt. Ruff confirmed that there will be restricted access to the schools, increased patrols, and local law-enforcement agencies will be made available for the high school.

District officials are also asking parents to discuss the matter with their children because "we don't know the source of the rumor." Anyone with reliable information has been asked to report it to the school's administration or Deputy Pete Freyer, school resource officer.

Arrowhead High School will be open on Friday as usual. The letter added that if parents have any concerns, they have the right to excuse their children for the day.

Waukesha North High School was dealing with a similar rumor circulating on Facebook. The Waukesha Police Department planned to have an extra police presence at Waukesha North, as well as Waukesha West and Waukesha South, on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

Schools react

In the wake of last week's mass shooting out east, many local schools have reached out to parents to highlight their goals in creating a safelearning environment.

For example, the Pewaukee School District sent messages to parents saying, "Our safety committee meets regularly to address both crisis prevention and emergency preparedness. A crisis response plan is in place and readily available for all staff. To enhance preparedness, routine drills are conducted.

"In the last month, a districtwide lockdown drill was successfully conducted. Moreover, on Friday prior to this incident at Sandy Hook, a routine safety assessment was conducted at Pewaukee Lake Elementary School," said the message, from Superintendent JoAnn Sternke.

Richmond School in Lisbon sent a letter to parents from Administrator George Zimimer saying "doors are checked frequently, and all staff remain diligent when paying attention to visitors, name badges, unknown cars in the parking lot, and frequent checks on our exterior peripheral areas."

Richmond is getting quotes for bulletproof glass, glass-to-steel door replacements and steel-threaded windows. It is also investigating the possibility of contracting with the Sheriff's Department for an onsite armed police officer, full-time or part-time, to be present each day kids are in school.

These measures go beyond the deputy liaisons or school resource officers that have been arranged for many schools by the Waukesha Country Sheriff's Department.

According to Ruff, resource officers report to the school they are assigned to every day. She added that these deputies are responsible for school security, by helping the school develop an action plan, keeping a line of communication open with the Sheriff's Department, dealing with students that get out of hand or helping when students become involved with law enforcement outside of school.

For safety reasons, Ruff declined to comment specifically on how many officers have been assigned as resource officers or which schools they serve.

An increased policepresence has been requested by schools within Waukesha County as well as nearby municipalities.

Teachers and volunteering parents, like the Watch D.O.G.s (Dad's of Great Students) at Hartland-Lakeside, also plan to increase their presence at the schools during recess or before and after school.

Emergency drills

Emergency crews have prepared for the potential for an incident here similar to the one in Newton, Conn..

Back in April, Lake Country Fire and Rescue participated in a mass casualty drill with 200 police, fire and other emergency responders from 20 Lake Country communities. The drill staged a mock shooting in which two pretend "gunmen" interrupted an assembly in the gymnasium at St. John's Northwestern Military Academy in Delafield.

Delafield Police Chief Taubel and Fire Chief Jack Edwards told the Delafield Common Council after the drill that they were pleased by the overall performances of their departments and the responding surrounding communities.

Lockdown experience

Hartland students and parents experienced a scare just last month.

On Nov. 15, Hartland Elementary North was placed on lockdown after students said they saw someone in the wooded area with a gun.

"We actually had some pretty good things in place, but after the incident at Hartland North, we updated some of our plans and put some new things in place," Hartland Lakeside Superintendent Glenn Schilling said.

The school was placed on Level 1 lockdown, along with a nearby daycare facility and St. Charles Catholic Church/School. Police officers surrounded the area and conducted two sweeps of the woods.

No suspects were found.

Regardless, the school has taken the lockdown seriously and has been working with the School Board to improve its security. In January, it hopes to have requests approved for installing buzzers at the doors, increasing the number of their indoor cameras and changing the locks so teachers can use them more easily.

The school already has cameras at all entrances and a walkie-talkie system in place so they can communicate with emergency responders (and other schools in the district) on a designated channel without needing cell phones.

"There are only so many things that you can do preventatively. In most cases, it's spontaneous and quick. Seconds count, and that reaction time is so brief, so that's what we need to focus on. How to react," Schilling said.

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