Plum School District staff prepared in case of emergency

| Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012, 12:02 a.m.

Tracy Simqu spends a lot of time at Regency Park Elementary School, where one of her children attends classes.

Simqu, the school's PTA president, also has children who attend A.E. Oblock Junior High School and Plum High School.

Simqu said she is satisfied with the security measures at all three buildings.

“I don't feel the kids aren't safe,” Simqu said.

Still, educators and school security personnel, including those in the Plum School District, this week are reviewing their crisis plans in the wake of the shooting rampage last week at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that left 20 children and seven adults dead.

Plum School District resource Officer Mark Kost this week visited the schools and reviewed crisis plans with staff members.

“We want to make sure that everyone understands the plan if, God forbid, something like this occurs here,” said Kost who also is a Plum police officer.

Michael Dorn, executive director of Safe Havens International, a nonprofit organization based in Macon, Ga., that conducts school safety and security assessments, said school employees also must be able think fast.

“In the first 30 seconds of a crisis, every employee has to be trained, empowered and practiced to make life and death decisions on their own without waiting for instruction,” Dorn said.

Dorn said that at times employees are reluctant to trust their own instincts and deviate from the plan because they fear disciplinary action.

“They are conditioned not to do anything without the principal,” he said.

Dorn said employees need to be given what he refers to as “permission to live” or the ability to adjust their actions to deal with a particular situation.

“No written plans can address every scenario or shooting,” Dorn said. “Employees have to have the latitude to adapt to the situation and not get their heads bitten off.”

Kost said he instructs Plum's employees to think on their feet.

“Things change, and the plan has to change to adapt to different situations,” Kost said. “It's common sense.”

Kost said the best way to reduce the odds of a tragedy is to build a rapport with students so youngsters develop a trusting relationship with adults, such as school resource officers, in a school setting.

“Hopefully, I have a rapport (with students) so I see things, see people, see changes and head off a situation,” Kost said.

Kost said he works well with the district's administrators, teachers and staff who work together to keep children safe.

“What happens on the outside (of school), I share with administrators and back and forth,” Kost said.

Kost is confident Plum's teachers and staff would do all they could to protect students in a crisis as did the school personnel at Sandy Hook Elementary.

“Our teachers and staff are very caring people who are protective of students,” Kost said.

As an illustration of the caring nature of the district's employees, Kost said, he and Michael Loughren, assistant high school principal — arranged for Santa to visit each elementary classroom Monday and pass out candy canes to students.

“Mike came up with the idea,” Kost said.

“He wanted to keep the holiday spirit alive after what happened on Friday (in Connecticut).”

Simqu and Michele Gallagher, PTA president at Oblock, said they are pleased to see the district's security measures such as the buzzer system in action every day.

“I still get buzzed in when I go to school,” Simqu said. “Everyone has to be buzzed in and sign in.”

“There are security cameras everywhere at Pivik,” Gallagher said. “You can't just walk into the schools.”

Karen Zapf is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8753, or

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