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South Hills school districts review emergency management plans

| Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012, 11:53 a.m.

Tragedies — such as the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut that killed 20 students and six adults — prompted South Hills school and municipal officials to update the public on emergency management plans.

“We're always concerned with safety — student safety as well as staff safety,” said Brentwood Borough School District Superintendent Ronald Dufalla.

Brentwood Borough School District has an emergency management plan in place that addresses a “wide variety of scenarios,” Dufalla said. District officials are continuously reviewing policies and making changes to procedures where needed.

Staff members have been reminded of safety procedures this week and the district's two school resource officers have attempted to increase visibility to the public before and after the school day, Dufalla said.

Both school resource officers have been equipped with firearms since February.

“It's something we've always been talking about,” Dufalla said. The policies for the firearms were sorted out earlier this year and the officers began carrying the weapons.

Preparation, though, only can help so much, Dufalla said.

“You prepare for what could happen and hope that it never does,” he said.

Dufalla wrote a letter to the community, posted on the district's website, addressing safety in the Brentwood Borough School District.

“What we learn from a tragedy such as this is just how precious life really is and the constant need for all of us to be vigilant as we work to ensure a safe environment for our students and staff,” Dufalla wrote.

Similarly, Superintendent Randal Lutz, of the Baldwin-Whitehall School District, addressed safety in the five buildings in a letter on the district website.

“The safety and security of all children and staff is of utmost importance to the Baldwin-Whitehall School District,” Lutz wrote. “Policies and procedures have been put into place to limit access to buildings for parents and visitors alike. While these measures seem restrictive in nature, it is times like these that cause us to realize their necessity.”

Each building has an emergency management plan, which is continuously reviewed and revised. District officials also work with local police and emergency planning personnel, Lutz said.

Security cameras and guards in the buildings provide additional safety.

Likewise, the maintenance employees conduct inspections to make sure systems work correctly, Lutz said.

“Even though we have many measures in place to accomplish that goal, we can always do better,” Lutz said. “The recent events make us realize clearer than ever that we should never rest on what we have done, but always try to examine how we can make the district better.”

West Jefferson Hills School District acting assistant superintendent Hamsini Rajgopal also wrote a letter to parents and the community, addressing any concerns that could arise following the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary.

“The district's highest priority is the safety of our students,” Rajgopal wrote.

West Jefferson Hills School District officials work with local police and emergency responders and were in contact on Monday, Rajgopal wrote.

“We're there every single day,” said Chief Edward Cunningham, of the Pleasant Hills police. “We're through every day visiting every classroom.”

Doing so builds a bond with the children.

Pleasant Hills also partners with neighboring municipalities for emergency response.

Police departments in the South Hills have increased patrols near local schools, leaders said.

Whitehall Deputy Police Chief Richard Danko said his department always “keeps track” of activities at local schools and is alerted anytime there are suspicious events. There are two special needs, one parochial and three public schools in the borough.

Whitehall officials will continue to follow safety procedures that already are in place, Danko said.

“We're closely monitoring the situation,” Danko said. “We feel that they're pretty secure.”

The South Hills superintendents all provided links to information for parents and students who might need assistance dealing with traumatic situations.

“As a parent, staying calm is what reassures our children and that includes turning off the TV and to share information that is age-appropriate,” Rajgopal wrote. “So let's ensure that all of us give that extra hug to our own children and let them know we will always be there for them.”

Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or shacke@tribweb.com. Laura Van Wert is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5814 or lvanwert@tribweb.com.

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