Security increased at Mid-Columbia schools after rumors

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldDecember 21, 2012 

Some Mid-Columbia schools will have more security on campus today after rumors spread Thursday about students bringing guns to school because of doomsday predictions about the end of the world.

The Richland, Pasco and North Franklin school districts quickly released statements addressing social media reports that the end of the Mayan calendar cycle today will result in a global apocalypse.

As remote as that prospect seems, school and law enforcement officials were taking no chances in light of last week's massacre of 26 students and teachers at a Connecticut elementary school.

With that tragedy still fresh, many Mid-Columbia school officials already have begun to reassess their ability to protect students, whatever the threat.

"Even though Pasco has been recognized for its current security strategies, Sandy Hook (Elementary) has been a wake-up call to all schools across the nation to review and improve where needed," Pasco Superintendent Saundra Hill said in a release that also was posted on the district's homepage Thursday.

Richland board members heard from their own staff and members of the Richland and West Richland police departments during a Thursday board meeting about measures already in place to protect students, staff and buildings.

Assistant Superintendent Todd Baddley said the district has had a safety committee and a risk management committee for years. There are mock scenarios practiced to test preparedness, and the district works closely with police when it comes to training.

"We have drilled it. We have rewritten policy. We have drilled it again," said Richland police Capt. Mike Cobb.

And police standoffs near schools, bomb threats and this week's rumors at Richland High have put the district's safety protocols to real-life tests.

Thursday's gun rumors meant Richland police were out in force Thursday near Richland High School and elsewhere in the district. And the school's principal talked to students about the rumors during a planned assembly, said Steve Aagaard, the district's spokesman.

Board member Rick Donahoe said at the meeting that he wanted to know where the district had weaknesses in its protocols and plans.

"Personally, I'd like to see some kind of vulnerability assessment," he said.

Richland Police Chief Chris Skinner suggested the district could hire consultants to help assess those vulnerabilities.

The board decided the district's risk management committee, with the help of police and emergency responders, should tackle the first review, including scenarios such as gunmen but also natural disasters.

"I at least see a need to go to a higher level of implementation," said Richland school board Chairman Rick Jansons.

Pasco school officials are forming a security advisory panel with law enforcement, first responders and school security experts to review current procedures.

And outside safety consultants are being hired next year to evaluate and repair school doors and locks, according to Thursday's release.

Kennewick school officials said they have regular safety drills and training and that steps are taken to make schools secure. Kennewick schools are closed today for their winter break.

Finley Superintendent Lance Hahn said similar issues were raised at this week's school board meeting and they are considering reviewing their safety policies during a February workshop session.

"It's just something the board feels we should review," Hahn said. "We do feel we're doing a good job, though."

In the Kiona-Benton City School District, two teachers also raised safety concerns at this week's board meeting.

Issues ranged from the need for a better security camera system and rooms without the school's public address system to classrooms that can't be locked from the inside to keep out intruders.

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