Two testify before state Senate panel

Published Feb 20, 2013 at 10:26 am (Updated Feb 20, 2013 at 10:26 am)

A South Strabane Township police officer and a Canon-McMillan School Board member testified Wednesday before two state Senate committees on how to make schools safer against a shooting incident.

South Strabane Officer John Bruner and Joseph M. Zupancic, a school board member and assistant district attorney, both testified before a joint panel of members of the senate’s Education and Veteran Affairs and Emergency Preparedness committees in Harrisburg.

Zupancic, who also is a member of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, also was in Washington, D.C., recently to discuss school violence.

“The association believes there needs to be a three-pronged approach of deter, detect and delay as part of a comprehensive strategy against a lone attacker in the school,” Zupancic said.

Districts can deter incidents through building access control, including closed-circuit television, video monitoring and access-controlled door systems. Deterring violence also includes holding intruder and other drills throughout the school year.

The second component of detection includes monitoring potential failures or breakdowns in protective mechanisms that could result in school security breaches.

Zupancic said the third prong, delay, is necessary if there is a breach of security, to slow down intruders or postpone the danger to allow a security team to respond.

Canon-McMillan mulled the idea of hiring security guards, but estimated it would cost $500,000.

“We have to spend our resources wisely,” Zupancic said.

The district does have a password-protected posting of floor plans for all the schools in the district that first responders, including local police to firefighters, can call up on a cellphone while responding to a scene of an emergency.

“They pull up the floor plan,” Zupancic said. “It all lists a chain of command so the responders know who is in charge at the school.”

Bruner, who is also a negotiations leader for the Washington Regional SWAT Team, said school shootings are a hot button topic.

“Statistics show these incidents are increasing every decade and show absolutely no signs of holding steady or decreasing,” Bruner told the panel. “It is the time to have a sense of urgency and to be very proactive in researching ways to make our schoolchildren safer.”

Bruner had three suggestions for the panel. He recommended that all 67 counties form a safe school coalition that would meet every three months and discuss all aspects of school safety. The discussion should include risk and vulnerability assessments, creating a proper crisis response plan and mock drills.

He also recommends placing armed and trained school resource or police officers in every building.

“They should be in full uniform, including tactical vests and handcuffs,” Bruner said. “They would have radio communication with 911 and any responding officers.”

“We need a trained police officer who can be trusted and relied upon to properly react and direct others under high stress,” he said. “We must meet this level of intense stress with the proper tool, which is an armed and trained police officer.”

Arming a security officer or teachers and administrators would not be sufficient, he added.

“Schools need to re-examine their priorities and put child safety at the top,” said Bruner, who also is president of In-Crisis Consulting. His firm provides training to companies and their employees on how to respond to an active shooter incident.

Bruner also suggests consulting with professionals in the mental health field since anger, retaliation and revenge all seem to be reasons why a students bring weapons to school.

“If we talk and keep a constant ear on our students and quickly discover changes in their behavior, we may be able to investigate and uncover a severe victim of bullying,” he added. “Of we may find a student that has started bullying others and offer help.”

“Students should be educated on general stress and stress coping mechanisms,” Bruner suggested. “Research has shown that people snap when their abilities to cope with stress become overwhelmed.

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