South Hills police departments, schools react to Franklin Regional incident

Published Apr 14, 2014 at 4:41 pm (Updated Apr 14, 2014 at 4:41 pm)

Area police departments train using different scenarios in the event an incident similar to the stabbing assault by a 16-year-old student at Franklin Regional High School in Murrysville April 9 would occur in the South Hills.

The common theme expressed by several local police chiefs was: each event is different, causing the response to vary depending on the severity of the assault.

At Franklin Regional High School April 9, a 16-year-old sophomore is accused of going through the hallways slashing more than 20 students and an adult before being tackled by an assistant principal and a security officer. Four students remain in critical condition in Pittsburgh hospitals. The remainder have been released from area hospitals.

Aaron Lauth, deputy chief in Mt. Lebanon, said several meetings are held each school year, plus one in the summer, among police, the fire department, ambulance service and the school district administration, to address any safety or security concerns in the district’s seven elementary schools, two middle schools and the high school. The meetings deal not only with the possibility of an armed intruder, but also with the potential of a natural disaster, such as a flood, Lauth said.

“We do have procedures in place,” Lauth said. Now, anyone entering any of the district’s buildings must go through security on the exterior of the buildings, which includes voice contact with a representative on the inside, as well as appearing on camera. Lauth said there are also lock-down procedures in place in the event any or all of the schools must be locked to prohibit entrance from the outside, or to prevent anyone from leaving the building.

And it’s not just buildings in the Mt. Lebanon School District that are covered. Seton-La Salle High School, which is located within boundaries of Mt. Lebanon, is also included in the training. Also in Mt. Lebanon, which police and other emergency responders train to cover, are the Keystone Oaks School District middle school and high school, Lauth said, adding police are trained to respond to emergencies at all of the municipality’s nursery and pre-schools as well.

In the event additional responders are needed, Lauth said South Hills Council of Governments’ Critical Incident Response Team (CIRT) is called. Lauth is an active member of CIRT.

Peters Township, although located in Washington County, is a member of SHACOG’s CIRT, and police Chief Harry Fruecht said the team would be called if a response is needed. An emergency plan, as required by state law, is ready, but hopefully never needed.

Whether an armed intruder is a threat to any of the Peters Township School District buildings, Fruecht said it does not matter if the weapon is a knife, as used in Franklin Regional assault, or a gun or a bomb.

“The response is the same whatever the weapon,” Fruecht said. “But when it’s a knife fight, you know you’re probably going to get cut.”

An armed police officer is in the Peters Township High School when classes are in session. He also has the authority to respond to other district buildings in the event of an emergency. Those attempting to enter any of the buildings in which there are students, must push an exterior buzzer, appear on camera and then must submit a driver’s license until ready to leave.

In Peters, there are three elementary schools, a middle school and a high school.

Fruecht, who has been a police officer for 39 years, 26 as chief in Peters, said training and experience are needed and that is what police deal with on a daily basis, not just in the event of an armed intruder.

“It’s a constant learning experience, but each situation is different,” he said.

If a parent is concerned about the potential for an attack whether by or against his or her child, Fruecht said the school and police should be notified.

In Cecil Township, police Chief Shawn Bukovinsky has been chief for a year, but has 20 years in law enforcement.

“We met with the school district, had training and we have plans. We’ve also met with officials in North Strabane and Canonsburg,” Bukovinsky said of two local police departments that would likely be called to assist in the event of an emergency.

The Canon-McMillan School District covers Canonsburg, North Strabane Township and includes three elementary schools in Cecil – Muse, Cecil and Hills Hendersonville – as well as the Cecil Intermediate School.

While there is not a full-time armed officer assigned to any of the schools in the township, Bukovinsky said officers make daily, unannounced patrols through the buildings, as well as checking the exterior. The patrols have been part of the daily police routine for the past five years.

“If any incident occurs, we will handle it by the information coming in,” the chief said. If necessary, he added, the police would notify outside agencies on federal, state and county levels.

He anticipates having drills in the near future.

“We prepare as much as we can,” Bukovinsky.

Police do take tips seriously. Bukovinsky said anyone concerned about possible violence in the schools should call police and should notify the school district.

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