The Free Press, Mankato, MN

August 5, 2013

Schools prepare with safety training

By Dan Nienaber
dnienaber@mankatofreepress.com

---- — MANKATO — About 100 people arrived at Mankato's Public Safety Center Monday prepared to deal with a school emergency, but only a handful knew where the practice scenario was going to take them before the training session started.

For the past several years people who would be in the middle of everything if a school tragedy ever occurred at one of the 15 Mankato Area Public Schools buildings in Mankato, North Mankato and Eagle Lake gather to talk through an emergency. Those participating never know what's going to happen until the training starts.

This year it was a school shooting. It's not uncommon for each school to do fire drills, tornado drills and practice lockdowns when school is in session, said Supt. Sheri Allen. Monday's training brought together employees from all the schools, law enforcement officers, medical response teams and a variety of local emergency experts for a more comprehensive drill.

Each school has an emergency response team. They broke up into separate groups representing each school to walk through the same shooting scenario. They talked about ways to prevent a shooting or deal with one if it happens.

"We do this every year, but it's grown each year," Allen said. "We work together to see how we're communicating with each other and how we will communicate with students and parents. It just takes it to the next level of community support."

The training was scheduled to last about 90 minutes, but it was running late Monday. Chris Boyer, North Mankato police chief and emergency management director, said that's common and it's a good thing.

"Every time you do one of these, something comes up that hasn't come up in the past and you get to discuss it," he said.

He doesn't remember which of the many school tragedies during the past several years triggered the first training session six or seven years ago. Boyer does know that there are other communities in the state that are looking at what the Mankato area does to develop their own training sessions.

If a tragedy were to happen in the Mankato area, it's unlikely it will be exactly like any scenario that has been used one of the training sessions, said Cmdr. Sandi Schnorenberg of the Mankato Department of Public Safety. But she does believe the training everyone has received will pay off, if it is ever needed.

"I think if you plan and talk about things, you're going to be more prepared if something does happen," Schnorenberg said. "We used to just not talk about it and hope it didn't happen."

"A lot of the things we are learning are general guidelines that are applicable in any situation," Boyer said.

The school district is already taking new steps this year to help prevent a school shooting or a variety of other dangers. Surveillance cameras are being installed at every elementary school and doors will have to be remotely unlocked by a staff member inside before visitors can enter.