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ELLSWORTH — In the wake of yet another school shooting, this one at Santa Fe High School in Texas Friday, parents may be wondering if their children are safe at local schools.

The answer: school officials and law enforcement are doing everything thing they can to make them safe, including equipment, planning and amping up drills.

Coordinating these efforts is the Hancock County Emergency Management Agency. Fifty percent of the agency’s funding is from the county tax and the other half is from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

“We serve as a resource with local law enforcement and fire, regional law enforcement, state police and sheriff’s deputies,” said Andrew Sankey, the Hancock County Emergency Management Agency’s director.

The agency also secures funding for equipment that might not be available in municipal police department budgets.

For example, all Hancock County law enforcement officers have tourniquet kits to stop bleeding from a gunshot or other trauma until medical help arrives. The kits were funded with a Homeland Security grant.

One reason for that addition to the officers’ equipment is that victims at school shootings were becoming fatalities because urgent care wasn’t getting to them in time, Sankey said.

“Now, they can immediately give aid,” Sankey said.

Also, Hancock County has some EMTs and paramedics outfitted with body armor and training so that they can accompany law enforcement officers into a building in an active shooter situation, the director said.

Officials are studying each school shooting and making tactical changes as a result.

Bradley Nutting, deputy Emergency Management Agency director, said “the original mindset was from a hostage standpoint. That’s what happened at Columbine.”

Nutting is referring to the Columbine High School massacre in Colorado in 1999. Twelve students and one teacher were murdered and 24 more injured.

Now, the first officer on the scene enters the building “to neutralize the threat,” Sankey said.

But, preparing for school shootings is just one part of school safety planning.

Retired Hancock County Sheriff’s Office Maj. Richard Bishop now works part time as a planner for the agency. Bishop helps schools locally and across the state prepare safety plans.

Sankey said Bishop started out his career as a classroom teacher before he joined law enforcement.

“He continues to have that passion and he’s working with us now to do all hazards perspective to make sure the schools are safe for everything,” Sankey said.

Bishop said there’s a list of things to consider, including the number of students at the school, the special needs students and how they all will be accommodated in an emergency.

Bishop looks at a school and the environment.

Trenton Elementary School, as an example, is situated off of Route 3, a major hazardous material thoroughfare. The school is near an airport with commercial flights. It’s just down the road from two boat yards and the accompanying chemicals. The school is near a fueling station and a transportation portal for Mount Desert Island.

“You have to take in all those environmental concerns,” Bishop said.

Bishop also looks at morning and afternoon traffic flow or lack thereof.

Emergencies and corresponding building or campus evacuations can happen anytime.

“I look at Feb. 14: 28 degrees and freezing rain,” Bishop said. “Is your plan going to accommodate that?”

“The other big component is parent/student reunification,” Bishop said. “Where is that going to take place?”

Sankey added, “and how are we going to transport them?”

Another concern for the agency is that schools are vigilant about keeping doors locked during school hours but after school caution is often thrown to the wind.

“Before and after hours, the security seems to go out the window,” Sankey said.

Reproduced courtesy The Ellsworth American ~ Written by Jennifer Osborn

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