Robert Sparkman, superintendent of Jasper City Schools, said schools are careful to keep doors locked at all times. Each school’s front door requires visitors to be let in and a camera focused on those entrances so officials can see who is trying to enter the school. There are also security cameras on each of the main halls of each school.
Several years ago, Jasper City Schools developed plans for handling a variety of emergency situations, but Sparkman said those plans will be reviewed again in the wake of this tragedy.
“We have a plan of action for virtually any type of emergency,” Sparkman said. “We have a very thorough plan for this type of event, but any time there are events like this, we try to step up security. We always want to be very safe with our students.”
Jasper City Schools worked closely with Jasper Police Department as well as Jasper Fire and Rescue to develop those plans and conduct training exercises on the school premises. The school system also made the layouts and blueprints of their schools available to the officials via a secure website that police can also use to access security cameras inside the schools. The on-site drills and accessability of data enable the police to prepare and react quickly in the event of a school emergency.
Jasper Police Chief Connie Cooner Rowe said preparedness is essential to any critical situation.
“We want to be as prepared as we possibly can be,” she said. “We work closely with the school system and we have a responsibility to children and their parents to keep them safe when they are in our schools. That is a responsibility that we take seriously. That is the very reason we started our critical response team.”
The JPD Critical Response Team was activated in July, and Rowe said the group is a key to being prepared in a life-and-death situation, such as a school shooting.
Even with a high level of preparedness, Rowe said evil people will do evil things.
“There is no way to completely prepare for what an evil person can make happen,” she said.
Rowe said she is an advocate for having a police officer in every school.
“Without a doubt, I feel we are in a better position if we have boots on the ground inside a school,” Rowe said. “Tactically, we would have a huge advantage in having a person already inside a school who could communicate what was happening. That would be completely different from arriving and trying to figure out what is going on inside.”
Safety is also a top concern for Jason Adkins, superintendent of the Walker County Board of Education.
“The safety of our children is a top priority,” he said.
Adkins said events like the shooting in Connecticut place a higher emphasis on school safety.
“When something like this happens, our focus tends to turn toward what we can do to keep something like this from happening here,” he said. “It is impossible to rule out every possible situation if someone is determined to do something terrible like this, but we need to be as prepared as possible.”
A “concentrated effort” is needed throughout the county, Adkins added.
“By that I mean that we need to be able to push a button and first responders in the area know something is happening,” he said. “We need a way for the info to get out and those responders know what is happening.”
The Walker County BOE and the Walker County Sheriff’s Office are working together to implement a program that would give deputies the ability to tap into cameras at schools in the event of an incident, Adkins said.
“This is something we’ve had in the works for a while, but it will be expediated now, due to the tragedy in Connecticut,” Adkins said.
Adkins added that security measures in new schools will be even higher than current facilities. All county schools now have a buzzer system that limits access to the inside of the school.
Adkins said plans for the new elementary school in Sumiton includes two sets of “buzzer doors.”
“The buzzer system works pretty well. We need to be sure that it is being used properly, but it does work well,” Adkins said. “The new school in Sumiton will have a buzzer on the front door, which lets you into the lobby. Then, a person will have to go through another buzzer door to be in an area where students are.”