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Fairbanks school district reviews security after Sandy Hook tragedy

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Posted: Friday, December 14, 2012 11:54 pm

Alaska's governor and congressional delegation express their condolences

FAIRBANKS — Fairbanks school district officials, like their counterparts across the nation, reacted with sadness and sorrow at the news of the tragic Connecticut school shooting and immediately began reviewing the school district’s security policies

“This is just a terrible, terrible tragedy,” said Fairbanks North Star Borough School District Superintendent Pete Lewis.

“Our hearts go out to their families,” he said, adding, “We need to take care of one another, to keep talking with one another and building good relationships. If we see something, we say something and work our way through each day.”

Throughout Friday’s school day, district assistant superintendents were checking with school principals to see what their needs were, and principals were working with counselors and teachers to support students.

“We have 14,500 kids and want to make sure we take care of our families, our teachers and our staff,” Lewis said.

“This weekend, we’ll follow up to see what is needed in terms of support, for the structure of the school days next week, and to see if people need to talk.”

Lewis said security is a high priority in the district with crisis plans and drills. An earthquake drill was done in October, and there also are evacuation and lockdown drills.

“We do a variety of things across the district. It’s an ongoing process. We work with the military at Fort Wainwright and Eielson, (Alaska State) troopers, and the UAF, North Pole and Fairbanks police departments.”

Fairbanks Police Chief Laren Zager said it was “a coincidence of time” that he and deputy chief Brad Johnson met Thursday with school district officials to discuss the school resource officers program as well as security, cameras and communication.

“Meetings like this occur quite regularly,” Zager said.

Since 2009, two Fairbanks police officers have been serving as schools resource officers during the school year, one at Lathrop High and the other at West Valley High School.

In the middle schools, department officers work with students on the GREAT (Gang Resistance Education And Training) curriculum about gang awareness, communication, and making good choices.

The district also has two full-time safety liaisons who respond to schools across the district on attendance issues, security, crisis plans and training.

“They go where they are needed each day,” Lewis said.

In addition, most of the secondary schools have from one to three safety assistants depending on school size.

Multiple security cameras are installed in buildings throughout the district, Lewis said.

“And we continue to add to that system as part of the ongoing (security) process.”

Zager rates the school district’s security in the top 25 percentile.

“Fairbanks has a lot to be prepared for, but you’re never fully prepared for something like this no matter how many practices you have,” he said.

A fundamental training of the FPD’s Special Emergency Response Team is an active shooter exercise.

“We are maintaining and constantly looking for better practices and techniques. We are ready as we can be for as many events we know to anticipate,” Zager said.

In 2006 a school shooting at North Pole Middle School was narrowly averted and six students were arrested on suspicion to kill classmates and teachers. That plot was foiled when a parent tipped off police.

Metal detectors have been considered by the school district in the past, Lewis said, but no action has been taken.

“There are several secure measures in place, but none are fail-safe,” he added. “The best thing is to have people talking and building relationships where people are comfortable talking and the better off we will be,” Lewis said.

Zager said there was a subdued atmosphere as he walked through the department Friday evening.

“The Fairbanks Police Department is stunned and grieving. We have so many parents who identify with kids that age, and we are a little bit numb with all of this as well,” Zager said.

Contact staff writer Mary Beth Smetzer at 459-7546.

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