Community funds buildings’ security updates

At a time when school districts around the country are examining how they respond to emergencies, the South Williamsport community stepped up and gave the South Williamsport Area School District more than $25,000 to help update security and emergency response measures.

“There’s that trust with folks in the community to say, ‘Hey, we are here to help and we know we need one another. And we’re certainly here to help our kids,’ ” said South Williamsport Police Chief Robert F. Hetner. “And there isn’t anything that’s more important in any community than to make sure we’re reaching out to try to do the best we can to try and help kids and protect kids and keep kids as safe as we possibly can, knowing that on any given day, any event could possibly happen.”

Superintendent Dr. Mark Stamm explained that while collaborating with borough police on updating its emergency response plan, it came to their attention that there were measures that could be taken to improve security and preparedness of an emergency situation.

A bomb threat in a neighboring school district last school year prompted the district to look at what it does in emergency events and how security could be improved, having recently added new members of the administration.

When it became obvious that some updates were going to take funding, Hetner met with community organizations, and five organizations – Zafar Grotto Rafaz Club Inc., Loyal Order of Moose Lodge 145, American Legion Post 617, VFW Post 7863 and the district’s parent-teacher organization – responded with checks totaling $27,000. The Moose Lodge also has pledged another $5,000.

“I’m just very proud of all the organizations for coming up with the money. I know that money is going to go to good use, and maybe parents and grandparents can sleep a little easier,” said John Frye, commander of Post 617.

The money will help to fund flip locks on the inside of every classroom and office door that prevents entrance to anyone except those with a key; identification cards for students and staff; vehicle parking permits; and software to allow borough police access to security camera footage.

Stamm said the gesture by the organizations says a lot about the caring nature of the community.

“I think it speaks volumes about a community that cares about its physical schools, that cares about kids – even if they’re not their children, they care about the children in the community. And they know how important it is that they’re safe and secure,” he said.

And although the events at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., sent a message to the district that they were doing the right thing by looking at updating security, Stamm said it made sure not to let it be the only driving force.

“I’ll be honest with you, we were careful … to include what we were learning from the incident in Connecticut but not let that single incident drive the whole plan. And I think the proof that that was the right decision was what just happened in Oklahoma,” Stamm said. “There are incidents that happen in schools a lot. There can be a lot of things that can go wrong. You can’t focus just on the worst-case scenario, you have to be prepared for everything.”

He said incidents, such as a gas leak or a water main bursting, can happen any day, and the district must be prepared for all events, large or small.

“Everybody realizes that we’re long past the time that somebody says, ‘Well, something can’t happen in my community.’ Whether it’s a natural disaster, with the tornadoes and hurricanes, or fire or something, or whether it might be a gas leak,” Hetner said.

To stay prepared, Stamm said, the district is implementing lock-down and natural disaster drills in its buildings, along with the fire drills it already performs.

While there’s no way of preventing every situation, all parties hope that the measures taken will help to create a proper response that will be “second nature” to those involved.

“You spend a lot of time on the education end, you wish you didn’t have to spend a lot of time with these (other) things today, but that’s the world we live in,” Hetner said. “And we gotta do what we gotta do in order to make things as safe as we can. We know nothing’s 100 percent OK in this world, but … this is an effort that involved these organizations, the school and the police.”