2018-03-08 / Front Page

Northfield Ready If Schools Are Attacked

Staff Report
The Northfield News

Police Chief William Jennings appeared at last week's Northfield Selectboard meeting to  provide local residents with information on how the local emergency services are working with Northfield schools to prevent threats in light of the recent Florida school shootings.  
Chief Jennings said his officers have ongoing training with Vermont Homeland Security for such situations and also conduct active shooter drills alongside members of the Northfield Ambulance Service (NAS). Two Northfield Police Department (NPD) officers were sent to the National Guard facility in Colchester for training in how to develop local active shooter plans. 
NAS Chief Lawton Rutter said he hosted the Franklin County Response Team last Wednesday for information on how to properly integrate NPD and NAS in an active shooter situation in order to hasten medical treatment of those injured. 
Chief Jennings said NPD officers would establish a secure location and then bring in NAS responders in order to evacuate the wounded if something happened here. 
Such an operation requires close support between the emergency services and Northfield is among the first Vermont communities to develop these plans, he added. 
Chief Jennings said the emergency services also work on such plans with school representatives. This includes Northfield Middle/High School Principal Ryan Parkman, who was also at the Selectboard meeting to answer any questions. 
Ken Hepburn said the ambulance service now has a drone intended to assist with search and rescue operations. He asked if this could be used in an active shooter situation. 
Chief Rutter said this still is fairly new equipment so its usage remains in the developmental stage. It is intended to be used for aerial reconnaissance of otherwise inaccessible areas so it is possible it could be used to gain an overhead view of a crisis situation. 
Board member Ken Johnson said we have all heard about possible threats to local schools, credible or not. He asked if all threats are directed to NPD. Chief Jennings believes all threats or communications from concerned citizens directed to the school are forwarded to NPD as soon as possible. All threats or warnings are taken seriously and fully investigated. 
Will Eberle is a local parent and he said that he feels that these mass school shootings occur when disgruntled youth have access to high-capacity weapons. 
He said that this might be a good time to talk about the possibility of restricting the availability of such weapons. He also is concerned about public access to our local schools and whether additional restrictions should be put in place to prevent weapons entering the schools. 
Chief Jennings said he makes every effort to have a NPD officer on hand at school opening and closing times. 
Mr. Parkman said staff members monitor the school entrances and exits at the beginning and end of the school day. The school doors are locked the rest of the time and any visitors have to be buzzed in. 
Chief Jennings said students are encouraged to keep aware of any possible safety concerns and notify appropriate authorities as soon as possible. This is also known as “see something, say something.” 
Steve Davis asked if students take part in active shooter drills. Chief Jennings said they did not. Principal Parkman said the schools do have regular “clear the halls” training during which all doors are locked and staff and students are instructed to go into hiding. The effectiveness of these drills is evaluated after wards and corrections made if needed. 
Mr. Davis asked if there was any thought of arming teachers. Principal Parkman did not like the idea as there was too much a chance of accidents occurring. Chief Jennings also did not see the need as any response from the NPD would take five minutes or less. 
Dan Morris is a parent of three and he is grateful for this type of conversation on school safety as the number of dead and wounded seems to escalate with every such event. He asked if the teachers themselves have been asked whether they should be armed. 
Chair Ken Goslant felt any such consideration probably would be developed at the state level and probably is outside the scope of tonight’s discussion. Mr. Morris would like to make sure the teachers are directly consulted before any such plans are contemplated. 
Wil Eberle has worked at community mental health centers in the past with frequent walk-in patients, including those who were possibly violent. He said that he felt the main deterrent to threatening situations was for everyone to keep an eye out for anyone in possible distress and to take appropriate action. Mr. Eberle believes such vigilance would help to address similar concerns in the larger community. 
Chief Jennings said Northfield was fortunate the mental health professionals available to our community are both exceptionally well-trained and readily accessible when needed. He added his officers are out in the community as much as possible so our residents can feel free to approach them with any concerns they might have. 
Chair Goslant asked if there were any concerns about any possible incidents on the Norwich University campus. 
Chief Jennings said the relationship between NPD and NU Security is very good with daily interaction and open dialogue regarding specific and general staff/student safety concerns. 
Selectboard Chair Ken Goslant told all in attendence that h would like to thank his Select Board colleagues for their efforts over the last twelve months while he served as Chair. 
He noted that he  has served on the Select Board for eight years and said he never worked with more dedicated individuals who really worked together to improve the Northfield community. 
He thanked Board member Johnson for bringing in his experience since he was appointed on an interim basis last September; Board member Doney for his enthusiasm and expertise regarding matters related to the emergency services; and Board member Goodrich for her thorough professionalism, adding she was a real joy to serve with him.  He then thanked Board member Maxwell, who previously served on the Board of Village Trustees and thus was able to provide his colleagues with valuable information regarding former Village-exclusive matters. This included the operation of Northfield’s utility departments. 
He then went on to thank Manager Schulz for his assistance over the past year. He also was grateful to the greater community, including all the local non-profit organizations, municipal boards and businesses who have worked together in a positive manner to improve Northfield in many ways. He closed by thanking frequent Select Board meeting attendees Elroy Hill, Steve Davis, and Sally Davidson for all they respectively do for the community. 
Board member Julie Goodrich asked if any bids had been received for the drainage project’s engineering services. Manager Schulz said two were received by the deadline. The engineering firm Dufresne-Henry was awarded the project based on its expertise in such matters. Their engineers now are working on the state grant application to reimburse Northfield for fifty percent  of the project’s engineering costs. The engineering part of the project should be completed in a few months but actual construction probably won’t start until next year. 
David Maxwell asked about the Mayo Block Sidewalk Project. Town Manager Jeff Schulz said he has prepared the RFP for the sidewalk construction and it should be sent out by the end of the week. The deadline for submissions will be by the end of March. Manager Schulz also is applying for a grant to cover fifty percent of the construction costs. Northfield Savings Bank already has paid for all of the engineering costs, he said. 
Chair Goslant said efforts are continuing to upgrade the Municipal Building installing food shelves in the basement and the Kent Street storage building for the CERV clothing and food shelves. This will free up space in the Town Garage for NAS operations, general storage space for the municipality, he noted. 

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