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'It’s not a matter of if it happens, it’s a matter of when'

Zoe Greszler • May 3, 2018 at 12:00 PM

“It’s not a matter of if it happens, it’s a matter of when.

“Maybe it’s not an active shooter, but all you have to do is look at the news. ... We all think it couldn’t happen in it’s Huron County, but just look around.”

Art Mead, director of the Huron County Emergency Management Agency, didn’t mince words last Friday when the agency and a representative from the Department of Ohio Homeland Security met with county educators to discuss safety concerns and plans.

“This is all about communication,” Mead said of the meeting.

“I think starting the conversation and dialogue before an incident occurs makes the incident go a little smoother. I hate to meet someone for the first time while the incident is occurring. I’d prefer to know that person, establish that relationship and know what they’re thinking so when we have that incident happen, that helps us work together. It smooths the process out.”

South Central Local Schools Superintendent Ben Chaffee, agreed, adding there was a lot of benefit to the meeting.

“By engaging in conversations about school safety and keeping school safety and security on the ‘front burner,’ we hopefully are a bit better prepared in the event of an unforeseen situation,” he said.

Mead emphasized there’s no community that is entirely safe and that all of Huron County’s schools should take that seriously, even if a tragedy never does strike the area.

“Look around,” he said. “I just think with the way society is going, it’s just better to be prepared and never have it happen then never be prepared and something happens.”

Mead encouraged each superintendent to invite not only the EMA, but also local law enforcement officials, to do a walk-through of the school buildings so they can be familiar with the lay out in case of an emergency.

Huron County Sheriff Todd Corbin agreed, saying this was something his department plans to be doing more frequently.

“You’re going to notice more law enforcement coming to the buildings and doing more walk-throughs,” he said. “If something does happen, it’s good to have someone who’s going to know where things are, know the lay out, someone we can turn to that’s familiar with (the setting).”

Districts also were encouraged to practice their safety plans frequently with drills so everyone is prepared — including students — no matter what might happen. 

Deputy Mitchel Cawrse, school resource officer for South Central and New London local schools, said often issues aren’t necessarily the fear of an active shooter, but small issues within the student body that have the potential to grow into dangerous situations. Cawrse said it’s difficult to get the students to report things that bother them because they’re “afraid to rat on each other” or “they think it’s not a big deal” at the time. 

Chaffee said one of the South Central students found out he was on a hit list.

“He was No. 12 on an alleged hit list and he sat on it for three days,” he said. “He didn’t say anything for three whole days.”

Chaffee said students and teachers alike struggle to differentiate situations or people as “weird” or “off”  from potentially dangerous.

EMA and Homeland Security officials said there are trainings that educators and authorities can attend to help, however, “no two situations are the same.”

“The best policy is always just to report it,” said Homeland Security representative Mary Tyler. “Even if you’re not sure, report it. Our policy is just always report it. If it’s squirrely, that’s no big deal. We’d rather look into it and find out it’s nothing than for no one to say anything and it turns out to be dangerous.” 

Mead said locally, it’s hard to identify what the biggest risk to Huron County schools would be. However, he said he thinks it has to do with the pressures of growing up in today’s society. 

“I don’t know, honestly,” the EMA director said. “I just think that acceptance is sometimes never really a good thing. If you think you’re not accepted, that’s where all these problems are coming from with the generation that’s coming up. It’s like if you don’t belong, then you feel like you have to act out. I think that’s just where we’re at.”

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