Preparations for armed intruders

By Teuila Fuatai

Local schools are being warned to prepare for the worst case scenario following the deadliest ever armed school attack in United States history last week.

"It highlights that everybody is vulnerable and ... you continue to look at it in the eyes of 'what's next'," St Teresa's School principal Karolina Surynt-Tapiki said.

Twenty children and six teachers were gunned down last week at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.

Shooter Adam Lanza, 20, entered the school on Friday morning (local time) armed with a rifle and two semi-automatic pistols. Among his victims were eight boys and 12 girls - all aged 6 and 7.

He eventually turned a weapon on himself.

Mrs Surynt-Tapiki said schools had to think ahead.

"It's about precaution and being proactive rather than reactive so that we can deal with every situation as they arise."

The Featherston school went into lockdown last year after pupils said they saw a man in camouflage clothing carrying a rifle along railway tracks.

The school was under police guard for five hours. Children were kept inside and pedestrians nearby warned to clear the area. Police did not find the man or any weapons.

And in the aftermath of the US tragedy, the New Zealand Secondary Principals' Association warns that local schools need to prepare for a worst-case scenario here.

"I hope that [a school shooting] would never happen but I think we have to be realistic and expect that it probably will and make sure that we do have best placed measures to prevent that from happening," association president Patrick Walsh said.

All schools should have an emergency plan in place to deal with an armed intruder incident, he said.

"Most schools now have developed a comprehensive lockdown procedure in their schools."

When this happens, all classrooms are locked. Students and teachers hide under their desks or huddle in a corner.

The school intercom system is turned on and no one is allowed to leave their classroom until police present themselves at the door.

"Some schools have developed [it] to the point where they now give their building plan to police," Mr Walsh said.

School building plans held by the Education Ministry could also be accessed by police in emergency situations, he said.

"I hope we don't get to the point that they have in the United States where you have to hire security guards outside the school and big gates and you check people coming in and out and metal detectors."

Yesterday, police released a statement on "armed incident planning" at schools.

"Police continue to work with individual schools and the Ministry of Education to provide advice and support on a range of emergency management issues, including potential armed offender incidents," a spokesman said. "This work has been ongoing over a number of years, although armed incident planning and response forms only one small part of the overall support we provide.

Police refused to discuss specific plans for "safety and security reasons".

Wairarapa Area Commander Inspector Brent Register expected schools to have their own procedures in place in the case of a shooting, "they would have their own evacuation policies".

He said police had policies in place to follow if an incident occurred.

Mr Register said firearms laws were constantly being reassessed, which meant the possibility of a school shooting was slim. APNZ


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