LUMBERTON — Educators and law enforcement officials were at Lumberton High School on Tuesday getting schooled on what to do if a school came under attack.
The presentation by the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office included instruction on critical incidents, concealed weapons and active threats as a response to the shooting deaths of 20 children and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut on Dec. 14. The presentation included videos that used actors to simulate potential events and the proper response.
Sheriff’s Maj. Howard Branch was among a number of speakers, reviewing protocol and highlighting what the Sheriff’s Office was prepared to provide in case of an active-shooting scenario.
“School safety is front and center,” said Stephen Gaskins, an assistant superintendent with the Public Schools of Robeson County. “The most important thing is the safety of our children. We need to be as ready as we can be.”
Schools Superintendent Johnny Hunt said training and preparation are critical to keeping schools safe.
“I think with all the things happening in the state and the country, it gives you safety for classroom instruction,” Hunt said. “It gives parents and faculty peace of mind. That’s paramount for teaching and learning to take place. Parents and teachers alike should be confident their kids are safe at all times.”
Hunt said the local school system has a plan if an emergency occurs.
“In our schools we have school resource officers and if need be they can be called to other schools,” Hunt said. “All schools have crisis plans and training in place. We involve the Sheriff’s Office and the police department in our plans. Safety is truly paramount.”
Lumberton Police Chief Mike McNeill said communication must be improved.
“Communication is pretty good,” McNeill said, “but it could be better. The Police Department cannot talk back and forth with the school, which is a necessity. The right hand needs to know what the left hand is doing.”
But McNeill is confident in the capabilities of law enforcement.
“They’ve been thoroughly trained,” he said. “They know when something is out of place in a school. With the cooperation of all the agencies, we can handle anything.”
Hunt said funding is an obstacle.
“We need money for cameras,” Hunt said. “They will add more security. We are hoping the state will look at the situation and give us more money for added security so we can stop using resources that can go elsewhere. You can’t be over prepared for something that may happen. The administration needs the ability to address things like this and get them accomplished in a timely manner.”
According to sheriff’s Detective Pete Locklear, readiness has been achieved through repeated training.
“We do active-shooter drills and practice lock-downs,” Locklear said. “Every officer has walked the hallways of every school and knows the layout in case of an emergency. It’s part of every officer’s beat. By knowing the layout, they can respond promptly and properly.”
Hunt said that Robeson County schools aren’t immune to the threat of a school shooting.
“Active-shooter drills will pay huge dividends if something ever happens,” Hunt said. “We need to be prepared. One or two seconds can be the difference between someone being dead or alive. Seconds matter and that’s why we must be prepared.”
The principal of the school, Larry Obeda, was glad to see safety addressed.
“It’s something our staff takes pride in,” Obeda said. “We have more students than any other school in the system. I’m glad we are being proactive rather than reactive. It sets the standard for public schools in Robeson County that we are putting school safety first. We are going to lead by example.”