Community, lab talk security

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LAPS: Meeting takes place in wake of Connecticut tragedy

By Tris DeRoma

Officials whose job it is to oversee security in the community, the schools and at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, met to discuss security measures in wake of the school shooting in Newtown, Conn.

Meant to be the first in a series of meetings, the main topic of the meeting was assessing what successful security measures the Los Alamos Public School system is doing now and how it might be improved.

The first part of the meeting was a review of the district-wide plan by LAPS Superintendent Dr. Gene Schmidt. The plan, which is not available to the public, details how law enforcement and the schools should deal with a “shooter” type scenario, as well as all other kinds of emergency and disaster scenarios. However, Schmidt urged decision makers at the meeting to concentrate on the shooter scenario.

“The real intent of this is to have you tell us should we be thinking about this or that as part of your own safety plan,”

Schmidt said to the school principals and other school officials who attended the meeting.

The review also included a live feed of a security camera system from one of the elementary schools and how it works, as well as how police would react to an “active shooter.”

When someone asked at the meeting what would be the best strategy for the shooter’s intended victims, Acting Chief Randy Foster of the Los Alamos Police Department said it’s up to the individual to choose between running, fighting or hiding.

“I don’t think it’s good to give anyone a recommendation on what one should do, because they are the ones in that situation,” he said. “... They have to realize though that those are their three choices and that they need to pick one.”

Michael Wismer, the group leader at LANL for security, said he would like to offer training to school administrators on how to neutralize an active shooter.

“We would like to offer two sets of training,” he said. “One would be the equivalent of what we taught our workers, which is a video presentation that details if this happens, this is what you should do. The second presentation we would also like to offer is training on how to spot the signs and signals of someone who is going down that path and what the behaviors are that we should be focusing on.”

Bronwen Cheek, a clinical psychologist at LANL, cautioned school officials at the meeting though that any type of training may be difficult, just because people naturally do not want to acknowledge the ugliness and violence of a certain event that may have triggered the training in the first place.

“Part of it is getting people over the barrier of ‘I don’t want to think about that,’ ” she said.
Wismer agreed. “I can tell you from my experience, it’s a very difficult conversation to have. People, as Dr. Cheek said, really don’t want to talk about it,” Wismer said. “We have to force people to think about how to survive these types of situations.”

At the meeting, Acting Los Alamos Site Office Manager Juan Griego highly recommended that the schools take up Wismer and Cheek’s training offer.

“The training that Mike and his team brought over is very good,” Griego said. “It does make people uncomfortable but that’s what you want to get people over the stigma of it can’t happen here, because it could.”

Griego also suggested finding ways to identify those in the school population who may be at risk for that type of behavior.

“Raising the awareness among everybody, even the student body, is key,” he said. “The kids know each other more than anything else. Trying to tap into that as a source of information is important.”

Phil Taylor, the Emergency management coordinator for Los Alamos County agreed with the LANL officials.

“We can focus on response-based activities all day long, but that still isn’t going to prevent one of these things from happening,” Taylor said. “To me anyway, getting into how these shootings occur, why these shootings occur, recognizing behaviors and signals and then mitigating them is what we should do. It’s harder and takes a lot longer but

I think that over the long haul, that is going to yield better results.”

Foster also added that vigilance and following up is key to the success of any plan they come up with.

“It’s a process. This can’t be, ‘we looked at it, good, now we’re done,’ ” he said, referencing the all too many mass shootings that have occurred since Columbine and how would-be shooters simply changed tactics with each improvement in security.

“We have to keep looking. Now that we have done this, what is our next weak link, what are they going to target next. We have to try and stay ahead of that. It’s an ongoing process,” Foster said.

The topic of guns and other offensive tactics came up too.

However, Wismer added that the direction everyone should really focus on is intelligence from the ground up.

“We should shift this conversation away from guns and more toward the people that may be willing to do this,” he said. “... We should also advocate for collaboration and integration among all  the agencies: The Los Alamos National Laboratory, the police department, even health agencies can help. This has got to be a community conversation. Let’s protect our own, and let’s shift this away from guns, tasers and who should be and not be armed.”

The group also was aware that any security change they make is going to have an impact.

“Los Alamos has such a family-friendly feel, anything we do is going to change that culture,” Schmidt said. “... is it worth changing that culture?”

Los Alamos Middle School Principal Rex Kilburn recalled when they installed a fence in the back of the school, long before the horrific tragedy in Newtown, Conn.

“The neighborhood thought it was the end of the world,” Kilburn said. “Many people thought it was the worse thing that’s ever been done because we’ve always been friendly and nothing happened. It was a big deal. In my opinion, every little thing is going to be a big thing based on my experience so far.”

Schmidt said more meetings will follow, and possibly some public hearings on the matter as well, he said.

Right now, though, Schmidt is also seeking comments from the public about what they would do to improve school security. Schmidt said he’d also like to know if the public would mind if the stepped-up security measures also involved doing away with some of Los Alamos’ “family-friendly” culture, and how much change would the public be willing to tolerate.

Schmidt can be reached at 663-2230 or  e.schmidt@laschools.net.