Elks Lodge chosen as point place in school emergency operations plan

Elks Lodge chosen as point place in school emergency operations plan

SMITHFIELD - With more and more mass shootings occurring across the country this year, local school administrators are continuing to secure their safety plans in case a tragedy strikes close to home.

And, according to School Committee Chairman Sean Clough, Smithfield's security procedures are a leading example not only in the state of Rhode Island but also nationally.

"It's not a hyperbole to say that." Other school districts around the country are talking about Smithfield's school security, he said, "which the School Committee was impressed and happy to hear."

Monday night, in closed session, the committee was given an update on the department's safety procedures, which includes a plan to unite students with their parents and guardians at the Elks Lodge, at 326 Farnum Pike, if a tragedy, such as a school shooting, were to ever occur.

"We want to prepare for something that we hopefully never have to deal with," Kenneth Hopkins, assistant principal at Gallagher Middle School and the school district's emergency operations coordinator, told The Valley Breeze & Observer on Monday.

The Elks Lodge "provides a more centralized location that's away from the campus areas," Hopkins said. "It's accessible for what we would need."

"From a common sense point of view, it has a big parking lot and facility," Clough said. "That's also key. It's another example of a community organization stepping forward and being involved, which is great."

Hopkins said that he can't reveal much of the security plans for obvious confidentiality reasons.

According to Supt. Robert O'Brien, the School Committee must review the plan annually, per a requirement from the Rhode Island Department of Education.

In an effort to keep Smithfield students and staff safe, the School Department works with representatives from the town's Police, Fire, and Emergency Management departments and continuously updates its emergency operations plan.

The "state-of-the-art" plan uses best practices that are learned, unfortunately, from tragic incidents around the country, Clough said. "Because things are always changing, there's always something more that can be done."

The plan is based on the framework of the National Incident Management System, NIMS, and the Incident Command System, according to the School Department's annual report, which can be found on the district's website.

"It creates a framework on how to properly respond to a variety of emergency (situations) and how to best deal with a situation and contingencies that arise," Hopkins said.

Hopkins took over the position of emergency operations coordinator from Renee Palazzo, former assistant principal at Smithfield High School, after Palazzo left last spring to serve as principal at Ponaganset High School.

In addition to finalizing the "parent-student reunification procedures," the School Department is in the process of developing more effective communications through radio systems and digital media and updating school buildings with safety in mind, including adding more security cameras at Gallagher Middle School, the report states.

A district emergency operations committee meets monthly to review and update the plan.

Last year, teachers and staff from all six schools received training to replace traditional lockdown strategies in the event an armed intruder is present in one of the schools. The training program, which is nationally recognized, is called ALICE, which stands for "Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate."

The School Department's security plan has been two years in the making, Clough noted, starting with Palazzo and Captain Kenneth Brown, Jr., of the Smithfield Police Department.

Clough said: "I think it's a really great accomplishment and a really great example of what can happen when we have different (groups) working together to ensure the safety of students and employees throughout town."