Eleven years ago in the small town of Littleton, Colo., high school seniors Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris carried out one of the worst school shootings in U.S. history.
Armed with an arsenal of weapons, the duo went on a killing spree at Columbine High School that left 12 students and a teacher dead and 21 others wounded before the shooters took their own lives.
“This really was a wake-up call for law-enforcement and school administrators all across the country because it helped identify what we should and should not be doing when it comes to responding to an active shooter or active threat,” according to Don Alwes, lead instructor for the National Tactical Officers Association in Pennsylvania.
Alwes will join other national law enforcement experts March 3-4 at The Center for Rural Development in Somerset, Ky. to help school administrators, safety officials, and law enforcement from rural communities across the nation become more proactive in preventing and responding to today’s top school safety threats.
The 2011 Rural School Safety and Technology Conference is presented in partnership with The Center, the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center (NLECTC) Small, Rural, Tribal, and Border Regional Center (SRTB-RC), and the School Safety Advocacy Council.
SRTB-RC is one of the Public Safety programs operated by The Center for Rural Development.
Several relevant topics in today’s headlines—including cyber-bulling and Internet threats, developing and managing school safety initiatives, and finding federal funding support for school safety—will be covered during the two-day conference, scheduled to run from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. each day.
“Events in recent years have shown schools in rural and suburban communities across the United States are not immune from violent critical incidents,” Lonnie Lawson, president and CEO of The Center for Rural Development, said. “SRTB-RC and The Center are making it possible through conferences such as these for law enforcement and schools throughout our nation to become better prepared to respond to active threats.”
U.S. Congressman Harold “Hal” Rogers (KY-05)—who has championed homeland security in rural America—applauded The Center and SRTB-RC for bringing such an event to Kentucky and this region of the country.
“We must remain vigilant in keeping our students safe through prevention tactics and response strategies,” Rogers said. “It is easy to let your guard down when there are no obvious threats, so this conference at The Center will serve as a good refresher to our rural police departments and schools in remaining alert and prepared for action.”
Like Alwes, Sean Burke, president of the School Safety Advocacy Council, said Columbine was a watershed moment in the nation’s history that brought about a great deal of analyses and work to bolster school safety.
But the passing of time coupled with funding struggles has led to a declining interest in school safety, Burke said.
“Rural areas need to step up and say it’s important to provide training to rural officers in these remote districts,” Burke, also a lieutenant in the Lawrence, MA Police Department, said. “Just because you’re a small or rural school district, that’s no excuse not to be prepared the best you can.
“So having this event at The Center—in the heart of rural America—is a real compliment to the organization’s foresight,” he added. “I don’t think we’re going to answer every question, but people are going to leave here with a more complete idea of what they need to do to be more prepared.”
Burke said the Somerset event is already generating interest from officials in a range of states, including Tennessee, West Virginia, Michigan, Missouri, Colorado, Washington, and Oregon, in addition to Kentucky.
Alwes said he hopes the conference will be a starting point to get people talking about school safety issues, and that they will carry that conversation back to their local communities.
“We should spend as much effort keeping our children safe from violent attacks as we do protecting them from fire,” Alwes said. “Our children cannot learn if they do not have a safe environment. We need to do everything we can to help prepare for and prevent active threats from happening in our schools and communities.”
In addition to Alwes and Burke, other conference topics and speakers include: “Federal Support and Funding of School Safety,” Michael O’Shea of U.S. Department of Justice; “New and Emerging Threats to School Safety,” Curtis Lavarello, School Safety Advocacy Council; David Kamilieter, Scottsdale AZ Police Department; and “Developing and Managing School Safety Initiatives,” Dr. Hector Garcia, director of Miami-Dade Criminal Justice Institute.
For more information about the conference, contact The Center for Rural Development at 606-677-6000 or visit www.schoolsafety911.org to register online.