On Friday, Dec. 14, a gunman strolled onto the campus of Sandy Hook Elementary School in the town of Newtown, Conn., and opened fire, killing 26, including 20 children under the age of 10.
The images of the aftermath I'm sure are burned into all of our minds, and it is no doubt this is one of the worst shooting tragedies our country has seen.
Many people, both locally and nationally, are debating the reasons why, arguing over how something like this could happen and whether more laws would have made a difference.
Those questions are best discussed elsewhere. Here, today, I would like to think about what immediate steps our local officials, school administrators, parents, and students could take to minimize the risk of such a tragic event from happening on one of our Chino Valley campuses.
Newtown is a town larger than Chino Valley, about 28,000 to our 10,000, but I'm sure it is very similar to our own in that it's filled with moms and dads who want the best, safest environment for their kids.
Recently I was able to watch as our local police officers and fire fighters conducted a drill on the CVHS campus to train for just such an emergency (see the Dec. 12 issue of the Review or CVRNews.com).
Those acting as first responders, the first to arrive on the scene of a disaster, went through a very scary scenario - an armed gunman on campus.
They treated the exercise as if it were a real life situation by maneuvering through the school, checking each and every hiding place, making sure the students and faculty were all accounted for and safe, and planning out evacuation procedures.
According to Sgt. Vince Schaan of the Chino Valley Police Dept., the officers were able to work through the drill, and while they found a few areas in which they could improve, the drill was an overall success.
School officials agreed, with both Principal Wes Brownfield and Superintendent Duane Howard reporting that they have complete confidence in their staff and the first responders.
"No principal wants to see that, even as a practice," said Brownfield following the drill. "But I have a high degree of confidence that they (first responders) can handle any emergency that may happen here. I feel safe and protected by a very well-trained and responsive force."
On the Chino Valley Fire District side, Rob Zazueta said that with the training and cooperation between the CVFD, the CVPD, and other state and local agencies, they can tackle any incident that they may face.
"The value of interagency cooperation and planning for an emergency like what happened in Connecticut is crucial," said Zazueta. "It helps that everyone gets together, has the same goal, and can assist where needed."
Zazueta said that in addition to the recent CVHS training, the local responders have had real life calls in the past few years, including a serious school bus accident and a shooting, where the training they received has paid off.
"In those instances, the cooperation between the police and fire departments made sure everything worked out smooth," said Zazueta. "Obviously, the incident in Connecticut was a worst case scenario. Anytime an emergency involves kids it tugs at your heartstrings, but it is a possibility. We need to prepare both physically and emotionally. No one is ever ready for something like that, but I can honestly say that our guys can go in there and do the best for each and every person involved."
It has been reported that a few parents voiced concern over the recent CVHS drill, some kept their kids home that day. But for the most part, parents, teachers, and students have expressed thanks to those in charge for preparing everyone for a disaster that everyone hopes will never come.
To parents, I say be prepared, teach your children how to react in an emergency situation. To the teachers and school administrators, I say contact local first responders and find out what steps you can take to make your campus safe.
The web site www/iloveyouguys.org was started by survivors of a school tragedy and is filled with great suggestions and teaching tips.
And to our local police officers, firefighters, and EMTs, I say thank you.
Keep it up and let's all hope your skills won't be put to the test anytime soon.