Local schools, law enforcement prepared for active shooter emergency

Collier County Sheriff's Office deputies engage in a mock school lockdown exercise at Seacrest Country Day School on Wednesday afternoon. The Collier County Sheriff's Office, Department of Emergency Management and the Collier County School Security Consortium worked with local police, fire and healthcare agencies on the mass casualty exercise involving a school gunman and hazardous materials scenario. Tristan Spinski/Staff

Photo by TRISTAN SPINSKI // Buy this photo

Collier County Sheriff's Office deputies engage in a mock school lockdown exercise at Seacrest Country Day School on Wednesday afternoon. The Collier County Sheriff's Office, Department of Emergency Management and the Collier County School Security Consortium worked with local police, fire and healthcare agencies on the mass casualty exercise involving a school gunman and hazardous materials scenario. Tristan Spinski/Staff

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The news that 20 children were killed in an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., had Southwest Florida parents wondering how safe their children are.

But while local school officials mourned the loss of the Connecticut children, teachers and administrators Friday, they also attempted to reassure worried local parents that they are doing everything they can to keep children safe.

"Parents should rest assured that the safety of our students and staff is always our number one priority for Collier County Public Schools," Collier County School District Superintendent Kamela Patton said in a statement. "The school district operates at a high level of vigilance as a matter of routine. However, when incidents occur elsewhere, like the one today in Connecticut, we are on heightened alert."

The Collier County School District has a broad range of safety and security plans in place for its day-to-day operations, Patton said, and schools conduct drills on a regular basis. The district also conducts training exercises in collaboration with law enforcement.

"We have multiple communication tools in place to rapidly communicate with parents when necessary," Patton said.

Collier County Sheriff Kevin Rambosk said local schools have a "strong, proactive" program for dealing with an active shooter situation.

"Unfortunately today you have to have one of those because you just never know where or when a tragedy like this might occur," he said.

Bonita Springs Charter School Principal Deborah Tracy sent a letter home to parents reassuring them that the school takes "every precaution we can to prevent a tragedy." The school takes precautions like locking external doors after students are admitted, locking classroom doors, screening visitors at the front desk and conducting a variety of safety drills "that include the very unlikely event of an intruder with ill intentions."

"It is very sad that we must prepare for these types of situations, but in today's unsettled world, it is a reality we must face," Tracy wrote. "While we cannot guarantee there will never be a situation for which we are not prepared, we promise to do everything in our power to assure the safety and security of your children while you entrust us with their care."

Alberto Rodriguez, the chief administrative officer for the Lee County School District, said all school district administrators and employees have access to and are trained in the district's emergency response plans.

All schools in Lee County are required to submit an updated emergency plan, which illustrates employee positions and what they will be responsible for at each individual location, at the beginning of each school year. Every school is also required to hold two lockdown drills each year, along with two bomb threat drills, one fire drill per month that school is in session and one fire drill within the first 30 days of school, Rodriguez said.

Additionally, there are two bus evacuation drills and one tornado drill each year, he said in a district statement.

The actual plans, he said, are confidential and will remain so. The plans are in line with law enforcement response plans and Lee County Emergency Operations Center Disaster Plans.

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