MS campus security officers learn lessons from Sandy Hook tragedy

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - The mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary last December has spurred many schools to consider hiring more campus officers and tightening security. This week, more than 200 people in charge of safety at Mississippi schools are training in Biloxi. They are learning about changes and extra steps they need to take to prevent violence and protect your children.

From now on, visitors at Biloxi Jr. High School must enter through an enclosed lobby.

"Other schools in our district have similar situations in the lobby where you have to sign in before you have access to the rest of the school," said Paul Cannette, Biloxi Schools Police Chief.

The school also installed fencing around the campus and upgraded its camera system. Those security features were put in place soon after the Sandy Hook tragedy in Connecticut. Lessons learned from that school massacre are part of the Mississippi School Safety Training Conference at Biloxi Jr. High.

School resource officers, school safety officers, and school administrators from across the state learned that if an armed intruder is spotted on campus, the most critical move is locking down the school in less than 60-seconds.

"Past experience demonstrates that shooters will take the easiest route possible. Consequently, if they encounter a locked door, they will continue down the hall to another location that's more vulnerable. In the case of Sandy Hook, the only two classrooms that had casualties present were the two classrooms that failed to successfully lock down," said Robert Laird, School Safety Director for the Mississippi Department of Education.

"A school shooting is over in between 11 to 17 minutes. So that is a small window of opportunity for law enforcement to arrive. Therefore, the most critical aspect is the ability of the staff to lock down immediately," Laird added. "Next year, we'll be coming out with a recommendation that all educational facilities lock their classroom doors while, in fact, classes are in session."

The conference also stressed the importance of conducting a Juvenile Behavioral Threat Assessment. That is an evaluation of students who are considered seriously at-risk or who have made a credible threat. Officers said because of that plan, they were able to prevent a threat from being carried out at a South Mississippi school two years ago.

"We actually prevented a school shooting in South Mississippi wherein the shooter was in possession of a Thompson sub machine gun and 1,500 rounds of ammunition," said Laird, who did not want to reveal the name of the school.

And to enhance safety, this year, state lawmakers approved a $5.5 million grant to hire more school resource officers. Plus, SROs are now required to undergo tougher training.

"We're all here to get the same message, to make the school safe and do the best things we can for the students," said Cannette.

On Wednesday, Phil Chalmers will be the keynote speaker. Chalmers has interviewed hundreds of teen killers and school shooters and has written "Inside the Mind of a Teen Killer" and "The Encyclopedia of Teen Killers."

Other sessions will focus on gang trends, how to respond to bus accidents, prescription drug abuse, stress management after a crisis, and changes in state gun laws. The conference ends on Friday.

Copyright 2013 WLOX. All rights reserved.