New Mexico Responders Working on School Safety after Newtown

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — First responders and emergency personnel are looking into issues involving school safety in the East Mountains and Estancia Valley.

That’s the message New Mexico State Police Sgt. Jeff Burke would like to have someone shout from the top of the Sandias, or have people talk about in grocery stores and chat about to their neighbors. It’s especially important after the shooting that happened in December at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.

“We’re concerned, obviously, that anything like that could happen here,” he said. “Every school has a safety plan in place already. The question is, do response entities have it in their mind what role they would play?”

What that means is that everyone should be familiar with the schools and know their role in any emergency situation. That’s part of the reason that he and his officers have been making the rounds at various schools.

And it recently paid off, he said.

About two weeks ago, State Police officers Jesse Mendoza was contacted by a young girl from a school he had visited. It turns out that one of the students had brought a BB gun to school in his backpack. The young girl who called Mendoza thought it was a real gun, though, Burke said.

“One of the students remembered Officer Mendoza and alerted him,” Burke said. “Thankfully it was just a BB gun, but it just shows that there is a benefit to what we’re trying to do already.”

In addition to sending his officers to the schools, Burke said he would also like to run drills and simulate an emergency with the teachers and staff when the students are away.

“It’s one thing to talk about how officers would come in with rifles slung, it’s another to actually see that,” he said. “And we could wrinkle out any roughness that we might identify.”

He said it would be great if he and the other emergency responders could get together and run drills about two or four times a year. That’s in addition to what he and his officers are already doing.

He is in regular contact with county sheriff’s departments as well as police from Moriarty, Edgewood, Mountainair and Estancia as well as local fire departments. And every month Moriarty-Edgewood School District Transportation Director Craig Sadberry coordinates a meeting with representatives from all those departments.

As a former firefighter, Sadberry has a good understanding of what it takes to prepare for an emergency before it happens, Burke said.

“He really has a good grip on it and I think he’s a perfect contact person for us to go to,” he said.

Sadberry is the chairman of the local emergency response team and has already staged a simulated bus rollover. He had Edgewood Elementary students in makeup and pretending to be injured and Sadberry even timed out the chain of phone calls and response times for local police and fire departments, which also attended the simulation.

The year prior, he ran a simulated explosion at Mountainview Elementary School and there have been active shooter and lockdown drills done at other schools, he said.

“We try to mix it up and anticipate things that may happen and things to be prepared for,” he said. “It’s really important to develop and maintain those relationships (with local emergency responders). That way you know the players. If something happens and there is an emergency, it speeds things up.”

It’s also important to have everyone at the table when the plan for an emergency situation is drawn up.

When he was a firefighter, Sadberry said he found out that a local hospital had developed an evacuation plan that had the firefighters operating equipment like intravenous infusion pumps and cardiac monitors.

“They had developed the plan without us,” he said. “I told them, ‘We don’t know how to operate your machinery.’ That’s why it’s important for us all to be sitting at the table.”

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