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Avon Town Manager: 'We're Very Prepared' Should Emergency Like Newtown Shooting Occur

Avon officials attended the Connecticut School Security Symposium at the Aquaturf in Southington on Monday.

Avon town and school leaders came out of a Southington conference on school security Monday confident that they were already doing most of what was discussed.

“I think what we talked about afterwards was that a lot of this was an affirmation about how we approach security in Avon, the excellent relationship that exists between the town and the schools," Avon Town Manager Brandon Robertson said. "We're very prepared."

Robertson attended the Connecticut School Security Symposium at the Aquaturf in Southington with Superintendent Gary Mala and Avon Public Schools Finance Director John Spang.

The event — held about three weeks after the Newtown school shooting that killed 20 children and six educators — featured topics centered around mitigation and prevention, preparedness, emergency response and recovery after a tragedy.

Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents (CAPSS), Connecticut State Department of Education, Connecticut Association of Boards of Education and Connecticut Association of School Business Offices co-sponsored the Connecticut School Security Symposium.

A week before the conference, Mala announced recommended security improvements to district schools, some of which have already been implemented.

Robertson said he will meet with Mala, police and fire department officials later this week to discuss how increased school security will affect the capital budget. Mala has been reviewing those items with the school board.

Robertson said that the town would play a large role in the response efforts if there were an emergency situation at an Avon school.

As town manager, Robertson is responsible for coordinating the town's emergency response — from the police and volunteer fire departments to emergency management — "to make sure the pieces are in harmony." He also communicates regularly with the schools and Avon Public Schools Central Office.

“As tragic as it is, it's an opportunity to give everything a fresh look and to make sure what needs to be done is executed," Robertson said of the Newtown shooting massacre.

Police and fire officials are very familiar with the school layouts, Robertson said. Avon police did active shooter training exercises at Avon Middle School and Thompson Brook School for three days in December. Neighboring town leaders came to observe, he said.

"I have to say it's very unsettling to see police officers walking through the hallways of schools with their guns out and all of this sort of thing, but I think it was useful," Robertson said at the first Avon Town Council meeting since the Newtown shooting massacre last Thursday.

Robertson commended Mala for anticipating the needs of the community after the Dec. 14 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and his prompt response upon hearing the news. Mala quickly arranged a meeting with town leaders, emergency personnel and school administrators that Sunday to prepare for students' return to school the Monday after the tragedy.

"There's a lot of anxiety out there now," Robertson said at the Town Council meeting.

After the "Newtown atrocity, Robertson said, "There's been a tremendous effort since Gary Mala's office and his school administrator's and staff and the police department and my office to review current procedures, to go ahead and adjust current staffing requirements as necessary and really to kind of rethink security measures."

State Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor and two representatives from the federal Department of Education made opening remarks at the statewide school security conference.

Jon Akers, Kentucky Safe School Center executive director, addressing preventative security measures, told attendees that being aware of what surrounds local schools is important – such as near an airport landing zone, businesses or a gas line – and what "potential threats are around those schools," Robertson said.

Sue Graves, safety coordinator at the Lincoln County School District in Oregon, spoke about emergency preparedness. Maj. Ian Moffett of the Miami Police Department – who once was the incident commander on scene at a school stabbing – described law enforcement emergency response. Marleen Wong, assistant dean and clinical professor at the University of Southern California, talked about how to restore the setting of a tragedy to its original purpose, Robertson said. Two architects explained how to "retrofit buildings to make them more secure" Robertson said.

Town and school officials will continue to discuss school safety and security, Robertson said.

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