Over three dozen officials from local schools, government, and emergency service departments within Southampton Town borders met in Hampton Bays Middle School Tuesday evening, days after a school shooting in Connecticut left 27 dead, marking the first step of a collaboration between the town's many organizations that might respond in the case of such an emergency in Southampton.
Led by Hampton Bays School Superintendent Lars Clemensen, Southampton Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst and Southampton Police Chief Robert Pearce, the conversation in the school's cafetorium lasted close to two hours, leaving the leaders to meet again early next year and furthermore in the future as a dialogue around school safety evolves.
"As I looked around the room yesterday, in Southampton Town there are so many entities that if we are not talking to each other, we may be duplicating services, or not coordinating as efficiently as we might be if we were all rowing in the same direction," said Clemensen on Wednesday morning.
"I think from crisis comes opportunity, and this crisis in Sandy Hook gave us the opportunity to prioritize this and all come together."
Clemensen, Throne-Holst and Pearce offered welcoming remarks Tuesday before the 38 individuals went into a closed door meeting to discuss specifics of security measures at their respective institutions.
"This was the beginning of an exchange in dialogue between everyone and a partnership," Pearce said on Wednesday morning. "We need to feel we are doing everything possible to address school safety."
Looking forward to a long-term conversation where they can learn from one another and institute improvements of their own, the leaders are going to split off into four groups moving forward, Clemensen said.
The four groups will consist of the following, according to Clemensen:
- Communication and technology: Radios, camera systems, ID badges, etc.
- Safety protocols and drills: How are institutions practicing these, and how often?
- Prevention and awareness: Getting people the resources they need as soon as possible, early intervention, etc.
- Finances: Investigating grant sources and available funding.
Organizing each group and identifying a leadership structure within them will follow next. Though no follow-up meeting is planned as of yet, the superintendent – whose head of security is an ex-town cop, and former partner of Pearce – said Tuesday's meeting, on such short notice, served as an indication that school safety remains a priority.
"It's important for us after the holidays and the new year to remain vigilant to keep this on the forefront of our minds. If someone is not directly affected by it, the tendency is to fall back into the normal stresses of everyday life," Clemensen said. "But now this is exposed to all of us to constantly be thinking about school security."
Following last Friday's shooting, many superintendents across the town rushed to get messages out to parents, some via Facebook, others through their own school websites. Most addressed how parents can attempt to explain the mass shooting to their young children, and assured that safety precautions were being reviewed by administration and staff.
Individuals interviewed noted that Tuesday's meeting was the first of its kind, including representatives from so many of the town's different districts including villages, ambulance, fire, police and school districts. Though Clemensen said that didn't necessarily mean they were all previously out of touch with one another.
"Certainly if you were able to see how we were sitting yesterday, you saw a lot of relationships that already existed on the micro level. This more macro Town of Southampton approach is just another level of coordination," he noted. "And as resources get tighter, really, there has never been a more important time to share resources and learning."