By DENISE A. RAYMO
---- — MALONE — Franklin County 911 dispatchers now monitor video feeds from some school districts to aid response to an armed intruder or other emergency.
District Attorney Derek Champagne spearheaded the idea following the mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut to ensure local schools and law-enforcement agencies are prepared.
He created a checklist to systematically evaluate each school and its safety plans and see that any upgrades cost as little as possible.
The list included review of the physical layout of all school buildings, their camera systems and how the video feed could be blended into the 911 system.
Each school identified which in-house personnel or others close by could potentially be the first-responder to a situation.
For example, U.S. Border Protection could be first-responder to an incident at Chateaugay Central School, the DA said, and County Courthouse personnel may be closer to the Malone Middle School and could get there faster than State Police.
Champagne said those people would also be trained on the particular school’s layout, “so if an intruder is in the cafeteria, they know where to go.”
He prompted schools to review their safety plans and procedures and offered any special training they might need.
Bill Ritchie, an investigator in the DA’s Office who is in charge of law-enforcement response and school-staff training, said that if an incident occurs, “the staff won’t be seeing the typical law-enforcement response because it’s not a typical situation.
“I train them on how law enforcement will respond. They won’t see the friendly police officer who says ‘yes, sir’, ‘yes, ma’am,’ and they have to be prepared for that.”
In the past, Champagne said, if an incident occurred, police would respond and set up a tactical perimeter, and the hostage negotiator would be called in, “but those days are over. Now, it’s search-and-destroy. Identify the target and eliminate it, or do what it takes to disable the target.
“It’s different and goes against everything the teachers are used to.”
And even though Franklin County has seven schools with seven different safety and security plans, Ritchie said, the law-enforcement response will be the same at each district.
He’s been working with Sheriff Kevin Mulverhill and Emergency Services Director Ricky Provost, who gave county legislators an overview of the plan already tested in some districts.
Cameras at Tupper Lake Central and Malone Central schools are patched in to the 911 center on Bare Hill Road, Chateaugay Central is currently having its equipment installed, and Brushton-Moira Central and St. Regis Falls Central will be brought on soon, Provost said. He said the county wasn’t included in Saranac Lake’s planning.
Emergency Services Deputy Director John Bashaw II and Ritchie did an initial walk-through at Salmon River Central to evaluate needs there, but it already has a resource officer in the school.
“We’re talking to the staff and telling them what to prepare for, and it’s getting a good reception,” Mulverhill said.
“Tupper Lake had an active-shooter scenario that’s been practiced for, and Chateaugay and Malone are in preparations for it.”
Malone Village Police Chief Chris Premo held that training recently, with 25 people from law-enforcement agencies involved.
That session went very well, he said.
Provost said the schools are paying for the camera feeds and that his existing staff will be able to handle the extra work.
“We won’t monitor them 24/7, only if there is an incident, and it only takes us 30 seconds to get the feed up,” he said.
“We’ll be coordinating first-responders and giving them information they need to know about what’s going on.”
Ritchie said the camera feeds “give us an extra set of eyes” when law enforcement goes into a situation.
Email Denise A. Raymo: firstname.lastname@example.org