911 board focuses on school shootings, communications | government and politics | Panda Anku

Desloge Police Chief Jebo Bullock wants to make sure there never is a school shooting like the recent one in Uvalde, Texas. And the rest of the 911 board members made it clear during their Wednesday meeting that they plan to support that goal with a bold communications upgrade that they say is due to better connect the region’s first responders who respond to all natural disasters and Disasters are used man-made.

On May 24, the small Texas town of Uvalde was thrown into chaos, 19 students and two educators were shot dead with an AR-15 rifle carried by an 18-year-old man entering an open door at Robb Elementary School. An investigation and subsequent committee report by the Texas House of Representatives found systemic failures on the part of law enforcement and school officials, but specifically blamed public safety for failing to respond effectively. At one point, students were held by the gunman in a barricaded classroom for over an hour before well-armored law enforcement made a decision on how to proceed.

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Locally, it could be said that Bullock is in a prime position to mobilize local efforts to prevent such a tragedy from happening here. He is the chief of the Desloge Police Department, one brother is the Sheriff of St. Francois County and another brother is a lieutenant in the Farmington Police. Bullock sits on the local board of directors for St. Francois County 911, which also handles emergency communications for Ste. Genevieve County – and he’s the President of the North County R-1 Board of Education.

It was at the North County board meeting on June 16 that Bullock announced that a campus-wide response to school shootings would need to be planned and a series of drills conducted to prevent the kind of confusion causing the delayed police response caused by Uvalde.

He ended the session by announcing: “I can only speak for Desloge Police Directorate, we will not wait. And you know the sheriff won’t do that, so those are the only ones I can speak for. I can speak for the sheriff because he told me so the other day.”

There is evidence that other districts are also working with local police departments, reviewing and improving their crisis response and communications plans before the school year begins next week.

During Wednesday’s 911 board meeting, Bullock said about 30 responders participated in a mock shooting exercise at North County Parkside Elementary on Monday. Representatives from the Desloge Police and Fire Department, EMS and Sheriff’s Department were present. He said there are plans to hold five more similar sessions once a month and he is inviting first responders from the area to join the drills.

“I discovered something very important,” Bullock said of his findings during the Parkside elementary practice. “…What I found out during this training was that throughout the ordeal of an active shooting situation – aside from finding the shooter and actually doing the work part – it’s all about communication. Almost all of it.”

Bullock also stressed the importance of first responders being familiar with sprawling school buildings they must navigate during a crisis.

“There’s so many different things — we know the layout of our schools (in North County) pretty well,” Bullock said. “We have no idea how the Farmington schools are set up, or you know other schools in other cities like Leadwood, Bismarck or wherever, because if there’s a shooting everyone’s going to react. Every city and the sheriff’s department, we’ll all go.”

And ensuring communication between emergency responders, police, firefighters and other first responders will be critical, said 911 Director Alan Wells.

During their Wednesday meeting at the center, 911 Board Chairman Ron Bockenkamp and Board Members Jebo Bullock, Ginger Taylor and Tim Porter discuss improvements that may soon be made to the first responder communications system for St. Francois and Ste. Geneva counties. Active shooter situations shaped a large part of the discussion. Not pictured: Board members David Pratte, Bill Stegall and 911 Director Alan Wells.

Sarah Hass

The center has been working with Minnesota-based Rey Freeman Communications Consulting for several months to provide an analysis of the center’s technology and software.

The company has put in place a comprehensive plan to ensure the region’s first responders are able to communicate appropriately during the crisis and it is hoped that the region’s first responders will join and support the project as further analysis informs board members about the situation Project inform feasible and affordable. Wells and board member Ginger Taylor, who chairs the finance committee, are reviewing funding options this week before the board officially votes on whether to proceed with the $4 million upgrades.

“For one thing, building materials and our critical infrastructure and schools and courthouses and police departments and hospitals are all designed to withstand (violence). They’re not like they used to be, they’re not just built out of traditional wood anymore,” Wells said. “Then years ago the FCC mandated this frequency split and halved our power and halved our bandwidth – it gave us challenges and first responders need to be able to talk within those facilities, we need to improve that.”

The board members all shared the same concern that the price might seem high, which is why the board is taking diligence to ensure the project is affordable, as Wells hinted at earlier in the meeting.

“We know that the people we serve put their trust in us, not just professionally, but to spend their tax dollars wisely and responsibly,” he said. “We take this responsibility very, very seriously.”

911 CEO Ron Bockenkamp pointed out that the cost of a situation like Uvalde’s school shooting would prove more expensive than the ultimate price of the technology and software upgrades.

“Our mission here at 911 is communication, that’s our responsibility,” he said. “And where we can improve communication outcomes, we need to do that… I’m very optimistic about this company and the outcome.”

Sarah Haas is Associate Editor of the Daily Journal. She can be reached at 573-518-3617 or shaas@dailyjournalonline.com.


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