SHU and Fairfield Police Host Regional Training Program on School Safety

News Story: October 26, 2015
Fairfield Police Chief Gary MacNamara speaks during the conference.

More than 100 public safety officers and security personnel from across New England recently participated in a three-day training program at Sacred Heart University to learn about the latest strategies for improving school safety and preventing gun violence.

SHU partnered with the Fairfield Police Department to host “Exploring School Safety Strategies” for the New England region, sponsored by the nonprofit National Crime Prevention Council, October 20–22. Attendees could choose from several daily sessions on such topics as “School-Based Crisis Management,” “Using Data to Understand Substance Abuse,” “Civilian Response to Active Shooter Events,” and “Racial Diversity and Effective Communication.”

Fairfield Police Chief Gary MacNamara, one of a dozen presenters for the program, said the training provided an important opportunity to share information about how to stem the tide of shootings that have become all-too-common occurrences.

“The uniqueness of this training is that it touches on a variety of different topics,” said MacNamara, adding that SHU served as an ideal venue. “The University and the police department have a great partnership and, of course, Sacred Heart has a great facility. What better place to talk about school safety than in this school environment?”

Paul Healy, executive director of emergency management and public safety at SHU, said the University was glad to work with MacNamara “to host the event here to showcase our campus and share public safety best practices with other professionals.” He noted that the training drew a diverse group of people from a variety of organizations, not just schools, since the tools and strategies can be applied in many settings where safety is a concern. “We share a common mission, and you always learn something during a training exercise.”

In his presentation on “Dealing with the Aftermath,” MacNamara walked participants through several scenarios highlighting the importance of recognizing unusual occurrences and reporting them immediately. He demonstrated how the people most familiar with a building or classroom often fail to act when they notice odd behavior, strange sounds or suspicious activity. Twenty minutes before the shooter opened fire at Virginia Polytechnic Institute in April 2007, for example, a student left the building briefly to get a soda and returned to find the door locked. And two weeks before, a teacher observed what was later determined to be the shooter’s “dry run” for locking down the building. Neither event was reported.

“All shootings start with a disruptive event—something that’s not normal. The quicker you recognize that, the quicker you can take action,” said MacNamara.

Healy said that MacNamara’s message was a highlight of the program, providing a simple yet powerful theme for the training. “SHU Public Safety embraces the statement that knowledge is power, as the more you know about situational awareness concerning common-sense security and safety procedures, the better prepared you will be to respond in a timely and appropriate manner for your own personal safety.”