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Long Island

LI schools eye security after Newtown, Conn., school shootings

A woman waits to hear about her sister,

A woman waits to hear about her sister, a teacher, following a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. (Dec. 14, 2012) Photo Credit: AP

School lockdowns, evacuation drills and other security measures taken on Long Island in recent years can all help guard against the kind of mass shooting that occurred Friday in Newtown, Conn., local experts said.

Across the Island, school security officials, psychologists and other authorities rushed to tell parents and their own co-workers that classrooms were safe. The wave of reassurances, which drew doubts from some safety specialists, began to hit the Internet shortly after word came that a gunman had shot and killed 20 youngsters and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Suffolk County's Police Department announced that it had increased marked and unmarked car patrols around school sites.

"We are prepared but not paranoid," Don Flynn, 51, a retired New York City police detective sergeant, said in a message sent Friday morning to principals of 30 Island schools where he serves as a security consultant.

Last summer, Flynn's security firm trained teacher assistants in the Connetquot District in emergency steps to be taken in the event of a school shooting. Friday, Flynn complimented the Bohemia-based district for giving individual workers the authority to shut down a school if a crisis occurred there, rather than potentially putting students in jeopardy by delaying action until they obtained a supervisor's permission.

"Every one of our staff members has the ability to call a lockdown," said Alan Groveman, Connetquot's schools chief and a former president of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association.

Stepped-up school security on the Island and statewide goes back to 2001, with the advent of a sweeping package of safety laws known as Project SAVE. The law was enacted after the 1999 murders of 12 students and a teacher at Columbine High School in Colorado by two of the school's seniors.

Project SAVE required schools to develop response plans to shootings and other crises, evacuation routes, emergency parent notification systems and closer coordination with police. Schools formerly open to visitors began locking their doors and requiring parents and others to ring buzzers for entrance.

"Columbine changed everything," said Lorna Lewis, superintendent in the Plainview-Old Bethpage District.

Some safety experts remained skeptical, however.

Dale Yeager, a Philadelphia-area security consultant, said Friday that districts often fail to conduct regular security walks outside schools even though such patrols are recommended by federal guidelines.

"It doesn't matter what you put on paper, it matters what you do," said Yeager, whose Seraph consulting firm has advised the New York State School Boards Association on safety issues.

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