By Tim Talley
OKLAHOMA CITY — An expert on public school security told a state task force Tuesday that school staff members and students who are well-trained in emergency preparedness are the best line of defense to avoid injuries and deaths in a shooting.
Ken Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Measures, told the Oklahoma Commission on School Security that budget cuts to public education in recent years had decreased the emphasis on emergency preparedness at schools across the country.
"We've had some challenges in keeping school security on the front burners," Trump told the 22-member commission at its first meeting. But Trump said there's renewed interest following last month's deadly shooting in Newtown, Conn., where 20 children and six school employees were killed in an elementary school.
"Safety is a priority. Safety is important," Trump said during a teleconference with the commission. "What do we do to help principles better protect our schools?"
While the commission endorsed no concrete proposals to enhance security, chairman Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb, said the panel plans to meet several more times to formulate recommendations that could be sent to the 2013 Legislature, which convenes on Feb. 4.
In 2008, lawmakers adopted the Oklahoma School Security Act that, among other things, requires school districts to conduct lockdown drills at each public school. It also requires school administrators to investigate reports of harassment, intimidation, bullying or threatening behavior, including threatening emails or texts.
Lamb, a former Secret Service agent and who authored the legislation while a member of the state Senate, said a federal government study conducted following the school shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999 found that 71 percent of all school shooting perpetrators were the victims of bullying.
Trump said other states have instituted school safety training classes. For the past 13 years, authorities In Indiana have operated the School Safety Specialist Academy that provides certified training and information on school safety practices, as well as resources for school safety, security and emergency preparedness planning.
Kim Carter, director of the Oklahoma Office of Homeland Security, said the agency has been considering an Indiana-style academy for Oklahoma educators.
Terri White, commissioner of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, told members of the commission that most people with mental health issues are not violent and that mental illness accounts for no more than 5 percent of the overall rate of violence.
"However, when it happens, they are usually headline-grabbing stories," White said.
White urged the commission to consider mental health training and awareness programs for educators and to implement school-based prevention and screening for students who experience mental health issues. White said about 20 percent of young people have some form of mental, emotional or behavioral disorder that, if left untreated, can lead to violence.