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Mill Valley Has Model Emergency Plan, Police and School Officials Say

Mill Valley has an extensive emergency preparedness plan that’s considered a model for school safety. But, nothing can ever prepare you for the real thing.

On the heels of the mass shooting Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., police have increased their presence at schools throughout Mill Valley, school officials are brushing up on current emergency protocols, and teachers and staff are keeping their eyes out for any signs of emotional stress among students.

“I can assure you that the highest priority for the Mill Valley School District is the safety of our students and we take emergency preparedness very seriously,” Superintendent Paul Johnson said in an email sent to parents Friday afternoon.

Johnson said he, and administrators at schools throughout Mill Valley, received a handful of phone calls from concerned parents asking about safety policies and procedures. The district has an extensive emergency preparedness plan for fires, earthquakes and intruders that’s considered a model for school safety, he said. The procedures, including lockdown drills, are practiced regularly and constantly tweaked for improvements. The district also has a mass automated phone messaging system and emailing system to contact parents and communicate in an emergency. The Connecticut shooting is a reminder that parents should update their contact phone numbers with the Aeries website or check with their school office.

Mill Valley Police Det. Srgt. Paul Wrapp said officers were in touch with officials from Mill Valley School District and Tam High immediately following news of the Connecticut shooting. Patrolmen were visibly stationed at each of the schools, particularly around release time, for increased security and reassurance purposes. 

Officers, including all patrol staff, are trained to handle an active shooter situation, Wrapp said. Police use paintballs to simulate firearms, and practice in the actual school buildings to gain an understanding of the layout.

But, it’s still not the real thing.

“Nothing prepares you completely,” Johnson said. “We hope nothing ever happens.”

Wrapp echoed Johnson’s sentiment, saying residents shouldn’t feel a false sense of security.

“It can absolutely happen here,” he said. “Everywhere is a safe place, until something happens. It’s horrible, but it’s a fact of life.”

See something, say something

Mill Valley may be a close-knit community and considered a safe place to live, but we can’t forget about our proximity to San Francisco, and all of the East Bay, Wrapp said. People come in and out of town every day.

“There’s no wall that’s put up,” he said. “Mill Valley is not excluded by any means, and people need to take very easy precautions.” 

For instance, there’s the classic ‘see something, say something’ motto. If you see something that seems weird or suspicious, or it simply rubs you the wrong way, reporting it can sometimes mean the difference between life and death.

“Use your best judgment, and make a phone call,” Wrapp said.

He also stressed the importance of basic safety measures, which are sometimes overlooked in Mill Valley. For instance, the city has a high rate of burglaries, which often occur during the day when people are presumably at work.

“Much of the time, the houses are unlocked,” he said.

In terms of a tragedy at school, families should obviously follow the district procedure, but should have their own emergency plan that includes a prearranged place to meet up or a method to get in touch with each other.

“Talk about it at family dinner,” he said.

Moving forward

A mass killing like the one at Sandy Hook Elementary School clearly shakes the nation, and Johnson said the district is being mindful of how this may impact students. 

“Our entire staff is attentive and watching for signs of emotional stresses,” he wrote in the email to parents. “Our counseling staff is ready to assist those students who may need services.”

So far, he said the stress level is difficult to gage, but it will be better assessed when students and staff return to school on Monday.

“We’re making sure we’re keeping an eye on it,” he said.

Johnson also provided the following links about school safety and violence.

Resources for Coping with Tragedy
Talking with Kids about Violence: Tips for Parents and Teachers
All Safe Schools and Prevention Information

“As parents, it is unfathomable to contemplate the possibility of this type of tragedy at one of our schools,” he said. “At this time our thoughts and prayers go out to the families in Connecticut at their loss and tragedy.”

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