Authorities attend school safety seminar

March 3, 2008 6:39:32 PM PST
Shooting tragedies like the ones at Northern Illinois Univerty and Virginia Tech are forcing law enforcement and school authorities to try and prepare for the worst.The Cook County sheriff hosted a safety seminar Monday to teach them what to expect and how to react if a gunman enters a school.

The tragedies at NIU and Columbine High School will certainly happen again, says Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart. But more, he says, can be done to prevent them, which is why Sheriff Dart brought local police and school administrators together for a school safety seminar.

"Some schools are way ahead of other ones. Others are not quite there yet. They want to be there, their heart's there, but I think they're not aware that these tools are out there to be taken advantage of," said Dart.

The training held Monday at Shepard High School in Palos Heights is one of three such safety seminars ordered by Dart throughout the county. Represented were more than 30 police departments and 40 schools from southern Cook County.

"It's something that we continue to do - update, reinforce with staff and students in regards to our safety procedures that we have in place," said Carlton Rolland, Shepard High assistant principal.

"That door, that unidentified person, something doesn't look right -- question it and bring it to someone's attention, bring it to security," said Ellen Egan, District 218 safety director.

They're told about pipe bombs and other explosives to keep an eye out for and how to improve their safety plans, and they're shown robots that dismantle bombs.

The bomb squad says since the rampage at Northern Illinois University, there's been a rash of copycat threats at high schools in Cook County, threats written on washroom walls or phoned in. And while they say they take them all seriously, so far they have all proven to be unfounded.

Greg Jaglowski survived a rampage 20 years ago at Moses Montefiore School, at 1300 S. Ashland, on Chicago's West Side, in November 1988. Five people were killed, including his partner, until Jaglowski killed the gunman.

"Thank God I shot him five times in the chest, once in the head," he said.

Now director of the Cook County sheriff's anti-terrorism program, Jaglowski says preventing the next school shooting may be impossible. But he says preparing for it and doing what authorities can to keep students safe is more than possible -- it's an obligation.