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Mukilteo police, school district cover what-if scenarios

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By Rikki King
Herald Writer
MUKILTEO -- It's a scary thought.
If a shooter walked onto a Mukilteo school campus, what would happen?
That question led to a serious discussion last week between police and school officials.
The schools have good plans in place, but the police want to work with them on the details, officer Cheol Kang said.
The police want to make sure they can communicate with school officials in an emergency. They also want to make sure that police and school officials understand each other's roles and how they will react in an emergency, Kang said.
Three police officers and eight school leaders met Wednesday at the Mukilteo Library to go over school lockdown procedures.
When Police Chief Rex Caldwell started the job in January, one of his goals was partnering with schools on safety issues. It had been years since police and schools had met regularly.
In recent months, informal talks covered topics such as after-school safety and graffiti, Caldwell said. The meeting focusing on lockdowns was the first formal, comprehensive exercise. More are planned.
Mukilteo schools have a general plan for safety threats, but each school campus is different, Columbia Elementary Principal Wendy Eidbo said. She suggested police do emergency drill walkthroughs with each school, so they know what to expect.
Officer Joe Hamilton, an expert on rapid response, asked school officials to share their questions and concerns.
When a school has an emergency, it can be difficult to know when the police want to take over decision-making, Mukilteo Elementary Principal Pat Cushing said. It's not always clear what issues become police responsibility and when.
Officers at a scene must zero in on the immediate threat, Cmdr. Chuck Macklin said. The school's job is to keep children together and out of harm's way.
Police can't disclose their tactics for addressing high-risk threats, because they don't want that information to get out to the bad guys, Macklin said.
"Our focus is the threat," he said. "Your focus is the kids. The kids are the greatest treasure."
Kamiak High School Assistant Principal Pat Schmidt brought up bomb threats. It can be confusing for teachers watching how police and firefighters react to bomb threats, she said.
Firefighters can't enter a situation until it is safe for them, Kang said.
Most local police officers aren't trained to detect and diffuse bombs, Macklin said. That's why they wait for a bomb-sniffing dog. The dogs sometimes have to travel a ways to get to Mukilteo.
The police shared some confusion of their own. Sometimes, they're not sure what information should go to schools leaders and what should go to district headquarters, Kang said.
In a fast-paced situation, much of the information is relayed through police dispatchers. Police and school officials agreed to sort out their communication challenges.
The police also suggested each school designate one or two people to communicate with law enforcement in an emergency. Those people could be briefed on what the cops will want to know, such as a suspect's clothing description.
There was consensus that drills and actual lockdowns provide the best tests. They also agreed that fire department officials need to be invited to join the discussion.
Cushing, the Mukilteo Elementary principal, thanked the officers for reaching out to the schools.
"It's really, really nice to be able to do this," she said. "This has been a real eye-opener."
Rikki King: 425-339-3449;

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