Maj. Gen. Jerry Grizzle, president/superintendent at NMMI, chats with local law enforcement officials during a meeting to discuss upcoming multi-agency safety and security drills that will involve the coordination of area first responders and personnel at the school. (Mark Wilson Photo)
New Mexico Military Institute has taken the lessons learned elsewhere in the country to heart. NMMI held a reception for area first responders, which was combined with an emergency planning session. Sgt. Jay Blakeney of the New Mexico State Police and Cmdr. Eric Bracken of the Roswell Police Department attended. Sheriff Rob Coon, Lt. Brit Snyder and Lt. Daniel Ornelas represented the Chaves County Sheriff’s Office.
NMMI Police Chief Jerry Lonawski said the purpose of the meeting was to allow the first responders to get acquainted with the people who are in charge of safety and security of the cadets and coordinate emergency efforts.
Department Commandant of Operations Rick Megahan spearheaded the meeting to organize the school’s next emergency drills. He said the receptions began last year with the Roswell [auth] Fire Department, which allowed them to outline their procedures and plans. The drill then included gas leaks and hazardous materials. NMMI operations personnel had to devise a plan for every possible contingency from fire to tornadoes. The fire drills were conducted monthly, but the staff had to prepare for other emergencies that have been seen across the nation from Columbine to Virginia Tech.
Commandant of Cadets and Dean of Students Gen. Richard Geraci said: “Our parents have the expectation that we can keep the cadets safe and secure both inside and outside the classroom.”
Maj. Gen. Jerry Grizzle explained that he understood just how important it is to have a plan in operation. He had firsthand experience in dealing with mass emergencies when he was with the Oklahoma National Guard during the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building bombing in 1995 and the devastating tornadoes of 1999.
Tuesday’s meeting was set up to devise plans for bomb threats and active shooters. Megahan noted that with more than 900 cadets and 300 teachers and staff, evacuation and training for these emergencies presents challenges.
Brackeen said that when it comes to searching for bombs, law enforcement relies on people familiar with the environment to notify officials if something appears out of place. He also asked that staff be made aware that they may be required to re-enter a building to help the officials check for potential explosive devises.
On the topic of evacuation, he pointed to the rash of bomb threats that occurred at Walmart where it became the company’s decision whether to evacuate. Brackeen added the situation, plans and procedures for evacuation would vary considerably if it were a bomb threat or if an incendiary devise had been detonated.
New Mexico State Police bomb squad would be called in either to detonate the devise or disarm it. Blakeney reported the time it may take for the squad to arrive, but assured NMMI that they would set out as soon as they were contacted. “Our bomb squad is very proactive,” he said.
Snyder reiterated what had been indicated by the RPD, that school employees would be needed to assist in any search of the facility.
Coon told the group that he was making arrangements to bring bomb expert Dr. Daniel Walsh to teach classes to law enforcement in Roswell sometime in November, which could assist NMMI staff in outlining an effective security program. He said that there were half-day, full-day and week-long course options.
The other topic under discussion was “active shooters.” Coon suggested that active shooter drills be given priority. He said that the most important part of any program consists of training the teachers. “You never know how they’ll react.”
Lt. Daniel Ornelas gave an overview of the active-shooter classes taught by the SO and RPD at local schools and offered to have SO’s Sgt. Mike Herrington come and teach classes to NMMI staff. It was tentatively arranged to have the SO provide four separate training programs to ensure all the employees would be able to attend.