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School, workplace safety addressed during Community Conversation

School, workplace safety addressed during Community Conversation

NORFOLK, NE – While there are no easy answers, preparation and empowerment are among some of the keys to surviving potential violent confrontations in a school or a workplace. Former Sioux City (IA) and South Sioux City (NE) Police Officer Chad Sheehan said we live in times where the threat for the potential for violence cannot be ignored.

“We can bury our heads in the sand and pretend it’s never going to happen to where we live, where our kids go to school or where we work, but burying your head in the sand isn’t going to make evil go away,” he said. “It may happen when you least expect it.”

Sheehan, who is now a safety consultant through his company Sheehan Solutions, was joined by Jolene Palmer, school safety and security director for the Nebraska Department of Education, to address the issue at the latest Community Conversation held at Northeast Community College recently. Palmer’s position is relatively new and reflects the importance that the department has taken to address the issue. She provides guidance and support to school districts regarding safety and security.

Both Palmer and Sheehan said while it’s always difficult to know when incidents may happen, it is important to pay attention to any signs that may exist in those around us.

Palmer used an analogy of drawing dot-to-dot with each dot representing an incident that, when put together, can provide critical information.

“We’re collecting dots so that we can really see a total picture. One dot by itself doesn’t mean anything, but when you start having more dots and more dots it really makes a picture of what we might consider to be a level of concern within your school. We believe preventing and getting ahead of any situation or an event that a student might be a part of will be a good thing.”

Palmer said the Department of Education has also been conducting security assessments of Nebraska schools which have been providing a large amount of data that is determining their needs. She said, in turn, training will be offered to school districts to beef up areas they may feel are necessary.

Palmer told the nearly 70-people who made up the Community Conversation audience of mostly school administrators, members of law enforcement and others, that based on past incidents, there are signs they should look for when identifying students who may be at the center of violent situations.

These include a disconnection among students who don’t have advocates in school where they can go and have their meltdowns while still feeling support; students who have usually told someone of their plans; and that these violent confrontations rarely are spontaneous

Palmer said, “If we are building relationships with students - which is still the number one strategy - and the student is disconnected and planning something, then they will tell someone and hopefully we have a relationship with whomever they tell.”

She said communication and education are vital.

“We have to help teach our teachers. We have to help our parents to teach other parents and other community members … and we have to take all of these things very seriously and make sure that we’re telling folks. It’s all about communicating (with one another).

Sheehan has created a program he uses in consulting schools, municipalities and other organizations. His program is based on explaining that everyone has options in such situations whether it’s in a school, workplace or church. He said people need to do whatever it takes to save themselves in these types of situations. 

“If you really want to increase your chance for survival, learn what those options are, start mentally preparing yourself today for what you will or won’t do in different situations so that you can react quicker. The quicker you can react and be proactive, the better chance you have for survival.”

Palmer said school is still a safe place for children. She said as schools work together to become better prepared in emergency planning, they are becoming increasingly safe each day.

“This is a partnership. Nobody has the answer, but hopefully all together, we can try different things and add more pieces to our plans and add different angles … that’s what’s going to help bring about the best and more secure climate in our schools.”

This was the 11th Community Conversation to be held at Northeast Community College. The event was sponsored by the Norfolk Daily News, Calmwater Financial and Northeast.


                                                         PHOTO CUTLINE

Jolene Palmer, school safety and security director for the Nebraska Department of Education, listens to safety consultant
Chad Sheehan as he speaks on school and workplace safety issues during a Community Conversation held at Northeast Community College recently.