Preparing for school emergencies in Montgomery County
HOUSTON (KTRK) -- In response to recent mass shootings, law enforcement agencies in East Montgomery County are taking preemptive steps to combat potential armed attacks at schools.
Authorities say East Montgomery County schools are better equipped than ever to deal with a situation involving a shooter inside a school, thanks to the efforts of two members of the Texas Department of Public Safety and two elected officials who funded their project.
DPS Sgt. Derek Leitner and DPS Trooper Eric Lopez met with Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon and Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace James Metts on Thursday to show them the finished product -- "East Montgomery County Rapid Response Cards."
Leitner and Lopez first approached Ligon and Metts about six months ago, and both officials were immediately onboard. Leitner and Lopez then set about the task of designing the cards, coordinating with school officials and collecting information to finally have them printed and assembled.
Each 5-by-7-inch card is heavy stock with a sharp, full-color aerial photo of the campus on one side and its floor plan on the other. They also list Key Map pages and latitude and longitude coordinates in case air support is required.
Every set has a card for each of the 26 schools in East Montgomery County where more than 20,000 students are enrolled, from elementary schools to the Lone Star College Kingwood Campus.
"The floor plan lists room numbers, but doesn't have information that could jeopardize the safety of the schools or students," Lopez said.
Officials said the cards have just enough information so that officers can find a specific common area, hallway, or classroom, but if a set of cards fell into the wrong hands, there are no details such as teachers' names, subjects, passcodes or other sensitive information.
Each card set is on a ring, attached to a clip that is engraved with the words "STOP THE KILLING," and can be clipped anywhere for the officer's convenience.
The officers distributed around 150 sets throughout the week to local law enforcement agencies with the goal of having a set in every patrol car on the east side of Montgomery County.
Ligon and Metts said they were happy to be part of the project.
"Through the efforts of DPS Sgt. Leitner and Trooper Lopez, theirs and every other law enforcement agency in East Montgomery County has taken a step forward for the safety of its students and citizens," Ligon said.
"As a father and grandfather, I was very impressed with Sgt. Leitner and Trooper Lopez taking the initiative, and no doubt taking their personal time, to create this invaluable tool and get in the hands of all of our law enforcement before something happens here, instead of waiting until tragedy strikes to figure out what could have been done," Judge Metts said.
The most recent U.S. mass shootings occurred nearly back-to-back at a movie theater and then at a house of worship. School campuses have been no stranger to tragedy, though. The most infamous school shooting was the 1999 Columbine massacre in Littleton, Colorado.
In a situation like Columbine, law enforcement has the disadvantage of a shooter or shooters with an intimate knowledge of the campus floor plan. The shooters in that incident had the run of the campus for around 50 minutes, during which they killed 13 people, injured 21 and terrorized dozens more before committing suicide.
"Day after day, in the media we saw all these active shooters throughout the country, and in studying how to combat them, we realized one of the most important factors is a timely response," Leitner said.
When every second counts, having maps to take out some of the guesswork could save lives, he said.
Leitner noted in March, after Trey Sessler of Magnolia was apprehended for the shooting deaths of his parents and older brother, investigators found evidence he was planning a mass shooting in a public place -- possibly at a school.
"With the population boom in the last 10 years, we have 26 schools on the east side of East Montgomery County alone," he said. "That's between 20,000 and 30,000 kids."
Leitner said the cards have already been tested with school district police on East County campuses over the summer, and the East Montgomery County Rapid Response Cards proved effective. He said they hope to later train with an active shooter scenario and involve all of law enforcement on the east side.
"We want people to know we're not just waiting to be reactive, we're taking a proactive stance and trying to prevent these shootings from happening," Lopez said. "Unfortunately, we also have to be prepared for when it does happen and to make sure there are tools out there that can help us."
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