Worst-case scenario hunter
You could say the person who knows the most about whether our schools are safe is Dennis Lewis. An acknowledged specialist in the field, he’s been hired by the Webb City R-7 School District to make recommendations for a new emergency action plan.
During the past several weeks, Lewis has become very familiar with all 12 buildings in the district. He’s arrived as early as 6 a.m. and spent 10 to 12 hours at the small campuses and two days at the larger ones. During that time, he’s looking at all aspects of safety and security.
“We don’t see the things Dennis sees,” says Josh Flora, assistant superintendent of business operations, about why the School Board agreed to hire an outside expert.
“Josh is a jack of all trades,” explains Lewis. “I’m narrow focused. That’s why people hire me.”
Flora became acquainted with Lewis when he attended a safety workshop in the summer put on by the Missouri Principals Association. Lewis was addressing concerns coming out of the Uvalde, Texas, shooting.
Here, Lewis is looking for holes in security and much more. Word has gotten around about a book shelf at Eugene Field Elementary dumping books and stored materials on him as he was checking to see if it was anchored properly to the wall. The anchors had come loose, it turned out. Lewis also found tall bookshelves not anchored in the library/safe room at the junior high.
In case of emergency, utilities need to be shut off. But Lewis found some shutoff valves are hidden or hard to get to. At Carterville Elementary, he found the water shutoff valve hidden in a ceiling, which would require a ladder to reach. In a cooking lab, he found the oven’s gas shutoff valve hard to reach.
“I tend to look at the worst-case scenario,” says Lewis.
He praises junior high nurse Heather Harlen for stocking a triage kit with bandages and splints in the library/safe room. “I think it’s a great idea for somebody to take the initiative on this,” says Lewis.
Lewis says he hasn’t made any shocking discovers. Rather, he says the goal of the new emergency plan will be to establish consistent practices across the district. For example, he says he’ll recommend Harlen’s triage kit be duplicated in the other schools.
It’s harder to plan for emergencies in 12 schools than just one. Lewis says he learned that well when he was head of safety and security for the Springfield schools for 17 years. Prior to that, he was a Springfield police officer.
Now with his firm, Edu-Safe, he mainly consults with districts and conducts staff training. He recently conducted a regional conference on school safety in Alabama.
Complete audits like he’s doing here “burn a lot of time.” He spent three weeks on site and will spend another 60 hours preparing his report to the school board. Rather than just provide his checklists for each building, he says he will make recommendations on how to fix the problems he found.
Flora says some of the issues cited by Lewis are already being addressed.
Besides what Lewis is doing, Flora recently held a walk-through of all the buildings with first responders. That was good, he says, because it turned out the fire department’s access cards didn’t work in all the locks.
Placing a sensor on all exterior doors, a project insisted on by the school board this summer, has been completed.
“Kudos to the school district for updating its emergency plan,” says Lewis. “That is what proactive school districts do.”