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Reflections Following New Canaan School Safety Exercises

New Canaan Director of Emergency Management Mike Handler reflected Tuesday on the massive-scale security exercises undertaken at Saxe Middle School a few weeks ago. 

On Thursday, August 8, local, state and federal emergency responders participated alongside local volunteers in an exercise testing New Canaan's protocols for responding to an active shooter scenario inside one of its own schools. 

"The level of participation was beyond any expectations I may have had," said Handler. "There was almost full participation from the Board of Education, EMS, Police Fire and CERT members, as well as complete participation from our private schools as well, who were interested in being able to apply uniform policies and procedures and recognized the value in working closely with their public school safety counterparts. That alone made it a success."

Special guests for the event included two special agents and an intelligence specialist from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, a lieutenant from the State Police who was involved in Newtown's Sandy Hook response and a detective from the Department of Homeland Security. Handler called their participation "invaluable."

"They brought a level of knowledge and experience handling mass shooting scenarios we would not have gained without them present," he said. "They were an invaluable resource. We have incredibly well-trained and completely capable people in New Canaan, but being able to bring in that level of experience was great."

Handler said the exercises and scenarios practiced have given the district and emergency responders a great deal of insight into what was working and what needed improvement as far as standing safety plans were concerned. He couldn't give specific areas for improvement and obviously leak the areas that currently needed upgrades, but said town responders had a much better grasp on how to handle emergency scenarios now thanks to the exercises. 

"It all worked very well and it was the first time many were able to practice these scenarios with some level or realism," said Handler. "We're now able to tweak our policies and procedures to be more realistic following what we were able to analyze. We identified some areas where we needed improvement, additional training or infrastructure upgrades."

That said, Handler was confident the schools were as safe as ever and well prepared to deal with any scenario thrown at it while maximizing the safety of the children under the care of New Canaan officials. 

"From a training perspective, we are well prepared," Handler said. "In the face of a crisis, we know we have well-thought-out policies and procedures. Overall, I was very impressed. We're very fortunate to live in a community where the issue of child safety is viewed as a town-wide issue and not just a 'school issue.'"

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