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Preparing educators, law enforcement for school crisis

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OKLAHOMA CITY - Tragedies involving schools, like what happened in Newtown, Connecticut back in December, have brought school safety to the forefront.

Parents, educators and lawmakers are now asking the questions, what needs to be done? Is there an answer?

A special conference this week at the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum Center For Education and Outreach is trying to help answer those questions.

Rhonda Harris, counselor at Lawton's Learning Tree Academy, said, "Our number one priority is to keep our kids safe and to educate them."

Harris along with dozens of other educators and members of law enforcement filled a conference room Wednesday morning hoping to learn how to keep Oklahoma students safe when crisis strikes.

Harris said, "We're always looking at ways to still enjoy school and school be a fun place but school be a safe place."

INTERVIEW: Gregoty Thomas, the former director of security for New York City Schools.

"Having a plan in writing is one thing; it could be on the shelf," Gregory Thomas said. "Taking the plan out and making it part of the culture of the school is where you doing drilling on a regular basis explaining to children why you do drills."

Thomas is the former director of security for New York City Schools.

He has worked with schools across the country to help improve emergency preparedness.

He said, "Schools are not the Pentagon, they are not a military installation."

He said too often planning is done while in reactionary mode to incidents, like the mass school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.

But, he said arming teachers or hiring guards is not the best answer either.

Thomas said, "I want schools to get back to the basics and realize they need to focus on safety planning."

Kari Watkins, Executive Director of The Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum, said it's about creating a culture where our kids and educators work together to keep each other safe.

She said, "I think we have to change the culture of 'tattle-tale' and create a culture of caring and sharing and understanding students have a responsibility to keep their schools safe as well."

Thomas also encourages parents to get involved in the planning at their schools.

He said keeping kids safe is best done when parents, educators and law enforcement all work together.

LINK: Responding to schools in crisis workshop