School District Uses SUV As Emergency Tool

Published February 5, 2017 by Elizabeth Jeneault

Protecting a school district takes a lot of effort. The job is just as challenging as protecting a college campus, a large mall or other public gathering place. What makes it so difficult is that school districts often times have upwards of a dozen buildings. Unfortunately, we’re all too familiar with the tragedies that have taken place at schools.  The one that instantly comes to mind is Sandy Hook. On Dec. 14, 2012, a gunman shot 20 children and six adult staff members to death at the Newton, Connecticut elementary school. Tragedies like Sandy Hook have forced school districts to take security more seriously and for one district in California, an SUV has become an integral part of its force. Mark Clark is the Val Verde Unified School District’s chief of security. He decided to take an old Chevrolet Suburban SUV and turn it into a mobile command unit that can be used in the event of an emergency. It’s a vehicle that’s used by many security agencies and police departments across the country. Even the Secret Service loves the Chevrolet Suburban, as reported here. Several Chevrolet Suburban SUVs are part of the presidential motorcade. So it makes sense for the vehicle to also be used by a school district’s security force. It has a tough exterior, perfect for protection. It's also spacious with plenty of room for supplies. According to a report by The Press Enterprise, school district officials recently showed off the mobile command unit at a holiday toy drive event. The SUV is packed with incredibly crucial items that could come in handy in the event of an emergency. It has medical supplies, a radio, electrical outlets and a Wi-Fi hotspot. The report states that included in the medical supplies are dressings for victims’ wounds. The radio allows officials to communicate between different buildings. Of course, having Wi-Fi in an emergency can also be a huge help. In the event something did occur, first responders would be able to use it. Because cell phone service is often spotty during emergencies, having Wi-Fi to stay connected is crucial. Clark told The Press Enterprise he was inspired to outfit the SUV and turn it into a mobile command unit because of his first-hand experience dealing with a tragic event. Before joining the district, he was a sergeant with the San Bernardino City Unified School District Police Department. He was working on Dec. 2, 2015, when two shooters opened fire at a holiday work gathering at the Inland Regional Center. 14 people were killed in the incident and 22 others were wounded. It is known nationwide as the San Bernardino shooting. The FBI said the shooters were inspired by foreign terrorist groups. It’s a tragedy that has stuck with Clark. “After Dec. 2, being a sergeant in San Bernardino...I thought [the SUV] was critical or crucial to any kind of incident at Val Verde,” he told The Press Enterprise. While he has already shown off the SUV at an event, it’s not complete just yet. He says he wants to make several additions to it. For example, the radio it's now outfitted with isn’t the best. That’s because it is only able to communicate with buildings within the district. He hopes to change that so it can communicate with outside agencies like the district’s emergency operations center can. That way, Clark and other district officials can easily get in touch with the sheriff’s department, for example, from the SUV. “We don’t have it mobile yet; we’re working on getting it mobile,” said Clark. Of course, any SUV with such an important job needs to look the part. That means the Chevrolet Suburban’s exterior will get an upgrade before it's complete. “We’re going to be wrapping it, pinstriping it so it’s noticeable as an emergency vehicle,” said Clark in his interview with The Press Enterprise. At the time of the interview, the district’s chief of security did not have an estimate to give on the cost of the vehicle. He did, however, suggest it was low. Because the district already had the vehicle in its possession, it didn’t have to purchase the Chevrolet Suburban. The district had planned to get rid of it but Clark certainly found a way to put it to good use. It’s also not the only way the department is beefing up its ability to respond to emergencies. The district is trying to strengthen its approach in a number of other ways. The Press Enterprise, for example, reports employees are able to keep an eye on all of the district’s schools through surveillance cameras. As we mentioned before, the center can also communicate with all school sites and outside agencies. At least one of the district’s schools also has self-locking doors on its classrooms that can only be opened by key fobs. School districts across the country could certainly benefit from taking a page out of Mark Clark’s book. It’s clear he’s dedicated to protecting the children of the Val Verde Unified School District. By turning the district’s old sports utility vehicle into a mobile command unit, he was able to put a wasted resource to good use and come up with a beneficial tool to have on hand in the event of an emergency. The district is quite large as 19,841 students were enrolled during the 2014-15 school year. That means it can use all the help it can get when it comes to security.

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