By DAVE ALTIMARI, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Hartford Courant
11:18 PM EST, January 17, 2013
Gerald Stomski remembers sitting in principal Dawn Hochsprung's office at the Mitchell Elementary School, discussing the unthinkable.
"We talked several times about what you would do if somehow a shooter got into the school and bullets started flying … The first thing she always said was 'not on my watch'" said Stomski, the town's first selectmen.
On Dec. 14, as he listened to a state police scanner document the shooting at Newtown's Sandy Hook Elementary School, Stomski said he knew exactly what Hochsprung would be doing – trying to stop the shooter from getting to her students.
"As I heard what was going on in Sandy Hook I just wanted to puke,'' Stomski said. "Dawn did everything in her means that day and her actions clearly saved lives. But the devil got in anyway."
Hochsprung had left Mitchell for the principalship at Sandy Hook in 2010. She was one of the first killed during Adam Lanza's shooting spree. As Lanza shot his way into the school through a glass window at the front entrance, Hochsprung came running out of a conference room right into his path.
Lanza killed her and school psychologist Mary Scherlach before walking into two classrooms and gunning down 20 first grade students and their teachers and aides. All told, 26 people were killed within minutes.
Stomski has worked in the security field for 12 years. He owns Advanced Automated Security Systems LLC and has four patents pending regarding access control systems, particularly involving passenger screening for airports. He said he believes that airport security technology can be applied to schools.
He is now hoping to play a role in legislative efforts to improve school safety. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has formed a committee to make recommendations and legislators are expecting multiple bills to be proposed.
Stomski said he hopes to address legislators if hearings are held and that he is determined to carry on Hochsprung's motto of "not on my watch."
"I hope we are not going to knee jerk our reaction,'' Stomski said. "There is not one thing that will solve this issue."
Stomski said part of the problem is that school's mostly rely on administrators, teachers or other support personnel to develop plans for their schools when they should be relying on security professionals.
"The details of security have to go to people in the field. Each school in each town is uniquely different in its security needs. There are different access points, different designs particularly with older schools,'' Stomski said.
One of his proposals is to create a double entrance with a vestibule protected by bullet proof glass. A school visitor would enter through the first door but have to be buzzed in by office personnel to get through the second. Another is to install real-time video streaming to police headquarters from school parking lots to alert police to suspicious visitors before they enter the school.
Region 14, which includes Woodbury and Bethlehem, is reviewing its security systems and has discovered areas that can be improved.
Stomski said during a recent lockdown drill, school district officials realized that announcements could not be heard in the cafeteria.
"Can you imagine if there was a shooter in the building and no one could hear any announcement that it is a lockdown situation?'' Stomski said.
Before she left for Sandy Hook, Hochsprung was in charge of the Region 14 application to get state funding from a grant established following the Virginia Tech shootings. In 2009, Region 14 received $14,000 from the state to help install a buzzer system at the two elementary schools in the district.
"Dawn was always worried about school security. We talked about it often and then for this to happen at her school." Stomski said. "I wouldn't be honoring her if I didn't try to make our schools safer for the next time the devil tries to get in."
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