Officials assess ways to better respond to threats on campus

BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - Just one day after a bomb threat at a local high school, some are questioning if the situation was handled effectively, while officials say they did their best.

"We had eight minutes to move 1,700 children to safety," Bay District Schools Safety and Security Chief Mike Jones said. "We didn't have time to search other alternative sites to take the students, we had to move them and move them quickly."

Tuesday afternoon, Arnold High School and Panama City Beach Police both received a call warning of a bomb planted on campus.

Since the situation has calmed down, law enforcement and Bay District Schools officials met to discuss how everything was handled.

"We rely on our plans. We have plans for everything. Not all situations are going to fit exactly into a plan, but that plan that we have in place is, in that type of situation, a bomb threat, evacuate the children," Jones explained.

"We were able to identify some of those areas that we need to improve on [Wednesday]," said Arnold High School Principal, Keith Bland. "But some of the things are just small procedural things that we have to deal with at the school."

"Some folks have called and said they don't agree with some of the things that happened. Armchair quarterback, [in] hindsight everything is 20/20, but we work on what we call objective, reasonableness, prudent man would do. What the facts are that we're dealing with right now pertaining to this situation and with reasonableness and common sense. What would you do to respond to this incident," Jones said.

Although he was not at the meeting, Jones said one of the major concerns discussed was communication between all responding agencies, including sharing information about
a potential active shooter.

"That was a call that was made to 911. We received a call here ourselves at the school that made no mention of a shooter or anyone on campus, [it] was just of the bomb," Bland said.

"We should have known about that," Jones explained. "I'm the Chief of Police for the school board. I should have known that information and I did not. Now where the ball got dropped is beyond me. I do not know. They are working that out right now."

Jones said the active shooter element was not made known to him and his department until after the incident and says that piece of information could have drastically changed how they addressed the situation.

"Communication is the key to solving any crisis situation. If all you have is tin cans of string, you're never going to survive, " Jones said. "We would've had to move those kids to a different location and protect those children from two people with weapons is what we heard. Totally would have been different. [We would have] put perimeter security and get them down on the ground where we could protect them and get our officers in the bleachers with weapons and try to fend that off."

In the end, many believe the situation was handled the best it could have been.

"One thing I was impressed with yesterday was how quickly they were able to get onto some of the leads they had and try to find out who the person is that made this threat," Bland said.

Officials said scenarios like the one at AHS are exactly why they do a minimum of ten emergency drills a year at each school.

Bay District Schools and Panhandle Crime Stoppers are offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction of whoever is responsible for the threat against Arnold High School Tuesday.

For more details on Tuesday's event, click the link under the related links.

Anyone with information should call 785-TIPS (8477) or toll-free at 866-963-8477.