InterMountain Education Service District superintendent Mark Mulvihill isn’t shouting from a rooftop about school security, but he isn’t mincing words either.
Following the mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg Oct. 1, something changed for Mulvihill, making him wonder whether he was doing everything he could to protect the 19 school districts and one charter school the IMESD serves.
It also struck an emotional chord.
“If it was (my sons) Patrick, Riley or Nick, I would be speaking differently,” he said. “I would want something done and done now.”
Instead, Mulvihill has the option of using more diplomatic terms to spearhead an effort to increase the IMESD’s security services.
From January to March, Mulvihill and Pendleton Police Chief Stuart Roberts will work together to “solidify the scope of work” for a security assessment that would be available to schools within the IMESD.
He used to share the opinion that many other people from Eastern Oregon had — he didn’t want schools to look like “fortresses.”
Schools outside metro areas were supposed to reflect rural values: open, inviting and devoid of the heavy fortifications required in urban districts.
But the victims left in the wake of 26-year-old Chris Harper-Mercer’s attack, which killed nine and injured nine more, changed Mulvihill’s mind.
In Roseburg, Mulvihill saw a community similar to Pendleton, a midsized rural city with a community college.
Another catalyst was Mulvihill’s surprise with how quickly conversation turned away from Umpqua, almost as if the events from Roseburg were a normal occurrence.
While mass shootings, defined by the FBI as four or more people killed in a single incident committed by a single person, have received national scrutiny, they are not terribly common to Oregon. According to a database compiled by Mother Jones, only two out of the 73 mass shootings that have occurred in the U.S. since 1982 took place in the Beaver State.
That’s not to say rural shootings don’t happen.
Several mass shootings have happened in rural communities with populations under 5,000 people, including the murder of five girls in a one-room school in Pennsylvania in 2006.
Mulvihill called up Roberts, and from their conversations they put together a plan.
Collaborating with local law enforcement, the IMESD would offer Roberts’ assessment services and deliver security recommendations based on his observations.
“I try to take a progressive, systematic approach,” Roberts wrote in an email. “I normally start with an environmental threat assessment, which analyzes campus and facility vulnerabilities. I then move into emergency response planning, evaluation, implementation and training. I also look as partnerships and agreements that are in place to ensure evacuation facilities, bus contracts and other resources are up to date ... safety in a lot of respects is common sensical, so it is merely a matter of getting non-first responders to look at their respective environments through a different lens.”
The recommendations could be as simple as coordinating universal terminology in crisis situations, to more expensive options like an anonymous tip line or new security infrastructure like fencing, gates and video cameras.
While larger school systems like the Pendleton School District have been able to include security upgrades in bond packages, Mulvihill said smaller school districts that rely on tax bases that can’t or won’t support bonds puts them at a disadvantage.
If necessary, the IMESD could then assist school districts in obtaining funding from the state or federal government, drawing on its connections with members of the Legislature and Congress.
Mulvihill said the Echo, Ione and Athena-Weston school districts have showed particular interest in the proposal.
Any foray into school security will garner a variety of opinions, which includes proposals to arm teachers. Mulvihill said any proposal of that sort would be an insult to law enforcement, who spend their careers specializing in public safety and are better suited to evaluate threats.
Mulvihill prefers leaving educators to do what they do best: Teach.
Roberts and Mulvihill are currently hammering out the details of a contract between the city of Pendleton and the IMESD. If an agreement is reached, Mulvihill would like to see assessments ready by next fall.
Contact Antonio Sierra at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-966-0836.