Archived Story

Drills prepare local schools, responders for emergencies

Published 11:58pm Monday, December 17, 2012

Beaufort County Schools

The Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy has school systems across the country looking closely at safety procedures, and Beaufort County Schools is no different.  It is important to school leaders that parents understand the district has a long-standing practice of drills and focus on safety that will only continue to grow and strengthen.
Each campus within Beaufort County Schools has a required number of drills to conduct each semester, but each school is encouraged to hold additional drills as administrators feel needed. The drill requirements are monitored and supported by BCS Central Services staff as well as local law-enforcement officers.
These drills and preparations are conducted under guidelines provided by the North Carolina attorney general’s office. As did many states, North Carolina revamped and strengthened its response protocols following the events at Columbine High School in 1999.
School administrators will call student households on the evening following a drill to inform parents of the events that occurred on campus that day and better explain the purpose behind the drills.
“Our goal is to provide a safe learning environment for students and staff,” explained Don Phipps, superintendent of Beaufort County Schools. “By constantly considering threats and risks, we work to be pro-active rather than reactive. We seek to learn from tragic situations such as those that occurred in Connecticut last week to minimize our risks.”
Schools in the district take each drill as an opportunity to assess practices and update procedures. More than two years ago, the system began reaching out to local law enforcement to play an active role in lockdown drills. That offer was met with great enthusiasm from many officials, and it continues to grow.
The N.C. State Highway Patrol Office in Washington is just one of the agencies that regularly participate in drills at the schools. According to First Sgt. Brandon Craft, participating before an event is a good opportunity.
“As a law-enforcement officer, and especially as a parent, I take great comfort in knowing our school system has been making efforts to be proactive when it comes to the safety of our schools. Having the opportunity to be a part of the drills and planning alongside the schools will only make us stronger if and when we do carry out a response to an incident on a campus.”
Officers gain knowledge of campuses they may not have gained otherwise. They also provide priceless feedback to the schools on what they see working well, from a responder’s point of view, and what areas need to be strengthened. The Washington Police Department also regularly participates in drills and training of school staff.
“Being a part of theses drills is a true benefit to our officers,” explained Lt. Cliff Hales of the Washington Police Department. “We provide assistance in preparation as often as we can based on the specialized training we receive as law enforcement, but we gain a lot too. The experience is as valuable to our response preparation as it is for the school staff and students. We appreciate the invitation from the schools and are glad to be on board at this stage and not wait until the day we have to respond to an event.”
In the event of an actual emergency on a school campus, parents will be immediately notified via the Connect 5 automated call system. In cases of emergency, the system will call each number in a student’s file. For instance, if a mother’s home, work and cellphone numbers are all listed in a student file, each number will be called. For this reason, it is imperative for parents and guardians to ensure their contact information on file stays current.

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