Blount County Schools focus on safety and security


Major players pose with Blount County Schools’ safety and security bible. From left, Blount County Schools federal program coordinator Craig Sosebee and Emergency Management Agency director (and tabletop expert) Don Roybal. The binder is definitive, having been blessed by the U.S. Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, and Justice, plus the FBI, and FEMA.

Major players pose with Blount County Schools’ safety and security bible. From left, Blount County Schools federal program coordinator Craig Sosebee and Emergency Management Agency director (and tabletop expert) Don Roybal. The binder is definitive, having been blessed by the U.S. Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, and Justice, plus the FBI, and FEMA.

In the aftermath of recent school assault tragedies, Blount County Schools have conducted a thorough review of safety and security plans and procedures with a view to identifying any areas that need to be strengthened to ensure maximum preparedness.

Craig Sosebee is the man in the Blount County Schools central office with the responsibility for safety/security planning and implementation. His title, somewhat innocuously, is federal programs coordinator. But school safety and security is not a federal program. (And it’s definitely not innocuous.) It’s as intense and as local as it gets. It’s as local as the school district makes it. And it’s as local as the school building within which – and the school personnel by whom – it is carried out.

At the last meeting of the Blount County Board of Education in early May, Sosebee briefed board members on the scope of the safety and security program and the actions taken to update and improve it.

“I feel like we’re ahead of the curve in a number of areas, compared to other districts around the state. We’ve been focused on safety for a number of years, always trying to improve and add to what we’re doing,” Sosebee said.

He said a major goal of planning is to emphasize with members of each school’s crisis response team (CRT), and school personnel generally, the specific actions each is expected to perform in connection with various school emergencies, including the worst case, an active shooter. Secret to success? Sort of like football

And that means lots and lots of what any sports coach knows is critical to success: knowing what you’re supposed to do under different circumstances, and practice, practice practice doing it. Thus, the emphasis on drills. Fire drills? Yeah, buddy. But other kinds too: lockdown drills, tornado drills, earthquake drills, evacuation drills, and so on. One drill per month rotating through these situations is held at each school in the district. Specific sets of instructions also apply for many other emergency situations: hazardous materials spills, drug inspections, fights, hostage-takings, serious accidents, and other incidents.

There are even planning drills. They’re called tabletop exercises, and they are quite complicated, involving first responders – fire, police, and ambulance – emergency management representatives, school staff, and others – all of them sitting at tables and coordinating maneuvers as massive as relocating all students from a building under threat to a remote recovery area where they can be reunited with families following a disturbance. The details are mind boggling. Think about it: transportation, possible injury treatment, notification, organization, student management, traffic control, anxiety management, and on and on.

Obviously, it would be difficult to stage a real life drill of such an incident, but the tabletop exercise does the next best thing, recreating many of the stresses and challenges of the real thing – and giving the participants the crucial experience of handling their responsibilities under emergency conditions. Or in other words – practice under simulated live fire. Other procedures

Other subjects covered in the review for the school board included the following:

• review of roles and responsibilities of CRT members and officer personnel during hard lockdowns

• review of each campus to ensure building points of entry are as secure as possible and that each classroom, lab, locker room, etc.can be quickly locked

• review of front-door controlled entry and visitor sign-in procedures

• review of emergency communication system operation

• review of staff/student training needs Other programs

• student mental health support mechanisms: mental health first-aid training, de-escalation and restraint training, mental health screening tool use, school-based mental health therapist in trial mode at four school locations

• new visitor management system based on a scan of visitor’s driver’s license in trial status; system checks DL number against sex offender data base and alerts administrators and School Resource Officer (SRO) to escalate to next step, as necessary

• condensed version of SRO Alert training on how to respond to an active shooter at school; allows school principals and assistant principals to understand the actions of law enforcement and evaluate their school’s preparedness Sosebee: the last words

“The goal is to make sure we have a comprehensive plan to address school safety. There isn’t just one thing or a few things we need to do well. We feel it should be a comprehensive approach involving first responders and our stakeholders that will best ensure our kids’ safety. We feel that safety is the first priority. If we don’t provide that, then learning gains and a positive school environment will be beside the point. Every time we have another one of these shooting incidents, it makes us slow down and evaluate whether we’re doing all we can do. Are we doing enough? Is there anything more we need to be doing? Anything different we need to be doing? Just makes us slow down and think real carefully if there’s anything else we need to be doing to be prepared.”