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County schools roll out new safety training program

A panel consisting of Franklin County Sheriff Shannon Oliver, Protection Institute CEO Patrick Sergott, Sen. Roger Bedford, Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow and Franklin County Superintendent Gary Williams discussed new school safety measures at a press conference last Thursday. | Photo by Kellie Singleton.
A panel consisting of Franklin County Sheriff Shannon Oliver, Protection Institute CEO Patrick Sergott, Sen. Roger Bedford, Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow and Franklin County Superintendent Gary Williams discussed new school safety measures at a press conference last Thursday. | Photo by Kellie Singleton.

Local school officials will be rolling out innovative safety and training measures this week just in time for the new school year.

Officials with the Franklin County School System as well as state and law enforcement leaders met last Thursday to discuss the new emergency preparedness program put together for the school system by The Protection Institute, LLC, which is a full-service protection, safety and security solutions company based in Charleston, S.C., that offers customizable safety consulting and training services for organizations and businesses.

PI CEO and founder Patrick Sergott was also in attendance to talk about the different ways his company will he helping the school system put enhanced security measures in place that will protect students and faculty in several different emergency scenarios, such as severe weather, fire, evacuation, or an armed intruder.

“What we are trying to do is set a new standard for school security,” Sergott said.

“Our goal is to empower people and teach them to work together as a team to protect their students and the school.”

In January, Sergott and PI vice-president Steve Stovall took a tour of all county schools in order to make assessments on their current security measures.

Those assessments were then used to help the company form specialized security plans unique to each school that will aim to strengthen and enhance school security in each one of the county schools.

Sergott said teachers in the school system will have access to computerized training, called a “PI classroom”, that will be unique, not just to their specific school, but that will be unique to their own classroom as well.

“The thing I am the most impressed with about this program is that it offers a way for every single staff member to be trained on what to do in not just an intruder situation, but it other emergency situations like a fire or severe weather,” Franklin County Superintendent Gary Williams said.

“This program gets everyone on the same page, which allows for better communication – something that is vital in any situation like that.”

Sergott said the comprehensive training was key.

“Just because a school has a school resource officer or a fancy security system, they shouldn’t have a false sense of security that nothing could happen at their school,” Sergott said.

“You shouldn’t rely on equipment and you shouldn’t rely on just one person. If you can make a force multiplier out of all the faculty, that will make much more of an impact.

“Equipment is for security; people protect people.”

The new training and security measures at the county school also allow for the option to have some teachers serve as an armed security force.

This aspect of the security plan is something made possible by the passage of the school safety bill sponsored by Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow, with the assistance of Sen. Roger Bedford, and passed in the 2013 legislative session.

According to the bill, which was signed into law as Act 2013-268, former and current school personnel, as well as community volunteers, can be trained as reserve sheriff’s deputies or police reserves and would have the authority to act as security forces on school campuses in the event that an intruder comes on the school’s campus with the intent to harm students or employees.

The bill stipulates that the training of any school security force would be handled by local law enforcement, which, in the case of the county schools, falls under the responsibility of Sheriff Shannon Oliver.

One issue that has come up during this process is the misconception that all the teachers will be “armed” through this new program, a fact that Franklin County Superintendent Gary Williams said just isn’t true.

“We aren’t here today to discuss arming our personnel,” Williams said.

“If we decide to make this decision, or if we have already made the decision, to have certain people in each school properly trained to carry a firearm, that decision will be made between myself, Sheriff Oliver, and the principal of that school, and the decision will be kept private.

“It will not be public knowledge who the people are who will, or might have already been, trained for this purpose because we don’t want anyone knowing this information, for safety and security purposes.

“We just want to clear up any misconceptions that we will be ‘arming all the teachers’ and that people will be carrying firearms who haven’t been properly trained to do so because that isn’t the case.

“Anyone in that position will have the proper training.”

Bedford said the most important part about the county school system partnering with the Protection Institute is the knowledge it will give each faculty member.

“This is not about giving every teacher a gun,” Bedford said.

“This is about giving every teacher the knowledge and the wisdom to empower themselves to protect those children. Knowledge can go a long way, and if these teachers have the proper training to know exactly what to do in these different emergency situations, they will be confident in their decisions, and the students will be able to feed off of that confidence and everyone will be working together and going in the same direction.”

Sheriff Shannon Oliver agreed.

“Without the knowledge to know what to do, it would almost be chaos in any type of emergency situation,” Oliver said.

“This program will give us a foundation for training and something we can build on.”

Morrow said the main thing was that each school would be as safe and as secure as it could possibly be.

“Our children are a top priority because they are our future,” Morrow said.

“They cannot be expected to learn in an environment they do not feel safe in, and this program will allow them to all feel safe and secure.”