On Wednesday, we were all stunned and saddened by the shooting at Townville Elementary in Anderson County. As we offer our thoughts and prayers to the people directly touched by that tragedy, we understand that many parents want to know what steps are taken here in Pickens County to prevent harm from coming to our students. Below is an overview of measures in place at our schools to keep your children safe.
During the school day, all of our schools are continually in a state of "soft lockdown." This means that not only are all external doors closed and locked, but internal classroom doors are also required to stay closed and locked to prevent intrusion from the hallways while classes are in session. Preventing an intruder from being able to go easily from door-to-door is one of the most important ways to minimize casualties in an active shooter situation.
In the past several years, our district has invested heavily in secure entryways at our schools. The front entryway to each of our schools features an "airlock" system, which requires a visitor to pass through at least two locked doors before gaining entry to the school hallways. Every front door is also equipped with a video surveillance system that allows receptionists to see, speak to, and evaluate the risk of any person visiting the school before unlocking the door. Also, all of our phones are equipped with software that informs law enforcement of the specific room from which a 911 call is made in any school. These measures help to prevent an intruder from gaining access to our buildings. The effort required to bypass these security measures affords time to school staff to recognize a threat, contact law enforcement, and begin to put emergency plans into action.
School Resource Officers
School resource officers are provided to the district through partnerships with local law enforcement agencies. The officers are stationed at our four high schools, five middle schools, and at the Career & Technology Center. School resource officers also respond to elementary schools upon request. In addition, we work closely with the Pickens County Sheriff's Office to ensure that school zones are heavily patrolled. For example, Pickens County deputies are encouraged to park at our elementary schools while filing reports from their patrol cars in order to establish a visible presence. Also, several local agencies offer additional support for traffic during pick-up and drop-off times.
Safety Plans and Training
Each school is required to have an Emergency Management Plan and to update the plan each year. These plans include lockdown and evacuation procedures, assignment of responsibilities during a crisis, emergency contacts, and other information needed during a wide range of emergency situations.
Our principals and other administrators are also provided with active-shooter response training through trainers certified by the ALICE Training Institute. The training involves teaching proactive response measures with the intent of not only protecting and evacuating students, but also subduing an attacker. This summer, district administration along with law enforcement also attended the Multi-Hazard Emergency Planning for Schools Conference in order to review our safety procedures in light of best practices from other districts and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The buildings and grounds at our schools are monitored by more than 1,600 security cameras. These cameras increase school safety in several ways. First, the cameras discourage dangerous behavior by students and visitors because of the knowledge that they may be recorded. Second, they can allow the district and law enforcement to track the location of an intruder. Third, they can help law enforcement to catch and prosecute those who violate the safety of our schools so that they are prevented from committing their crimes again.
Our district reviews and updates our emergency management procedures each year, but events like the shooting in Townville prompt us to review our procedures as well. For example, the "soft lockdown" procedures in place at our schools today were set in place immediately following the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012. Our district administration and school board will be carefully reviewing our security procedures in the coming days to determine if any changes are necessary.
Finally, we encourage you to speak to your children about how this event has had an impact on them and to offer them comfort and emotional support. The links below, provided to us by the SC Association of School Psychologists, may provide helpful guidance in approaching those conversations. The safety of children is the greatest responsibility anyone can be entrusted with. No responsibility is more sobering or sacred to us, and we thank you for trusting our schools to both educate and protect your child each day.
School Safety and Crisis
Managing Strong Emotional Reactions to Traumatic Events, Tips for Families and Teachers
Identifying Severly Traumatized Children, Helpful Information for Parents and Educators