Archived Story

Officials look at school security options

Published 3:50pm Tuesday, January 7, 2014

During an informational meeting on Friday, school, state and local officials discussed the possibility of implementing a program aimed at strengthening safety in the county schools.

Franklin County Schools Superintendent Gary Williams, Franklin County Sheriff Shannon Oliver and Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow met via video conference with representatives from The Protection Institute, LLC, which is a full-service protection, safety and security solutions company that offers customizable safety consulting and training services that would be tailor-made for each school.

Williams said the county school system is looking at implementing the PI’s trademarked Total Protection Formula (TPF) as a way to move forward with heightened security measures in the county school that were made possible through the school safety bill sponsored by Morrow 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.

“The biggest concern for me when this bill was passed was making sure we found a way to provide comprehensive and adequate training for anyone who was willing to be part of a school security force,” Oliver said.

“Since Rep. Morrow’s bill was passed, we have been looking for options to help us provide this type of training, and after listening to what The Protection Institute can offer, it sounds like this would be a great program for us to work with in the county schools where there isn’t a school resource officer.”

PI CEO and founder Patrick Sergott told local officials that his company can offer services that would create a customizable safety plan for each individual school that would be specific even down to each classroom and each teacher.

Sergott said he believed it was more important to invest in resources and training than for school officials to spend copious amounts of money on equipment like metal detectors and camera systems.

“Buying equipment to provide for a school’s safety is important,” Sergott said, “but you can have the most expensive equipment in the world, and lots of it, but as we saw with Sandy Hook, that won’t always be enough.

“Having trained personnel is what we really need, and that’s what we can help Franklin County Schools provide.”

Sergott said once they create a safety plan for each school, they have training sessions available that would make sure each staff member at the school knew and understood what protocol should be taken in each situation.

“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,” Williams said.

“This program helps each staff member understand the protocol for these situations, whether they are part of an actual school security force or not. It gets everyone on the same page, which allows for better communication – something that is vital in any situation like that.”

And Oliver said the PI representatives would also be able to help with weapons training if a school had individuals who were willing and capable of being part of a school security force, something Morrow said was crucial.

“When this bill was first presented, many people had the misconception that I was trying to go in and just arm all the teachers, which is absolutely not the case,” Morrow said.

“Anyone who is part of a security force would have to be approved by Sheriff Oliver and would have to go through specific training. Up until this point, we have been looking for a way to administer that training, and I think The Protection Institute offers a great option for all types of training.”

Previously, Morrow and school officials had voted this past summer to pursue training options through the National Rifle Association’s School Shield program.

Michael Sullivan, a contract lobbyist for the NRA in Alabama, said in June that the NRA School Shield Program was still in the developmental stages but was gaining interest across the nation and that Franklin County could be one of the first school systems to participate in the program.

However, as of December, Morrow said Sullivan had informed him the program still wasn’t fully developed.

“Now that we have the option to create a security force and to find ways to make our schools safer, we just want to move forward with these plans,” Williams said.

“Since the NRA program is not an option right now, we think the Total Protection Formula offered by the Protection Institute is our best option.”

Since the county school system doesn’t have the funding available to implement this program on their own, Morrow said they would be pursuing several different grant options that would provide the necessary resources to get the TPF up and running in Franklin County.

“If this is something that Sheriff Oliver and the school officials ultimately want to pursue, we will do everything we can to obtain grant money to fund it,” Morrow said.

“The safety of our students is the most important thing, so whatever we can do to ensure their safety is what we will focus on.”

Oliver and Williams will be meeting with Sergott in the coming weeks to discuss the possibility of having three of the most rural schools in the county – Belgreen, East Franklin and Tharptown – become part of a pilot program that would ultimately be implemented in all the county schools.

“This is something that we would want to have in place in each school in our system, but there are some schools that have no police protection where it would be a good place to test out the program and the techniques.”

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