published Thursday, December 20th, 2012

Bradley County schools officials address safety

CLEVELAND, Tenn. — Bradley County education officials this week publicly addressed concerns about the school system's security procedures in light of the elementary school massacre in Newtown, Conn., last Friday.

Administration officials discussed key elements of school security with Bradley County commissioners on Monday, taking the opportunity to address concerns of their own in the process.

"We take our responsibility very seriously every day," said Johnny McDaniel, director of Bradley County Schools. "When an incident like this occurs, it really causes us to pause, to reflect on what we're doing and what we have in place and to be really more vigilant as we go about our day-to-day activities."

The core of security procedures revolves around the cycle of planning and implementing daily safety measures, practiced responses to emergency situations and evaluating their effectiveness and efficiency, said Safety Officer Scott Hernandez, who performs similar duties on behalf of Cleveland City Schools and with the U.S. military as a reservist.

McDaniel said the schools perform lockdown drills, and personnel coordinate efforts with the Bradley County Emergency Management Agency. Law enforcement and emergency services have blueprints of the county school facilities to facilitate their responses to crises, he said.

"Those are important things, when the first responders know where to go in our buildings and they know our buildings," McDaniel said. "That's a key to quick response."

Ultimately, security measures boil down to placing effective controls on traffic flow in and out of school facilities, with the intention of preventing crime "through environment and design," Hernandez said.

He said some older buildings create challenges with trying to integrate new technologies into their security measures.

"It's an ongoing effort," Hernandez said.

"We would like to have safe and secure entryways into all of our schools," McDaniel said. He cited a number of elementary schools that have been remodeled to create barriers or otherwise limit access to incoming traffic.

Officials credited school resource officers with providing a necessary security presence on campuses. The Bradley County Sheriff's Office provides officers to all county schools except the Goal Academy, an alternative school.

"All school resource officers are partners with the principals," said Commissioner Bill Winters, who is a former county school principal.

Officials also questioned whether school faculty and staff members would be allowed to carry weapons on campus in the future if they had the necessary permits and training certifications. Firearms now are not allowed on school campuses.

McDaniel cited Todd Shoemaker, principal of Bradley Central High School and a former law enforcement officer, who expressed the desire to be able to defend the school in case of an emergency.

"It would be interesting to see the Legislature look at a way of providing for people who are competently trained and go through continuous updates just like our deputies," McDaniel said. "I'll certainly be in favor of looking at that."

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