In Bradley County, teachers are trained to be ready regardless of the emergency. Bradley County Schools’ protection of students begins with detailed plans on how to respond in given situations. Different codes are used for different emergency situations. Each school has team leaders who take the lead during an emergency situation.
“What happened in Connecticut is just the reminder that you really do have to think about it. You have to be ready for the unthinkable, and that’s what we try to do,” Bradley County Schools Director Johnny McDaniel said.
Safe Schools officer Scotty Hernandez pointed out emergency plans are adapted to be school-specific.
“We have a multihazard approach. We want to really be ready for anything,” Hernandez said. “Anything could happen.”
Hernandez said many aspects of a safety plan are determined by the layout of the building or school campus. Lake Forest Middle School has different security concerns based on the layout of the school than Ocoee Middle School might have. Threat assessments concerning school buildings are done continually to address possible security issues.
“There is an overall plan, and that plan is we have communicated as a system with EMA (Emergency Management Office) and the Sheriff’s Office,” McDaniel said. “They have our plans. They know our floor plans, our layouts. Across the system, we have the ID badges. People are supposed to check in.”
School resource officers also play an important role in school security. Every county school, except Goal Academy, has a school resource officer. However, McDaniel said the resource officers at Ocoee Middle School and North Lee Elementary school serve the role at Goal when necessary.
Drills are conducted with the students to prepare them for emergencies. These drills go beyond the traditional fire drills.
“We do everything from like an intruder to ... a chlorine leak ... how you would respond to a chlorine leak.” McDaniel said.
He said a chlorine leak is something for which schools near chemical plants should be prepared. He said the school system also has a plan in place if hazardous chemicals from a passing train create an emergency situation.
“Every year the principal reviews the plan with the teachers, and we have a crisis response folder that all the teachers have,” McDaniel said.
The school system had an emergency drill this year that focused on if something went wrong at the Sequoyah Nuclear Plant. In the drill, a plane had hit the plant.
“We own the school aspect of it. How do we evacuate Prospect? And where do we take them? How do we coordinate that? The director gets involved. Transportation gets involved, and we work with community partners,” Hernandez said. “It’s a community effort when it comes to a bigger disaster like that.”
McDaniel said looking at potential emergencies from multiple aspects means better preparation for keeping students safe.
Schools with multiple buildings can create a security challenge. McDaniel said as schools are renovated the hope is to consolidate the number of buildings. He said the separate buildings at Valley View Elementary School were connected when the school was renovated. At LFMS, there are 13 separate buildings. McDaniel said he hopes a new academic building can be built on the site to eliminate some of these buildings.
The size of the school, and how many students attend, also affect security.
Secure entrance points, where only the front door of a school is unlocked and visitors have to go through the office to get to the rest of the school, are one strategic way to make sure everyone signs in.
“That’s what I want for every school, and every new school we have will be built that way,” McDaniel said.
Currently, Hopewell, North Lee and Black Fox elementary schools have been modified. Similar updates are being discussed for Michigan Avenue Elementary School and Bradley Central High School. BCHS also has a security guard on duty by the front gate to the school. Security cameras are also used at schools throughout the system.
Having a secure perimeter is important to school safety, McDaniel said.
Hernandez said parents also have a role in school safety. They need to know what to do in the event of an emergency situation at the schools.
In the event of such a situation, McDaniel uses the school mass message phone system to notify parents of the situation. Two-way radios at the schools provide ways to communicate with emergency personnel and one another during events that knock out cellphone communication.
The county school emergency plan can be viewed on the school system’s website.
Bradley County Schools: www.bradleyschools.org