In the wake of a mass school shooting that took the lives of 17 people in Parkland, Florida, Wednesday, Bulloch County Schools officials are reviewing safety measures in the event something similar happens here.
The school system has been conducting “intruder drills” for some time now, said Hayley Greene, public relations and marketing specialist for Bulloch County Schools.
School leaders and local law enforcement have partnered in planning safety training and setting policies in place for such an event, she said.
On Wednesday, Valentine’s Day, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz opened fire at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School, killing 17 and wounding a dozen more. The former student, who had been expelled, is described by peers as a loner who had been banned from bringing a backpack to school, allegedly due to erratic behavior. Reports reveal his social media accounts were filled with references to guns and ties to a white supremacy group called the “Republic of Florida.”
In one social media post, he is said to have expressed a desire to become a “professional school shooter.” According to CNN, Cruz was reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation at least twice for threatening and disturbing posts, many of which were racially offensive.
Greene said school officials take every precaution to report suspicious activity and prevent a similar situation.
“We conduct table-top (training) exercises with our principals, administrators, Bulloch Emergency Management Agency and law enforcement,” she said. “We just recently conducted ‘Run, Hide, Fight’ training with all employees based on new recommendations from the FBI and Homeland Security. Local law enforcement conducted these sessions for us.”
Megan Warren, Statesboro police community information specialist, said education on the “Run, Hide, Fight” concept will teach students and faculty how to best address dangerous situations.
The Statesboro High school resource officer, like all other police officers and school resource officers at other schools, is armed and trained in handling emergency events to keep people as safe as possible, Warren said.
Students and faculty alike participate in preparedness exercises as well.
“We conduct intruder drills at all schools on a regular basis with all students and employees,” Greene said. “At our facilities where there are only adults (i.e., Central Office, bus garages, school nutrition office, etc.) we call them intruder drills. At the schools they are called lockdown drills.”
The drills are state mandated.
“We are required by the state to conduct tornado, fire and lockdown drills. The lockdown drills look differently across the grade-level schools,” she said.
The schools conduct lockdown drills multiple times during the school year.
According to Paul Webb, the district's chief operations officer, the school system has always conducted lockdown drills in some form.
“He remembers them from the early 1990s,” she said. Since the school massacre at Columbine in 1999 and the mass shootings at a school in Sandy Hook in 2012, “how our schools conduct employee training and lockdown drills with students has evolved.”
All Bulloch County high schools have school resource officers, and in case of a dangerous incident, law enforcement from all available agencies respond.
“Our local Bulloch County Emergency Management Agency and local law enforcement are a tremendous partner and resource for us in addition to safety protocols we receive from the Georgia Department of Education,” Greene said. “Bulloch County EMA and local law enforcement keep us abreast and offer training on best practices from Homeland Security and the FBI as they evolve. The recent ‘Run, Hide, Fight’ training they provided all our employees is an example of that based on changes in best practices law enforcement learned after evaluating Sandy Hook.”
Bulloch County Sheriff Noel Brown was not immediately available for comment on the issue of school shooter training Thursday, but he directed questions to Chief Deputy Bill Black. Statesboro police Chief Mike Broadhead referred questions to Warren.
Black said efforts are in the works to secure school resource officers for all Bulloch County Schools.
“A school resource officer does two things — educate and protect the school and students,” he said. While school officials can contact law enforcement via phone or radio in case of emergency, “the best defense is having a law enforcement officer at each school.”
Stay away, don’t call
Parents can play a major role in keeping their children safe, Greene said. While it comes as first impulse for a parent to rush to the school or call their children when trouble is reported, both actions can make things worse, she said.
“Parents and teachers also play a key role in talking to children about violence,” she said. But in case a dangerous situation arises, “Do not call or go to the school during an emergency. Do not call students — ringing or buzzing can alert a shooter to their location.”
She advises saying tuned to local media for updates and listening out for school system notices. If a parent’s phone is busy, they may not get the alert; the system tries three times to make the call before giving up, she said.
Students, parents and faculty alike are urged to report any suspicious person or activity to 911 or the appropriate law enforcement agency over that jurisdiction.
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.