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Safety Preparedness An Engineering Feat

CARROLLTON, GA – Strong relationships between Carrollton City Schools and local, state and federal law enforcement and emergency management agencies have produced a culture of collaboration that prioritizes school safety and preparedness, said Dr. Mark Albertus, superintendent of Carrollton City Schools.

This relationship became even more pronounced following a week-long training at the Federal Emergency Management Agency headquarters in Emmitsburg, Md., a few years ago that emphasized the value of these relationships and how they benefit the community, said Albertus.

“We have an ongoing, purposeful partnership with our local emergency and law enforcement professionals,” he said. “We have hosted tabletop meetings, conducted live shooter drills, plus the national FEMA training helped us produce a comprehensive 20-point emergency preparedness guide that has since been given to all teachers and administrators on the proper procedures to follow in emergency situations.” This guide, Albertus said, will remain “an ever-evolving document.”

While efforts to improve school safety are always running in the background at Carrollton City Schools and remain the top priority at all times, tragedies such as the recent Parkland, Fla., school shooting bring this initiative to the forefront of public forum, an understandable outcome as communities fear a replication of events in their own schools and towns.

Albertus said the district’s safety plans undergo continuous review and refinement and are critical components of the system’s overall school improvement mission. Yet, despite this deliberate focus, each occurring tragedy raises questions about standard safety practices and offers the opportunity to improve even the most comprehensive safety plan.

“This most recent tragedy has prompted an evaluation of our evacuation protocols, specifically concerning the use of fire drills,” said Albertus, who noted the perpetrator in the Parkland shooting took advantage of the school’s fire drill procedure, which created vulnerability in student safety through standard evacuation practices. “We must strike a balance between practicing safety preparedness and protecting our students. Safety will always take priority.”

Craig George, assistant superintendent of operations for the school system, said while monthly fire/severe weather drills always have been routinely scheduled by school administration, extra efforts are being made to communicate this schedule to teachers and staff and a tiered release approach has been implemented to avoid sending students out of the building unless absolutely necessary for their safety.

George said lockdown drills are also routinely conducted when students are in school. He also noted active shooter drills are periodically conducted on staff development days when students are not at school. One such drill led to the installation of an emergency lockdown system at Carrollton Junior High School in 2016.

This emergency lockdown system, known as the Shield System, allows CJHS administrators to immediately lock every exterior door at the school with the push of a button. The system also contains a feature that will place a call to emergency responders.

“The open campus configuration at CJHS makes it more challenging to ensure a complete school lockdown,” said George. “This system has greatly improved our ability to be secure.”

The first phase of Carrollton High School’s replacement buildings operates a similar locking system to better secure the school. Once all of the older wings on campus are demolished and new ones put in their place, the entire CHS campus will be connected to the lockdown system. In addition, students will be able to travel from one building to another via connecting hallways without going outside.

Carrollton Middle School and Carrollton Elementary classroom wings also have interior connection points, reducing the need to travel outside of the school building. While most classrooms have individual doors to the outside, they stayed locked at all times, as do interior doors to the hallways.

Technology also has played a big role in school safety, said George. Security cameras continue to improve and are now more accessible than ever with the addition of a phone app that school and district administrators have downloaded on their smart phones that allows them to instantly access video from any security camera on campus.

“While your first thought is to not share too many details of your safety plans with the public at the risk of divulging too much information to a potential intruder, knowing that a security camera recording can be accessed almost instantaneously should serve as a deterrent to anyone who is considering committing a crime,” said George.

On-demand information is also an expectation of the public, especially with the evolution of smart phones, social media, and alert communication systems, said Albertus.

“We are respectful of the need of parents – and the community at large – to know when there is a potential safety crisis developing and the subsequent outcomes of these type of events,” he said. “Our communications team makes every effort to disseminate this information in an accurate and timely manner.”

Albertus said through the partnership with the Carrollton Police Department, an addition school resource officer will be added in next school year’s budget, bringing the total number to three.

“I really appreciate the city council’s support on this safety measure,” he said. “The fact we are all on one campus allows all three resource officers to be readily available almost immediately if an emergency need were to arise at one of our schools.”

Albertus said keeping a safety plan relevant is an every evolving process.

“A district has to look at a safety plan much the same way an engineer looks at a project outcome,” he said. “There is always room for update and revision, no matter how strong the safety plan. I can assure our stakeholders that we approach all of our safety efforts with this same critical outlook.”