Tennessee task force finds increased need for school officers, insufficient emergency drills

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MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) — A task force aimed at reviewing safety measures at Tennessee public schools revealed many security strengths but also showed a need for more school resource officers and an insufficient number of emergency drills being performed.

In March 2018, then Governor Bill Haslam created the 16-person working group, which was comprised of educators, health professionals and law enforcement, including Montgomery County Sheriff John Fuson.

(Photo: WKRN)

“I think what’s important to me would be important to any law enforcement administrator. To ensure that they have safe schools,” the sheriff explained.

Within a few months, the group released its key findings:

  • The need to assess all school facilities to identify vulnerabilities and determine the most appropriate use of resources to address those vulnerabilities
  • The need to provide funding for school resource officers with an initial focus on schools with lesser capacity to fund through local resources
  • To develop or secure a statewide technology application for the anonymous reporting of threats and critical concerns

In November 2018, data from the school security assessment revealed strengths in most of the examined safety domains, including perimeter control, visitor management, communications, emergency planning and prevention, training and personnel, but also identified potential areas of improvement including vehicle control, access control and surveillance.

The Tennessee General Assembly approved $35-million in funding last year to enhance school safety. $10-million of that was in recurring funds, while $25-million was non-recurring.

That fund was increased this year to $40-million with $20-million in recurring and $20-million in non-recurring funds.

Former Gov. Bill Haslam (Photo: WKRN)

The non-recurring funds were to be used for capital improvements to help harden security of the school, stronger glass, doors, door locks, security cameras and updated visitor screening procedures.

The recurring funds could be used for school resource officers and mental health staff positions.

“We do think that is a big step to help secure our schools along with some of the capita improvements too,” the sheriff said.

To qualify for the funds, school districts were required to submit their emergency operations plans and drill logs to the state.

The logs showed Tennessee schools conducted an average of 15 drills per year but fewer than five-percent of the 125 schools sampled met all requirements for the 2017/2018 school year. Those included fire, earthquake and intruder drills.

(Photo: WKRN)

Drills required each school year:

  • One fire drill with full evacuation every 30 school days, with two of those fire drills occurring within the first 30 days of the school year
  • One intruder drill conducted in coordination with local law enforcement
  • One CPR/AED drill for each school having one or more AEDs
  • Three additional drills (full evacuation not required)
  • Two earthquake drills for schools or districts entirely or partially within 100 miles of New Madrid Fault Line

“It’s our job as law enforcement to do everything we can to make sure their communities are safe and that starts in our schools,” Sheriff Fuson told News 2.

The working group also identified a need for increased funding for school resource officers, as the sheriff explained more than 500 of the state’s public schools do not have one.

“Let’s let the teachers focus on teaching our children and law enforcement focused on protecting them,” the sheriff said.

Sheriff Fuson described the task force as a “one time thing” but added that additional assessments in the future would show how far schools had come since the initial findings and what other work needed to be done.

Click here to read the entire findings.

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