Northeast Tennessee school security assessment underway

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Local schools are being assessed for security needs for the first time, as administrators prepare to collect their share of millions of dollars.
Tennessee lawmakers set aside that money for building upgrades aimed at improving student safety.
Recent school shootings prompted a discussion in Nashville about the safety of Tennessee schools and the requirement to address potential risks at schools is one of three major priorities outlined by Governor Bill Haslam’s School Safety Working Group.

Tennessee Highway Patrol and the Tennessee Office of Homeland Security have teamed up to train schools across the region to explain what they need to look for when doing assessments. Once those assessments are complete, then money will be divided between 1,800 schools across the state, based on need.

“Our way of treating an active shooter or any other type of incident has really changed over the course of 20 some years now,” said Lt. Rick Garrison with THP.

Because of that, security upgrades are needed at schools across the region.

For the past two weeks, THP and Homeland Security have been training schools to determine what upgrades take precedence.

“Buildings, doors, windows, fences, things like that,” said Jerry Stout, Supervisory Agent, Bureau of Operations for the Tennessee Office of Homeland Security.

Governor Bill Haslam recently signed legislation that provides money for school systems for physical security.
$25 million dollars will be divided between Tennessee’s 1,800 schools.

Brad Conkin is a School Resource Officer for Kingsport City Schools. He said they have been working over the years to improve safety. One example, by installing vinyl decals on the outside of each window.

“If an officer is coming in from the outside had to locate someone in a specific room, they can pick that up just by looking at the numbers on the window,” Officer Conkin explained.

But he said improvements are always welcome.

“An inward swinging door is something that we’d like to see in a school building to where it can actually be barricaded to keep from opening,” he explained.   

Once school administrators are trained, they begin their assessments.

“They submit that information to the state department of education and that’s how the state will determine how much grant money they get,” Stout said.

The timeline is tight so money will be ready by this fall for the upcoming school year.

“We were asked to do this in the month of May and schools were asked to do assessments in the month of June so the state could have the money available in July,” Stout explained.

School officials and officers say these assessments are important to keep students and faculty safe.

“You don’t want to think of the worst case scenario but it’s reality, you have to. So we want to make sure we’re prepared for that,” said Mischelle Simcox, Director of Johnson County Schools.

“You can’t replace a life. If someone was to come in and have some type of incident where it may threaten a child’s life or anyone else that’s in that school system at the time,” Lt. Garrison said.

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