TRI-CITIES, Tenn. (WJHL)- As the recent Texas mass shooting is hitting home for many families, schools across the region are not only feeling heavy-hearted but are already taking steps to ensure they’re prepared if a situation like that were to happen in the Tri-Cities.
Local administrators say they are learning from what happened in Uvalde, Texas and are starting to adjust their own safety plans.
“Today, increased presence, last night at 10, Major Rice and I are communicating to make sure we do that just to make sure families feel that we are aware and paying attention,” said Greg Wallace, the supervisor of Safety and Mental Health for Johnson City Schools.
Kingsport students in summer classes will see a larger police presence in schools.
“When the events of yesterday occurred, communication began with us and the Kingsport Police Department,” said Asst. Superintendent Andy True. “KPD is going to provide us some additional presence, some additional walkthroughs in addition to our SROs that are on staff throughout the summer.”
Adding more school resource officers was already in the works for Kingsport City Schools with another full-time SRO being added as early as next school year. That district has the least in the region.
“As we go into the school year, we’re really looking at having five full-time SROs in addition to the four [limited service employees] that provide coverage at our other schools,” said True.
Washington County, TN Schools are planning to add one more SRO to each high school.
“Usually they’re the larger schools in most school districts, so it’s just a matter of volume and also the age of the students in high schools,” said Superintendent Jerry Boyd. “The violent acts are typically committed by the older students.”
In Johnson City, there is an SRO assigned to all 12 buildings and a sergeant assigned to the unit.
The largest school district in the region, Sullivan County Schools, is like most with at least one school resource officer in each building.
“We’re always looking to improve every day. If we can find something to improve, we will. All of our guys are SWAT trained, they’re active shooter trained and they’re all certified SROs,” said Sgt. Jaret Ratliff, who is over the system’s SRO program.
The officers are in addition to the Raptor check-in system that scans driver’s licenses.
“It keeps the sex offenders out of here, and it gives us a list of who is in the building if we have an active shooter or a fire or tornado or something that we need to count and see who all was in here and make sure they’re out safe,” Ratliff said.
Most schools also have a multi-tiered entry system with layers of protection.
“We have 3D-M on most of our schools, the door and you can get a shot through it, but you can’t break through it,” said Ratliff. “You’re not going to be able to shoot your way through the door. It’s going to hold up.”
JCS is working to have secured foyers in every building.
“You’ll get buzzed in through the initial entry into the building, and you’ll have to get buzzed in a second time if you are given entry to the students, and there’s the goal that we’re moving toward to have that for all of our schools,” Wallace said.
Schools in Tennessee have a safety assessment once a year with state and local officials. But some districts- have task forces that look at it more often.
“For the last several years, we’ve had a safety task force that is comprised of not only school administrators but also law enforcement, first responders, and emergency response to be able to help us craft a plan and put in place a plan that is as safe as possible for us as a school district,” True said of KCS.
Leaders also say drills including all parties involved are key.
“We really need to look at what kinds of training that we provide and even outside resources and the sense of qualified folks to come in and train our safety teams,” said Boyd. “Students are a part of the response as well in the sense of they need to know what to do if there’s ever a threat.”
JCS is holding an active shooting training this summer that is set to include more than just school staff and students.
“In July, we’re going to have a multi-unit response to an active shooter drill, which is going to include the police department, fire, EMS, 911, potentially WINGS air rescue, the hospital so that all of those different entities are going to work together on a drill to make sure that we’re as prepared as possible,” Wallace said.
Each district leader said that the biggest thing they want students and families to do is if they see something, say something.