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A conversation with Brinson on school’s safety procedures | #schoolsaftey

Jim Brinson is the deputy director for the Mississippi Office of Homeland Security. He has worked there since 2004 and had nearly every job within Homeland possible. Prior to joining Homeland Security, Brinson was with the United States Air Force. He was born and raised in Florida and currently lives in Brandon. Staff Writer Olivia Mars White talked with him recently about his work with schools.

How did the program to partner with schools to go over their safety procedures come about?

We operate off of four basic pillars to do our job and take care of and protect the homeland. The first one of those is prevention. So, we focus a lot of our energy and efforts on preventing attacks, whether that’s a terrorist attack or any type of attack. Protection is our next pillar — how can we protect an asset from being attacked? From there, we focus on response — how can we respond to that if the prevention and protection part fails? The fourth one is the recovery phase — how do we recover if we actually have an incident? We look at and analyze all of the active shooter events taking place around the world — not just in the United States — and we look at what could have been done to prevent this. 

As part of our prevention program, we started looking at schools because, in most of our jurisdictions in Mississippi, that’s your largest number of people in a single place. On Monday through Friday, a school has anywhere from a couple hundred kids to a couple thousand. We need to look at how we can prevent, protect, and then respond to these locations if there’s an incident. 

How does Homeland Security assess the schools’ safety procedures?

The first thing we have to know is what our gaps are — gaps in security, gaps in procedure, and gaps in planning. The first step of that is to do an assessment. Our first assessment is looking at the physical security of all the schools in the state of Mississippi and seeing what their common gaps are, as far as if their doors, fences and gates can be locked. We look at what the environment is around the school. We look at interactions between students and teachers and parents and teachers and all the different aspects that go into a school day. 

We use our Homeland Security assessment, and also we have three school resource analysts — one each in the north, central, and south. Their primary mission is to do nothing but work with the schools on school security. They do the assessments on security. They help the faculty in the school districts with their planning. We do exercises, training, and we also help when they have threats. Our folks will actually help the school and local law enforcement work through those threats to try to mitigate those as fast as possible. Once the assessment goes through, we look at everything. We start from the perimeter of the property and work our way all the way into the classroom — looking at all the physical security aspects that would be able to protect the people on that particular site. 

We start talking to the faculty, and we start helping them on other avenues, such as behavioral threat assessments when they have potential people that may become violent and teach them how to deal with that. We look at the protection of the school with how many school resource officers they have and what it would take to be able to beef up security around that school. We also train the locals on how to respond to the schools in the event that there is an attack, whether that’s through active shooter training, medical training, or something else in the whole gamut of training that we can offer on how to actually respond to a threat. It all starts with that assessment. It is the foundation that gives us what we need to look at and start working on the solution.

So you’re not only assessing their systems, but you’re actually helping them fix those areas as well?

Yes, we look at what we can fix based on what we do as far as training, exercises, and policies and plans. We can also help guide the schools towards grants and different things like that to help them obtain the physical material they need to amp up their security, and we give them ideas on simple things to help fill some of those gaps that we’ve identified.

How many schools do you have in Mississippi that are participating in this program?

So far, it seems like all of our schools are participating. We have well over 1,000 schools in the state of Mississippi, and we’ve done the physical security assessments for over half of those and are working on the other half. We’ve done that half in a year. My school resource analysts were just hired and have been on the job for exactly a year. It’s been quite busy, but we’re planning on doing every single school in the state of Mississippi. So far, everyone has been very, very good to work with us and to participate in this program. The first thing we tell folks is this is not a grade. We’re trying to find out how we can help our schools be better protected. This isn’t just for public schools either — we are also doing this for private schools. 

Once we go through all of them, we’re gonna look how often we need to do these types of assessments and our plan is, hopefully, that the schools would be equipped to do their own assessment and send us the data. Right now, it’s a huge undertaking to do all these schools and it would be massive if we tried to do that every year. If schools can do the assessments and share that information with us, then we can go in and help them on things that may be a problem. As of right now, we’re going to be looking at the schools just about every year.

How has this become even more important as school violence continues to happen all over our country?

Children are by far our most valuable asset in this country and in any country in the world. We take protecting the children to be one of our most important missions. Along with working with the Department of Education, we work with the Mississippi State School Alliance where we bring in people from all disciplines of mental health, education, law enforcement, the justice system, and we all sit down and look at ways to be able to fix these problems. Our view primarily is geared towards active type attacks. In doing that, we find that there are other gaps and other places that we can also make folks aware of. The reason that we spend a lot of time on that, obviously, is one based on what you see in the news. People are attacking schools. Schools aren’t necessarily the number one target that you see in the statistics — businesses are — but the school has a huge psychological target, so they get a lot of the media and a lot of the publicity because it involves children and addresses what affects our society and how we feel when people are attacking innocent children. We spend a lot of effort making sure that we can protect them to the best of our ability and assisting the folks that are responsible for them during the day to make sure that they know what to do and how to work through these problems as quickly as possible to be able to mitigate any type of potential threat or actual attack. 

What is the overall goal of the program?

Our goal is to make our schools and children safer in the state of Mississippi. We have different programs that we work with assessing physical security and assessing threats. We help assess plans and procedures and training because all of those things tie into being able to make these schools safer, along with other programs that are being proposed like the school guardian program, which would look at arming teachers on school grounds. We’d look at that program and be responsible for that training. All of these different programs will, at the end of the day, make our students safer and make our schools harder targets. We’re extremely dedicated in the state of Mississippi to keep our children safe. The governor has specifically told the Commissioner and our Director Baxter Kruger that he wants to do everything we can to protect our schools and Mississippi, and we’re going to do everything in our power to do so.

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