In a recent update to the Okaloosa County School Board, Office of Safe Schools Program Director Danny Dean highlighted the ongoing efforts to enhance school safety and outlined changes being implemented for the upcoming 2023-24 school year.
One of the key developments has been the expansion of the Office of Safe Schools, which has allowed for increased support to individual schools and their safety teams. Dean explained, “We’ve aligned the positions within our department to be categorized specifically to things such as physical security, compliance training, threat management and mitigation, communications, fire and life safety.”
- Dean says this restructuring ensures that each safety aspect has designated personnel responsible for prompt and accurate responses.
The additional staff has enabled the department to focus on enhancing emergency readiness at the school level. Training programs have been intensified, with increased opportunities for scenario-based training and full-scale exercises. Dean shared that in the previous year, the district conducted 912 drills and exercises, including a full-scale reunification exercise and an active assailant exercise.
According to the OCSD, the Office of Safe Schools conducts public safety tours annually (the statutory requirement is once every three years) to orient all public safety agencies with campus infrastructure, security features, and response and recovery procedures.
Participating agencies this year included:
- Municipal police departments
- Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office
- Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE)
- Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
- Local fire departments, Eglin Air Force Base, EMS, Okaloosa County Emergency Management, and Okaloosa County Department of Corrections
Before each new school year starts, all public safety agencies receive a copy of the OCSD’s Comprehensive Emergency Operations Plan, including campus maps and off-campus reunification locations and procedures.
The District has also committed to maintaining and improving physical security measures. Notably, the District successfully secured the School Safety Hardening grant once again, allowing for continued upgrades. Additionally, changes will be made to the standard response protocols used in schools, specifically terminology used.
Dean told the board that his department has seen some confusion among parents when it came to the terminology used during a callout from a school.
- “We will be moving to the new, current version of the standard response protocols, which is replacing that word “lockout” with the word “secure,” so there’s no confusion between the “lockout or lockdown,” explained Dean. This change aims to provide clarity to parents and ensure consistent understanding across schools.
Another significant change on the horizon is the transition from the current comprehensive student threat assessment guidelines to a Florida-based threat management model. Although this transition is set for January 1st, 2024, preparations are already underway. Training for threat management personnel at the school level, as well as school resource officers, has been scheduled to ensure a seamless transition, according to Dean.
Dean also addressed the district’s successful Guardian program, which is in addition to the School Resource Officer program. The Guardian program involves concealed school employees who receive extensive training and undergo rigorous background checks.
Dean emphasized that the Okaloosa County School District is fortunate to have sworn law enforcement officers from the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office in every school, in addition to the Guardian program.
The expansion of the Office of Safe Schools is something that Superintendent Marcus Chambers says adds more layers to the District’s overall safety program.
- “When you look at our school resource officers, the single point-of-entry, the Guardian program, our video cameras, our communication devices, and many other things that we can’t talk about, we look at layers,” he said. “We want to have as many layers as possible to make sure that we keep our students and our employees safe.”
Chambers went on to thank Dean and his department for the behind-the-scenes work that gets done not only throughout the school year, but during the Summer months preparing for teachers and students to head back to campuses across the county.
“When we do have safety incidents at schools, we try to get communication out to families as soon as possible,” added Chambers. “Mr. Dean coordinates that with the principals, and there’s even some adjustments that he’ll be making for this upcoming school year, always striving to do things better. But when you look across this state, Mr. Dean has been looked at as one of the leading safety specialists, and we’re just very fortunate to have them.”