CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A two-day statewide emergency preparedness event for those who work on the frontlines will soon get underway with new technology and equipment, expert keynote speakers, among other resources, all to keep West Virginia schools as safe as possible in the current times.
Mountain State Educational Services Cooperative will host to the annual West Virginia School Safety Conference Oct. 26 and Oct. 27 at the Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center. It’s an event that provides school safety information and resources to those in law enforcement and education across the state.
Homeland Security Deputy Secretary and member of the West Virginia School Safety Committee Rob Cunningham joined representatives from MSESC on the Dave Allen Show last week to discuss what will be expected at the two-day conference.
Cunningham said while the event is not open to the public, he invites those beyond just law enforcement and educators to attend, but those who work in hospitals, mental health workers, and even church representatives, as it’s open for all organizations where unexpected tragic events can occur.
“That’s the real purpose, the people who are boots on the ground, to get some information to help them keep our children safe,” Cunningham said.
Cunningham said he’s been on the board of education in Putnam County for nearly 11 years, and he pointed out how much has had to change in school safety standards since he started due to the uptick in unexpected tragic events nationwide.
He said one of the major changes has been the creation of more mantraps in schools, which are vestibules at the entrance of schools where administration has to unlock the door and buzz people in.
“During that time period we have done from not having very many mantraps to putting mantraps in all of our schools in Putnam County,” Cunningham said.
The changes and advances in school technology and safety equipment will be one of the highlights at the conference, and vendors will be set up throughout the event introducing those developments.
However, the major feature of the event will be the variety of expert keynote speakers ranging from educators with decades of experience, psychologists, and parents who have lost children in tragic school-related events.
Among those speakers will be Michele Gay, an educator and co-founder of Safe and Sound Schools who lost her daughter Josephine Grace in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
Additional speakers include, Dr. Steve Webb, a former school principal and emergency preparedness expert; Paul Timm, a school safety author and director at Allegion; Dr. Peter Langman, a psychologist who has researched school shooters; and Dr. Jim Harris, Associate Director of Training at the WV Autism Training Center at Marshall University specializing in behavioral health.
MSESC Executive Director Jan Hanlon said Dr. Webb will also present a technique he designed called SAFE for children and adults in possible unexpected emergency events to use.
Hanlon said they will also have some excellent and very educational breakout sessions taking place throughout the event, as well.
“We’re going to do a debrief on Uvalde and kind of examine what went wrong there so we don’t do that in West Virginia,” she said.
Within these sessions Hanlon said they will also examine crimes against children in general, as well as the impact of substance abuse, mental and behavioral health on those crimes.
She also said a new breakout session they have added this year will discuss security at athletic events, which is just as crucial of a conversation as security within the school building, especially considering there has been a rise in violence at such events.
“You know, we practice in the regular school all of the time school safety protocols and procedures, but are we really doing that at an athletic event?” Hanlon said.
Hanlon said the two-day conference will dive deeper than just upping the game on physical safety within unexpected emergencies, but it will acknowledge the aftermath of such events, too, through developing emotional intelligence and how to deal with various trauma in their wake.