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Law enforcement officers participate in a Labor Day ceremony on Monday, September 4, 2017, outside the Franklin Police Department Headquarters on Columbia Avenue/ Photo by Brooke Wanser

By BROOKE WANSER

In the wake of Wednesday’s fatal school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, Williamson County Schools will be closed on Monday so that the entire staff can review and revisit safety plans.

An automated telephone call making the announcement went out at midday on Thursday.

“School safety is of the utmost importance in Williamson County Schools,” spokeswoman Carol Birdsong said in the call. “According to news reports, there have been 18 school shootings across our country in the last six weeks. While we have comprehensive safety plans in place, Dr. Looney has mandated that all plans be revisited, reviewed and reinforced immediately with all WCS personnel and law enforcement.  All WCS faculty and staff as well as the SROs serving our buildings will participate in this review.

“As a result, school will be cancelled for students on Monday, Feb. 19, 2018.  The School Aged Child Care programs will operate at snow day sites.”

The Franklin Special School District will be in session on Monday, and also has begun assessing safety in the K-8 district.

“We have already met this morning with county administrators and emergency responders to discuss next steps in training and response,” FSSD Director of Schools David Snowden wrote in a message to parents. “This will be an ongoing discussion.”

The full text of Snowden’s message is HERE.

Williamson County law enforcement officers also want the community to be prepared for the worst.

“School shouldn’t be a place where this is happening,” said Franklin Police Department spokesman Lt. Charles Warner. “It’s disgusting that we have to talk about this.”

Active shooter training seminars are offered through the Franklin Police Department; the most recent one was held on Feb. 6, and Warner said the department will be announcing the next seminar date soon.

“We started hosting these because we see and we recognize that these things can happen anytime and anywhere,” he said, estimating that thousands had passed through the training in Franklin.

Sharon Puckett, a spokeswoman for the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office, said after the Sutherland Springs, Texas church shooting in November, the sheriff’s office hosted a security training for local churches.

Puckett said the event had close to 100 attendees, representing dozens of churches in the community. “We had a great response, and we’re hoping to do that again,” she said.

Brentwood Police Department’s Assistant Chief Tommy Walsh said two officers on his force were specially trained through a program known as CRASE, or Civilian Response to Active Shooter Events.

Walsh said active shooter trainings take place on a regular basis within the Williamson County Schools, each of which has a student resource officer for security purposes; to his knowledge, Williamson is the only school district within the state that has an officer at each school.

After the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in 2012, Warner said county Sheriff Jeff Long made sure every school in Williamson County Schools and the Franklin Special School District had a student resource officer.

Warner said there are three main principles Franklin Police teach in their active shooter classes; each of which is predicated upon the fact that the prior principle may not be possible to implement.

  1. Get out of the danger zone: “A big mistake that a lot of people make is mistaking or hoping the gunshot they’re hearing is fireworks,” Warner said. He advises anyone who hears gunshots to take immediately run away from the sounds, and to physically pull other bystanders away from danger.
  2. Deny the gunman access: “Make it as hard as possible for him or her to get to you,” Warner said; he suggested barring or barricading the door.
  3. Defend: If the first two principles are not possible, Warner said getting to the gunman and attempting to disarm and disable him is a last resort. “People are scared to death of this mentality, but it is the one crucial mentality that could save their life,” he said. Warner said a fire extinguisher or a chair can be an effective weapon against an assailant.

Wednesday’s Parkland shooting was notable for the number of videos that came from students, who filmed and posted videos of the situation to Snapchat.

In an ongoing shooter situation, Warner warned against using social media during any pause in action, noting that shooters can use live broadcasts on social media to pinpoint and avoid law enforcement officer locations.

“During an ongoing situation, when police have arrived and SWAT teams have arrived and we are setting up and surrounding this area in response to a situation, that’s where social media can be empowering to the suspect and defeating to citizens,” he said.

Though Warner said police activity is compelling and desired by news media, he warned against sharing content as an emergency situation is progressing. “You’ll hurt and disrupt our mission to save lives, and you put yourself in a precarious position.”

Walsh encouraged students or parents who noticed any suspicious social media activity, like the Parkland shooter’s Instagram posts about guns and knives, to notify authorities.

“Many of these incidents have been stopped by a student saying something, a parent saying something,” Walsh said.

And Warner said having an “age-appropriate” discussion children on what to do in active shooter situations is “vitally important.”

“You can’t afford not to have that conversation. They can’t be left scared and afraid,” he said.

Warner said when he sends his children to school each day, he prays for their safety. “All you can do every day when you send your kids to school, is pray, ‘not here, not them.’”