GEMA/HS Dispatch Sept 2018 - Page 17

9TH ANNUAL SAFETY IN OUR SCHOOLS CONFERENCE T he memories we make in school last a lifetime. That’s why we return to them over and over. “Isn’t it funny that I can’t remember what my computer password is, but I can remember who I sat next to in high school biology?” asks Charles E. Peeler, US Attorney – Middle District of Georgia. “There is one memory, though, that students should never have about school, and that is being afraid.” Peeler is one of a diverse group of professionals hoping to allay student fears through collaboration at the an- nual Safety in Our Schools conference, which took place June 26 to 28 in Co- lumbus, Ga. “There’s a host of threats that face our students and teachers today, and they seem to be ever growing: what to do in case of a weather emergency, what to do in case of an active shooter, what to do in case of contagious dis- ease outbreak,” said Peeler. “Diagnosing the threats is the easy part. The hard part is figuring out what to do about it, but attending this conference over the next few days is a sure step in the right direction.” Story & Photography by: Julia Regeski Threats related to student safety have become a national issue, thus organizations from all levels of government assisted in the planning of the conference to offer their support. “The mission of school safety is everybody’s responsibility,” said Homer Bryson, director of the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security, an agency that, along with the Georgia Department of Education and the U.S. Attorney’s office, helped organize the event. “My challenge to you today is let’s put aside who we work for and worry less about who’s in charge of something, and more about what can we do to work together and solve the issue and solve the mission that’s given to us.” While the conference provided opportunities for safety officers, administrators and teachers to problem solve in sessions on everything from opiate addiction to local school shootings, emphasis was placed on hands-on, in- classroom training as well. The National Alliance on Mental Illness, for example, hosted a booth throughout the event in an effort to provide information on their services GEMA/HS Training Manager Ed Westbrook presents to a full house of educators and law enforcement during the 2018 Safety in Our Schools conference. straight to their target audiences: attendees such as school resources officers and school board officials, who can request NAMI’s programs. “One would hope that the safest place a child knows is the home,” said Bonnie Hannah, affiliate relations manager for NAMI Georgia. “We know that’s often, for many rea- sons, not the case. One then hopes that the next safest place a child knows is a school, where there are trusted peers, trusted adults, resources.” Another resource demonstrated at the conference was Citizen Response to Active Shooters, led by GEMA/HS homeland security coordinators Ca sey Cope and David Shanks. CRASE, a course built from a national, law enforcement approved Avoid, Deny, Defend strategy, can be delivered in schools and offices around the state and requested by all attendees of the conference. While a large portion of conference attendees consisted of law enforcement, the classes Cope and Shanks delivered are open to all. CRASE, Shanks emphasizes, is simple enough to reach a large audience of all experience levels. “If civilians aren’t con- ditioning themselves mentally to think about something like this happening, there’s a good possibility they’ll freeze or run when they shouldn’t or not run when they should,” said Shanks. “This is where that training comes in and bridges that gap.” From training civilians to training the professionals that serve them, the Safety in Our Schools Conference looked at protecting learning environments from every angle. More than 400 people – the most in the conference’s history – attended and are now implementing their lessons learned in communities throughout the state. ■ DISPATCH | 17