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Shooting response plans in place

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SMITHFIELD — In the aftermath of the El Paso and Dayton massacres, along with other killings and attempted shootings, Johnston County officials say they’re as prepared as they can be for a possible assault.

The Johnston County Sheriff’s Office and the Triangle East Chamber of Commerce have hosted active shooter training sessions for area businesses and residents. Sheriff’s Capt. Jeff Caldwell leads the sessions.

Caldwell began one session by showing a video produced by the city of Houston, Texas, that provided statistics, detailed the devastating effects of an active shooter incident and stressed that survival depends on having a plan.

The video offered a three-point plan, which Caldwell expanded on. Should an active shooter enter a business, school or church, the three steps are run, hide and fight.

“The one thing you need to realize is that an active shooter is a murdering coward,” Caldwell told attendees. “He preys on places and people who are unprepared to deal with him.”

Johnston County Public Schools Superintendent Ross Renfrow said security has been enhanced.

The first phase was controlled access for all schools currently without this feature. This is a doorbell camera. The second phase was exterior cameras for all schools. The third phase was key fobs and card swipes for all other necessary exterior doors.

On May 14, the school board approved a $2.3 million contract for 39 security vestibules to be installed at school entrances. All 39 vestibules, with near-bulletproof glass, should be finished by December.

According to Schmidt Associates, a manufacturer, security vestibules provide additional protection by adding a secured space. Vestibules are secured spaces with two or more sets of doors and an office sign-in area.

Once a visitor has signed in and been identified as an authorized visitor, the doors from the sign-in area to the school are electronically unlocked.

In addition to the added security of knowing who is visiting the school, a security vestibule also serves as a single point of entrance for students who are late to school or coming from an appointment, because all other doors to the school remain locked while school is in session.

In March, the Johnston County Board of Commissioners approved $120,820 in funding for seven more school resource officers. That means every county middle school will have an assigned SRO, effective this fall.

The ultimate goal is to have an SRO in each middle school and for these middle school SROs to serve the elementary schools so that high school SROs could remain at their assigned schools all day. The money commissioners approved will be allotted each year of a two-year grant.

Johnston Community College has an emergency response plan used for guidance and action in the event of various emergencies and crises, including active shooter situation. The plan gives direction and instruction to students and employees on steps to take if an armed intruder is observed and if individuals witness or hear gunfire on campus. The plan also includes procedures to be followed once a state of emergency is declared on campus.

Students are informed of the plan during new student orientation and emergency preparedness workshops are routinely held for faculty and staff.

Two Smithfield police officers are assigned as student resource officers at JCC, patrolling the college from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays. The college hires security personnel to monitor the campus on weekends.

If an emergency occurs, the college can push out alerts to students, faculty and staff through intercom messages, Jaguar Alerts via phone, email and text, a voicemail notification service and the JCC website and social media accounts.

Johnston Health also has safety measures in place at its Smithfield and Clayton campuses.

“We take seriously the safety of our employees and patients, and all who visit and volunteer on our campuses,” said hospital spokeswoman Suzette Rodriguez. “All of us play a role in preventing violence, whether it’s reporting someone or something that looks suspicious, or using our training to de-escalate situations that have the potential for harm.”

Rodriguez said Johnson Health has multiple systems in place to protect its employees, patients and visitors. And all employees and security workers are trained to deal with a wide range of emergencies.

“As an example, we have conducted active shooter drills on our Smithfield and Clayton campuses,” said Rodriquez. “In those scenarios, employees had the opportunity to practice the “run, hide, fight” protocol with patients and visitors. This instruction is part of ongoing education that all Johnston Health employees undergo every year.”

Churches today are also on guard for possible active shooters.

“With the various shootings in recent years, many of our churches have begun taking a proactive stance in regard to safety and security,” said the Rev. Kelton Hinton, director of missions for the Johnston Baptist Association. “If you look at the past history of mass shootings in our country, the shooters, as crazy as they are in their thinking, are ‘sane’ enough to always choose places where guns are either not permitted or are not expected — they have consistently targeted schools, churches, synagogues and, interestingly enough, movie theaters that specifically ban weapons.

“In other words, with the exception of the Fort Hood situation, the shooters prefer to open fire on people who cannot shoot back or defend themselves effectively.”

Hinton said many Johnston County churches have strengthened their security measures.

“Our churches are more prepared than ever to anticipate and neutralize any threat that may occur on their campus,” said Hinton. “Most churches now have security teams in place who are fully briefed on their role in any such situation and some have even gone so far as to do mock drills to practice how to handle a variety of unusual situations.”

Hinton said the Johnston Baptist Association has been offering conferences, seminars and other training events to better prepare churches of all denominations, and nondenominational congregations, to be better prepared

“We have been able to work closely with law enforcement personnel and other folk in the field of security to put these training events in place. They have all been very well attended,” said Hinton. “We hope and pray that, should a serious threat occur, a very minimal loss of life would occur and that the threat would be handled quickly before too much damage is done. Our goal is to keep our houses of worship as safe as possible for those who would attend there.”