State leaders discuss West Virginia School Safety Initative

Published: Oct. 5, 2022 at 6:46 PM EDT
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HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - Safer schools in West Virginia, leaders say, is the goal of the West Virginia Safety School Initiative.

The $2 million plan was announced on Tuesday.

West Virginia state leaders hope this plan will help prevent the unthinkable, an act of violence at a school.

Rob Cunningham, the deputy secretary of Homeland Security, said the agency studied previous mass shootings or mass casualty events and how law enforcement responded so they could be better prepared.

“The one thing I didn’t want to do was make the same mistake 15, 20 or 30 years ago,” Cunningham said.

The plan covers what to do before, during, or after a crisis.

Cunnginham believes it starts with prevention.

The West Virginia State Fire Marshal’s office conducts yearly inspections for code compliance within schools.

Under the School Safety and Security Division, the school safety officers will make unannounced security checks at your child’s school at least once a year looking for violations of safety protocols.

“He or she [the school safety officer] will walk through and see if a door opened. They will make corrective action and bring it to attention.... We’re doing this because we want all students to be safe,” Cunningham said.

The plan also focuses on what to during a crisis.

“If you research mass shootings, I haven’t found one that says communication was great,” Cunningham said.

Cunningham stressed the importance of communication when responding to acts of violence.

The WV Department of Homeland Security worked with the FBI to develop a virtual command center for all 55 counties.

It allows first responders and school officials to have a designated com line of communication.

He explains, “everybody who needs access will be a sent a message, and we’re able to communicate with law enforcement officers on scene and superintendents of schools. It will be real-time information.”

Governor Justice, WV DHS, and the West Virginia Department of Education decided it was important to create an easy and accessible ‘see something, say something’ reporting system for the state. Users can submit tips for “Crime/Suspicious Activity” or “School Threat or Safety Issues,” and they may also request help for “suicide or addiction.”

Cunningham said they reviewed several apps, but hearing about real world results about a tragedy in Georgia being stopped is why they chose this one.

“When they did the demonstration with us, they told us about an incident in Georgia. A student submitted a tip of My Mobile Witness: See and Send. They sent the information in about a student talking about how he had a gun in his locker, and he was going to shoot the school up. That student hit send on the app, and within 15 minutes it routed all the way to the Resource Officer who got the information and intercepted the student in question walking to his locker, where the gun was found.”

The app, according to the Safety Initiative Plan, will be installed and downloaded on all school issued devices across the state.

The WV Board of Education will be presented the information at their meeting on October 12, 2022.

A spokesperson for the WV Dept. of Education said, “As a result, no action or decisions have been made at this time.”

All mobile witness tips will be monitored by the West Virginia Emergency Management Division’s Watch Center on a 24/7 basis. The Watch Center will forward reports to the appropriate law enforcement office, the proper school officials, and the necessary state leadership, officials say.

Cunningham said this plan is a start, and the state is working on expanding it.

Later down the road, he said a plan will be developed with law enforcement for tactical and strategic purposes on how to respond.

For our previous coverage, click here.