Weeks before children return to classrooms, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) schooled Central Texas campus resource officers, administrators, and mental health counselors on the subjects of campus safety and security.
In a day-long session held Wednesday, officials addressed emergency response matters, although they placed a stronger emphasis on preventing future attacks in light of recent deadly high school active shooter tragedies in Parkland, Florida, and Santa Fe, Texas.
“What we’ve found over the last few years is that law enforcement has done a really good job of training as far as the response goes,” said Lt. Matt Greer, director of the Austin Regional Intelligence Center (ARIC). “What we’d like to shift to is the prevention side. And that’s what we’re focusing on today is how to recognize behavior that may be indicative of some sort of violence.”
ARIC and the FBI hosted the event, the third in a series of gatherings this year that examined campus security measures. ARIC, a Department of Homeland Security recognized fusion center, was created in 2010. It is managed by the Austin Police Department.
U.S. Representative Michael McCaul (R-TX) discussed the continued need for hardening schools which he said have become “soft targets.”
Breitbart Texas has reported extensively on measures the state’s public schools have taken to beef up security. This included the use of clear backpacks, random searches, metal detectors, special classroom door locks, additional video surveillance, panic buttons, increased campus police patrols, and administrator active shooter training for enacting guardian or marshal plans. Many schools adopted stricter visitor entrance protocols, even allocating funds to reconfigure school entryways for increased safety, or retrofitting vulnerable windows with bullet proof glass. In July, one Texas school district voiced interest in adding facial recognition technology and tracking software to its current security suite.
McCaul also suggested schools provide more mental health resources to students and improve at identifying early warning signs that could lead to future violence. “I think any parent or teacher has some anxiety going into the school year.”
He told attendees that he and other Congress members hope to pass legislation like the Securing Our Schools Act which would prompt more federal involvement in school safety and security funding. McCaul also cited the Fix NICS (National Instant Criminal Background Check) Act, championed by U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) and signed by President Donald Trump in March. It strengthened the federal government’s background check system.
Later, McCaul told reporters: “Whether it be Santa Fe to Columbine to Parkland, there were always some mental health issue and flags that went up, warning signs that went up that were not identified in advance.” McCaul said: “Identifying those signs and those flags in advance is the best way to stop this from happening.”
Portions of the meeting were closed to the news media to prevent releasing confidential information shared with Texas school officials, according to KXAN. However, during the presentation, Kharley Bagley Smith, emergency management coordinator for Hays County, underscored that the success of school safety programs largely depended on the various agencies working together.
“You just can’t rely on the schools to write these emergency plans and then have some connectivity back to Public Safety,” she said. “Public Safety can’t write the plans within a silo and expect a school district to understand the language and the lingo and the tactical response within the plan.”
She noted: “It has to be a collaboration.”
The event was held at Hendrickson High School in Pflugerville.
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