Amherst County officials work to keep schools safe

AMHERST Co., Va. (WSET) — Amherst County Sheriff E. W. Viar’s first choice to improve school safety is hiring more School Resource Officers.

Right now, the district has three for their 10 schools. But, budget restraints are restricting for new hires, so they are waiting to take action.

For 15 years, Kristen Hughes has known that teaching is so much more than a subject.

“I also do consider myself their protector in a lot of ways, emotionally, physically,” Hughes said.

In the event of an active shooter situation, shes trained with the model: Run, Hide, Fight.

Teachers lock the door, turn off the lights, and hide with students under their desks.

If all else fails, they would then improvise weapons and defend themselves.

“I don’t want to sit in a corner and hope I’m ok,” Hughes said. “I’d rather be able to do some things to maybe keep myself and my students a whole lot safer.”

That’s one of the reasons why Sheriff Viar is working with the Amherst school board to consider three changes:

First, he’s looking into several different active shooter models including: Avoid, Deny, Defend or ADD.

Captain John Greiser describes what this model would look like.

First AVOID:

“We want people to have that survival mindset, in knowing their points of escape,” Greiser said.

Then DENY:

“Barriers between ourselves and the threat,” he continued.

Finally DEFEND:

“If all else fails, your ultimate and last resort would be to defend yourself,” Greiser said.

“We need to teach the children and the school teachers, whoever is in the school a way to defend themselves, rather than just hide somewhere and basically if someone comes in and starts shooting you just get shot,” Viar said.

The second security change is increased camera access for public safety officials and school resource officers, also known as SRO’s.

Right now the administrators and the SRO’s have access to video surveillance of the students in the school.

By the fall, local law enforcement will be able to have the same access to video in the hallways.

A new mobile office can be set up next to campus and would cost $35,000.

If deputies are called in, they will be able to log onto the system right in the school’s backyard.

“If we had someone at the school who was shooting the school up, I want to go to the area he’s in, rather than look through that whole big building up there, he’s killing people down the hall here,” Viar said. “We can go directly where he’s at.”

The third change the sheriff’s office is looking into is a computer program called In Force 911.

It’s basically a real-time threat-alert notification system. A teacher can open it on their phone or computer, and send GPS locations and floor plans straight to law enforcement.

“This is going to be activated during worst case scenario,” Brandon Flanagan said.

Teachers could also direct message the sheriff’s office.

“They could reply back which is ETA in one minute,” Flanagan said. “Comparing 15 seconds to 2-4 minutes is surely going to be a lifetime of difference.”

Safety comes at a price though. The school system would have to pay $35,000 per school to start. The sheriff’s office would also have to pay $1,500.

“What is a child life’s worth, how much is the value of a child’s life, and a teachers,” Viar asked.

For now, the county is working with what they have.

“I think we are prepared with what we’ve been given to work with, I think we could be better prepared, and I think that’s what our County is doing,” Hughes said.

Amherst County Public Schools have not made any changes yet.

The Superintendent will ultimately decide whether any of these suggestions will be implemented.