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Kanawha County Schools employs safety expert

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Kanawha County Schools has hired its first-ever security and risk management specialist to oversee the safety of its students and staff.

Charlie Warner has spent the first few weeks at his new job collaborating with schools' prevention resource officers -- police officers who work in the schools -- and looking for any malfunctions or needed upgrades in school building security.

At the top of Warner's priority list is rolling out a new driver's license scanning system and making sure all schools in the county have a single, locked point of entry.

Nearly half of Kanawha County's 70 schools already have ID-scanning technology that allows school administrators to know if a person trying to enter the building has a criminal record, Warner said.

The driver's license scanners can reveal certain information, such as if someone is a registered sex offender.

"Or if someone has challenged a teacher -- there could also be a database of people who have made threats or something like that," Warner said. "It can help identify people who may be of concern."

All of the county's schools will eventually have one designated point of entry offering only electronic access, along with the ID-scanning capabilities.

"Our main goal is to have a single point of entry that has a card reader on it and surveillance so that visitors can be identified before they enter our schools," Warner said. "What Kanawha County is trying to do is to be prudent and proactive and address any needs -- not out of fear or with concerns of an imminent threat -- but in order to be safety and security conscious."

Warner, said he never foresaw a day when the title of security and risk management specialist would exist in a school district.

And explaining to school administrators, parents and community members that he's only here to prevent bad things from happening -- not because the area is in danger -- can be tough.

"With these things happening in other states, you certainly need to look at what your own school's vulnerabilities in the event that, God forbid, something like that would happen here," Warner said. "This doesn't mean there's a threat more than before. We may not be able to prevent everything but what we can do is safeguard the kids and the staff."

Just last week, when Warner stopped in at Capital High School to meet with the school's prevention resource officer, Capital's principal did not give Warner a warm welcome.

Principal Clinton Giles said he was weary of Capital High's reputation and said the school was safe because of the attitudes he's instilled in his students and staff -- not because of new technology and district-wide safety plans.

In the past, Warner worked in analytical sciences and safety for the Union Carbide Corporation and then as a loss control specialist for the West Virginia Board of Risk and Insurance Management, where he specialized in workplace safety and hazard prevention.

Most recently, he oversaw occupational safety and health for state agencies.

In his new position, there's a big focus on technology -- all of the county's schools already have a "lockdown button" installed that when pushed, alerts 911 -- but there's a major human element to Warner's job too, he said.

"We just want to put comfort in the hearts of people," Warner said. "I think what we're doing is really something that's good and a value to the community."

After the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Conn. in December, the Charleston Police Department vowed to increase its presence in schools.

Warner said police in schools and prevention resource officers -- who also offer anti-drug lessons and other mentoring -- are already making a big impact.

"Usually when kids think of police, they think it's the result of something bad or some type of emergency. What we're trying to do is to get kids acclimated to officers on a regular basis -- as part of the community," he said. "If there is going to be an altercation at the school, a lot of times a student will tell the officer and mitigate the problem before it happens."

All of the high schools in the county have a police officer inside and outside of the building, as do six of the county's middle schools. Elementary schools in the district typically do not employ officers, but have plenty of security measures in place, Warner said.

The Kanawha County Sheriffs Department and municipalities also use their extra time to visit all schools on a more regular basis than they have before, Warner said.

He calls them "the eyes and ears" of schools, and is currently working alongside officers to conduct security assessments.

Warner depends on officers to tell him about any ongoing problems in a school, whether it be a fuzzy security camera or a lax door policy.

"To be honest, what I'm doing, police departments have already been doing. But what I want to do is to make sure we document and inspect the things that need attention, because it's important," he said. "And hopefully the students feel a little more secure and can have a better learning experience because of it."

Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.

 

 


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