Etowah County Forms School Security Task Force

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GADSDEN, Ala. (WHNT) -- Before school resumed for the spring semester, Etowah County educators met with law enforcement officials to discuss safety improvements.

Judge Allen Millican suggested the formation of a Task Force for School Security, and the sheriff, district attorney, met with school board officials from Attalla, Gadsden, and Etowah schools, to set up the infrastructure of the group.

"We came out with a goal of putting a safety plan together that encompasses the county school system, the city of Attalla, city of Gadsden, and trying to standardize that somewhat and set some timelines on when we wanted the schools to be in a position to be as safe as possible as soon as possible," district attorney Jimmie Harp said.

"I think we made some significant progress on doing that yesterday."

Sheriff Todd Entrekin said his office increased patrols at schools after the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, with deputies increasing their visits to campuses.

"They normally on their patrol beats will go in and walk through," Entrekin said.

"They're doing that more frequently, and hopefully they're even going to try to be in the lunchroom and be seen eating lunch with the kids, just trying to be in the schools a lot more right now is what we're doing with the manpower we have."

Entrekin said there are certified reserve deputies working at some of the schools.

Harp said each of the schools has a good safety plan but the task force hopes to create a standard for the whole county, and they discussed what the various school systems can learn from each other to make sure they are all on the same page.

Everyone agreed that the priority is the safety of the children, and Harp said there should also be a standard set statewide, while acknowledging different needs across the state.

"Some parts of the states have mountains and some of them have oceans.  It's not a one size fits all issue," Harp said.

"It's been my experience with state and federal government that it usually takes a lot longer to achieve a consensus of what they need, so in our little corner of the world we want to get on it and get on it now and fix whatever leaks we may have in any safety issues."

Entrekin said his deputies don't just discuss what actions they'll take.  They practice.

"We do all kinds of training in the summer in the schools as far as our response to the schools and active shooters in the schools and everything that could happen we train for during offsite time in the summer and during spring vacation, Entrekin said.

Fortunately, they haven't had to respond to any of those situations.

The task force members will meet again January 22, and are working on a risk assessment and cost estimate evaluation to present as a plan of action for the county commission.