Safety panel outlines HCPS’ strengths, possible areas for enhancement
Henrico, Va. Nov. 3, 2022 — Henrico County Public Schools’ Office of School Safety and Emergency Management presented the findings of a Blue Ribbon Safety Panel to the School Board on Oct. 27, outlining the school division’s security strengths and recommending additional safety measures to consider. The committee of safety and school experts looked primarily at facilities and organizational components, rather than policy questions.
Panel members told the Board that HCPS already has strong security measures in place, citing annual school safety audits, robust partnerships with Henrico’s divisions of fire and police, on-campus resource and security officers, and teams to aid in assessing threats and managing crises. The committee also noted the existing alarm systems at each HCPS school, recently upgraded video security systems and ongoing construction of vestibule areas as important safety enhancements.
The committee also recommended the school division consider the costs and benefits of five possible improvements:
- Increasing first-responder access to campuses and buildings.
- Standardizing signage at HCPS buildings.
- Adding exterior card access points for staff members.
- Improving cell phone and walkie-talkie communication in some schools.
- Exploring standardized ways to reduce visibility into classrooms and work areas during emergencies.
Panel members said that strong cooperation among school and county staff members is Henrico County’s greatest security asset.
“The two most important factors in supporting and maintaining safe schools are people and relationships. Staff members work tirelessly to create positive school cultures where everyone understands their role in school safety,” said Cortney Berry, the school division’s emergency manager.
The committee was initiated in the summer by Amy Cashwell, HCPS superintendent, and asked to explore whether the school division could build on its existing safety measures. It includes HCPS administrators, staff members and safety office representatives; Henrico County police, fire, finance and emergency management personnel; experts in using design to deter crime; and representatives from the Virginia Department of Emergency Management.
In addition to annual safety audits by the HCPS Office of School Safety and Emergency Management, each school has emergency response protocols that are routinely reviewed. Ongoing and annual safety training is also provided for administrators, school counselors, security officers and other designated staff members. Regular safety drills are also practiced with students and staff members, often in cooperation with county police and school resource officers.
For security reasons, the school division does not share detailed safety plans publicly; however, schools have a number of measures in place that align with national best practices for school security.
Existing HCPS school safety measures:
- Strong interior and exterior doors and locks
- Two-way communication devices
- Police card access
- School and campus safety audits
- School resource officers
- School security officers
- Security cameras
- Access control systems
- Vestibule entryways
- Cameras and buzz-in systems
- Enhanced visitor sign-in procedures requiring a photo I.D.
- Emergency radios
- Monitored intrusion alarm systems
- Threat assessment teams
- Crisis response teams
- “Handle with Care” cooperative student assessment and support program
- Anonymous Alerts reporting system
- Rapid notification system
Twenty of the new school vestibules — secure areas where visitors can be welcomed before being allowed into the school — have been constructed in recent years. Four are currently under construction, with 22 more slated for completion in summer 2023. The improvements are being funded by the voter-approved Henrico meals tax.
HCPS has also received a grant from the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services to create digital school maps for use by first responders.
See the panel’s presentation at https://youtu.be/hT57WUHjcZs.