West Virginia Watch Center, Cabell county agencies thwart school threat through coordination and information sharing

2/26/2019

West Virginia Watch Center, Cabell county agencies thwart school threat through coordination and information sharing

Brian Brake, DHSEM Watch CenterCharleston, W.Va. – At any moment in time, the telephone inside the West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management’s (WVDHSEM) 24/7 Watch Center can be ringing with information on any number of activities going on in the state. One of the eleven lines that filter into the Watch Center is the Safe Schools Helpline, a statewide telephone number that anyone can use to report information that may have a negative impact on students, staff or property at any school in West Virginia.
 
On Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019, the Watch Center received a tip on the Safe Schools Helpline, which outlined a perceived threat via social media against Huntington High School (HHS). As a part of the normal operating procedures, the WVDHSEM staff initiated protocols and procedures to notify the appropriate agencies of the incident, which included the West Virginia State Police (WVSP), Cabell County’s Central Office, West Virginia Safe Schools Administrator, and the West Virginia Fusion Center.
Notification was relayed to the Huntington Police Department (HPD) and to school officials who implemented strategies to ensure the safety and security of students and staff of Huntington High School. Coordinating messages to parents and the news media with Captain Hank Dial, HHS notified all parents and students at 11:00 p.m., outlining the threat and investigation, further explaining that school would be cancelled if the suspect was not found.
 
Huntington Police Chief Hank Dial noted that Huntington Detective, Sgt. Matt Null, and Huntington High School Resource Officer Lance Roberts led the investigation for HPD while the midnight shift of the patrol bureau were able to apprehend the suspect in the early morning hours of Friday, Feb. 22, 2019.Watch Center 1-Joe.jpg

HHS officials followed up their overnight message with one at 5:30 a.m., letting everyone know that an arrest was made, and school would be open and on a regular schedule. School attendance was strong, and the central office received thanks from many parents at the school on Friday morning.
 
Chief Dial praised the cooperation and coordination of all the involved agencies and applauded the system saying, “It worked quickly, effectively, thoroughly and was seamless, ensuring the safety of the students was achieved.”
 
In October of 2018, WVDHSEM and the Cabell Wayne Local Emergency Planning Committee held a full-scale exercising on an active threat at a school location, which involved several local jurisdictions, first responders, and more than 55 law enforcement officers. During the exercise, all participants practiced what procedures would be taken, and implemented a structure for responding in the event such an incident occurred at a local school.
 
"The safety of our students and staff is our first priority," said Cabell County Schools Superintendent Ryan Saxe. "By establishing relationships with emergency responders ahead of time and working together as we jointly manage an incident, we are all more effective toward ensuring we achieve that priority." 
 
West Virginia State Police Capt. Ron Arthur noted that the WVSP is glad to have a successful process that helps protect students and school personnel. “One of the state’s greatest resources is our young people and protecting them, as well as every citizen in West Virginia, is of the utmost importance,” he said.
 
“The outcome of this incident is a perfect example of what can happen when agencies across the state are able to integrate seamlessly to work toward a common goal, which is to make West Virginia a safe place for all citizens,” said WVDHSEM Director Mike Todovorich. “I applaud all of our state partners who were involved in this response and the exercise in 2018, which helped to prepare for such an event.”
 
The West Virginia Safe Schools Helpline is free, confidential and available 24/7 by calling toll-free 1-866-723-3982 (1-866-SAFE-WVA). It is a statewide number that can be used by anyone to report information regarding anything that could harm students, staff or property including threats of violence, weapons, drug or alcohol abuse, sexual harassment, theft of property damage at any of West Virginia’s schools.
 
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For more information, contact the West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management Public Information Officer Lora D. Lipscomb at: (304) 558-5380 or email: lora.d.lipscomb@wv.gov or the West Virginia National Guard Public Affairs Office at:
(304) 561-6762 or email: holli.r.nelson.mil@mail.mil.
 


Contact Information

Lora Lipscomb, WVDHSEM Public Information Officer