The Ohio School Safety Center houses seven homeland security officials, who will scan social media sites for information that could lead to preventing the next school shooting or other violent acts, including suicide.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine is hoping a centralized source for all things related to school safety might help thwart the next school shooting, as well as suicides and other violence. DeWine recently announced the Ohio School Safety Center, through which public safety and homeland security officials can obtain and share information about possible threats.
The center will serve as a hub for intelligence and is a source for schools that need information about mental health services, physical security, vulnerability assessments, emergency management plans and training. It is staffed by seven professionals from the Department of Homeland Security who were already deep into developing emergency management plans for schools.
“The goal is to be able to share all this information from one place and ensure that schools know what opportunities are available at all levels,” said Emily Mayfield, acting administrator for the center.
Some of the agencies that will partner with the center include the Ohio Department of Education, Mental Health and Addiction Services, the Fire Marshal’s division, the Ohio School Resource Officers Association, the Department of Higher Education, the Facilities Construction Commission and the local police and sheriff’s departments. Partners will be added over time, Mayfield said.
The center will allow for consolidation of school safety resources, previously on a multitude of websites, onto one website, the saferschools.ohio.gov site, and will promote a tip line — 844-SAFEROH — to glean information from anonymous sources.
“It goes both ways; there’s the proactive social media monitoring that the governor’s office announced and the tip line where we receive info,” Mayfield said. “It’s not always a physical threat that we receive, there’s information on bullying and administrative issues, a variety of types of calls on that tip line.”
The seven in-house officials will be actively scanning social media sites with special software — still to be procured — for intelligence and using the tip line to try to learn about possible threats before they become incidents. The governor allocated $300,000 for the software and promotion of the tip line.
The seven homeland security employees have varying backgrounds, but all are centered around security, like critical infrastructure security, education and emergency management.
The calls that come into the tip line will be assessed, and it will be determined if there is an immediate threat and whether to contact a school resource officer or local law enforcement. Other issues will be followed up on by partners, including the department of education, or school administrators to ensure that the proper resources are directed appropriately, including mental health supports if needed.
The center will also provide threat assessments and training to school staff in sniffing out potential violent situations and defusing them. The center will conduct a safety summit of school safety, public safety and mental health professionals for sharing best practices. It will also create a working group, consisting of police, mental health professionals, education professionals, and others to develop an annual report.
The center is part of what the governor calls “STRONG Ohio, an effort to curb gun violence that followed a shooting that killed nine people in Dayton last month. After that shooting, DeWine introduced bills that would allow guns to be seized, after a court hearing, from an individual who was deemed a threat to himself or others, and also expanded background checks on gun sales. That includes gun shows and individual transactions.