I-Team: First responders fine-tune plans to keep students safe as classes begin

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- School administrators and state officials are wrapping up their homework for the summer: finalizing emergency plans for critical incidents.

As most students in North Carolina go back to school this month, the ABC11 I-Team spoke exclusively with Secretary of Public Safety Erik A. Hooks.

"I wake up every day thinking about 10.4 million people and how to keep them safe in North Carolina and the most precious of those are our children," Hooks said in an interview at DPS headquarters. "The first day of school is a watershed moment."

State officials have dedicated countless hours to work toward enhancing school safety this year, including work by the Governor's Crime Commission Special Committee on School Shootings (SCSS) and the House Select Committee on School Safety in the General Assembly.

"We saw the tragedy in Parkland, Florida, we saw the tragedy right here in Charlotte. What I have seen is a convergence of will where we see families, students, legislators and executive branch all offering initiatives and discussing this matter."

Among the most important tools for officials is the State Emergency Response Application (SERA).

A comprehensive web-based platform, SERA offers first responders electronic blueprints of 2,380 public schools throughout the state. The maps show schematics of every floor, every door and everything in between.

"During an emergency is not when you want to figure out what door you're coming out of," Hope Morgan, SERA's Systems Administrator, told ABC11. "All of that is done ahead of time to make sure when they show up they know where people are going to be in any hazard."

SERA's catalog includes more than schools as well; there are partnerships with the University of North Carolina system, the NC Community College system and the NCDPS Division of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice to add floorplans from colleges and universities, community colleges, adult and juvenile correctional facilities and other public buildings.

"As people get promotions or move from school to school or different responders move from job to job we have to make sure those systems are updated so that information is appropriate when an emergency happens," Morgan explains. "The front office secretary is not sitting there in the middle of an emergency. You have chaos, people locked down, people evacuating. You don't have anyone there to answer those questions."
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