FAIRMONT, W.Va. (WBOY) – School safety is at the top of the list for educators across the country—especially after a close call here in West Virginia when a school shooter threat proved to be a hoax in December

The hoax shed more light on the importance of an initiative the Marion County Sheriff’s Department, Homeland Security and the Board of Education were already working on. During school “safety sweeps” officers went to every school in Marion County to see how they can make them safer.

“It includes just little things like making sure all the doors lock, making sure the windows lock. Some things are going to be a little more cost and time-effective,” Sheriff Jimmy Riffle said about the safety sweeps his department did of the schools. 

“Whether you’re a parent, a grandparent, an administrator, a teacher, a custodian, you worry about the safety and security in our school,” Superintendent of Marion County Schools, Donna Heston said.  

Now, if a threat is made to a school, police officers will have a layout of all the classrooms in the building. In an emergency, the maps will help officers go straight to the classrooms where the threat is, making response time much faster.   

“Time is absolutely of the essence,” Sheriff Riffle said. “The longer it takes to get there, the longer it takes to react or respond the more lives that can be lost.”

Each school also has a locker that contains equipment that police would need to breach in an emergency – things that the schools never had before.   

“No matter what police department arrives on scene, all the tools that they would need to make entry, safe entry, to the school would be housed in those lockers,” Chris Mcintire director of Marion County Homeland Security said.   

In another step towards safety, the county now has three weapon detectors the schools can use.  

“Around 50% of the threat is going to come from someone inside of the schools,” Mcintire said. “So, with these new weapon detectors, we can eliminate a lot of that threat by screening the students and visitors in the school.” 

The detectors will start to be used in schools on a trial basis. The sheriff’s department and homeland security will be meeting with the Marion County Board of education to go over what they found in their assessment of every school.   

“We want to do everything humanly possible to make sure the children and the staff are safe in all the schools, and we hope that nothing ever happens in Marion County, but we want to be prepared if something would happen,” Mcintire said.   

“For many of our students, this is the safest place that they spend a number of hours during their day and that’s very important to us we want schools to be nurturing places,” Heston said.   

The board of education is also testing out facial recognition cameras at the front doors at West Fairmont Middle School. If the trial run goes successfully, the board will look into expanding it to all schools.