The first week of classes was a busy one for Duane Williams, the new supervisor of security and management for Carroll County Public Schools.
On Aug. 31, the first day of school, he handled a vague bomb threat received by Westminster Elementary School that was determined to be non-credible, he said. On Sept. 1, there was a lockdown situation at two Westminster schools — Winters Mill High and Cranberry Station Elementary — as police searched for a carjacking suspect nearby.
"In a way, it was good that it happened in that it helped us to reinforce why we're doing what we're doing," Williams said. "It was a busy week, but it was good; and some of the schools conduct their safety drills in that first week."
Williams, 46, is no stranger to responding to emergency situations. He retired in March as a major at the Harford County Sheriff's Office, for which he supervised major crimes, narcotics and intelligence.
"I have a background with active shooter protocols," said Williams, who still resides in Harford County. "I spent 13 years when I was with the Sheriff's Office with our squad team, so I served as assistant team leader and sniper team leader for that."
Jon O'Neal, the Carroll County Public Schools assistant superintendent of administration, said the school system received a lot of qualified applicants for the job but Williams brought a career background in law enforcement, demonstrated proficiency in technology, and had been instrumental in implementing security protocol and procedures in Harford County schools, making him stand out.
Williams, who worked for the Harford County Sheriff's Office for 25 years, said he was one of two people who developed the active shooter training and protocols for Harford law enforcement and public schools. The Sheriff's Office has trained hundreds of officers since then in shooter response, he said.
The Harford Sheriff's Office's Capt. Jon Krass, a good friend who has known Williams for the 25 years he was employed there, described Williams as a great leader who performed well as a member of the department's tactical team.
"In my opinion, Carroll County is making out like a bandit," Krass said. "He was a pivotal person in ensuring that all officers in Harford County, including municipal departments, had active shooter training. He responded to countless tactical situations."
Harford County has never had an active shooter situation; neither has Carroll.
Williams said he was looking for other job opportunities and heard about the opening with Carroll County Public Schools.
"It sounded like it would be a good job — it sounded like it would be a challenge," he said.
He replaces Larry Fairies, a retired Maryland State Police commander who had been with the school system since 1999. Fairies' last day was June 1; Williams officially began in May.
"My predecessor … did a really good job bringing the security for CCPS to where it's at now," Williams said. "The opportunity that I have is to bring a fresh set of eyes; and that sometimes is good because sometimes when you've been involved in the same system for a while it's hard to look at things … from a critical perspective."
In his past few months on the job, Williams said, he has found Carroll to be a welcoming environment.
"If there's one thing I can say about Carroll County, it's that everybody is really nice," Williams said.
He has found some differences between working in law enforcement and working for a school system.
"I used to work in a police environment; and although I get to work hand-in-hand with police, this is working with educators," Williams said. "Even though principals and educators are responsible for the safety and security of the respective buildings, that is not why they took the job — they took the job to teach kids."
But because Williams can't keep schools safe single-handedly, he said, he needs teachers, administrators and other school staff to be trained and ready to handle emergency situations.
"It's a team effort — it's going to take involvement from the teachers and administrators, as well as support staff, to follow the proper protocol and make good decisions to keep the students safe," he said.
Williams said his summer was spent making sure new emergency and security procedures from the Security Advisory Committee were in place for the start of the school year. The committee was established in 2013 as a result of heightened interest in school security after the fatal shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
Last year the school system implemented access control systems, visitor management systems, badging systems and additional surveillance cameras through a state grant, and this year the school system is streamlining security policies and procedures, O'Neal said.
On the Carroll County Board of Education's meeting agenda today is a vote to approve a security program for the system and security program procedure manual, that will "detail the operating procedures that shall be set forth to ensure the health and safety of everyone by protecting our people, organization and facilities," according to the agenda.
Williams said he implemented new standardized procedures for the schools to follow, something the school system was lacking.
"We revised our emergency flip charts; we also provided a series of procedures that the schools are to follow now as far as visitors, as far as access control and video," Williams said. "That is a work in progress; there is still more work to be done in time."
Williams said that although active shooter situations don't happen often, the school system must be prepared if one occurs.
"If an active situation occurs you've got one chance to get it right, and it will probably be the only time it would ever happen in your school," Williams said. "But failure is not an option."
Bomb threats, theft and custody issues with parents are among the most common situations Williams expects to arise throughout the school year, he said.
Williams said his plans for the rest of the year are to continue to incorporate new procedures developed by the Security Advisory Committee.
"One of our focuses every year will be to review our security procedures manual and to make adjustments and make improvements as necessary because it's always a work in progress," Williams said.
"We're going to great lengths to try to make sure that we're providing a safe environment for the kids to learn in, and with that comes some inconvenience, but everything that we're doing is truly in the best interest of students' safety and security while they're at our schools," he said.
If you go:
What: Board of Education open public session (board meets in closed session at 2:30 p.m.)
When: 4 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 9
Latest Carroll County News
Where: Charles I. Ecker Boardroom at the Board of Education offices, located at 125 North Court Street in Westminster