Mecklenburg County will soon offer active shooter training to its 5,300 employees – a step County Manager Dena Diorio said Thursday is necessary to ensure workers are better prepared should gunfire erupt in a government building.
The measure comes just over a week after a radicalized husband-wife duo opened fire on a holiday party full of county employees in San Bernardino County, Calif., killing 14 people and wounding 21 others.
The slayings have struck a chord with local government employees, who occasionally face a disgruntled public and co-workers.
“It really brought to the forefront to me that we really need to make sure all the employees ... are prepared if the unthinkable happens here,” Diorio said during a morning news conference. “The fact that this was a county building ... with county employees who were working inside really was an indication to me that while we think it could never happen here, you can never be too sure.”
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Officials haven’t determined the cost of the training.
The county in the past has offered occasional active shooter training but plans to ramp up those efforts with presentations, videos and help from an outside consultant, said Chad Harris, the county’s security coordinator, who will craft a plan to train workers within the next three to six months.
“We want to make sure everyone knows what they need to do to increase their chances of survival,” he said, adding that he has considered looping in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department and other municipal police departments to assist with training.
The Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office, which already trains its uniformed employees for active shooter scenarios, plans to extend those exercises to its civilian workers as well, Diorio said.
Classes for employees won’t be mandatory, she said. Some county departments, such as community support services and the tax assessor’s office, have offered training to their staffs before, but “when you put those kind of departments in the scheme of things, it’s fairly, fairly small,” she said.
Diorio said she extended the offer for training to county commissioners in case of an emergency during a public meeting.
The county this year allocated $130,000 in the budget for increased security after employees said they did not feel safe in some of the county’s 100 facilities. That money added surveillance and a mix of armed and unarmed guards in some buildings, including the Valerie C. Woodard complex on Freedom Drive, the Hal Marshall Center on North Tryon Street and the Wallace Kuralt Centre on Billingsley Road.
And while more security enhancements are on the way, Diorio said she does not expect to outfit all county buildings with metal detectors as in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center on East Fourth Street.
“I’m not sure that’s the message we want to send to every customer that comes through our front door,” she said. “We want them to be safe when they come to our facilities. We don’t want our employees to be fearful of our customers ... and we don’t want our customers to feel like they should be feared.”
Around the Charlotte area
The county’s announcement comes just as other Charlotte-area towns and municipalities have taken steps to reinforce employee know-how in the event of a crisis.
The city of Charlotte has offered active shooter training in the past, although employees had not recently undergone any exercises, said City Manager Ron Carlee. He said the city will soon explore other training opportunities.
The town of Cornelius plans to meet with CMPD next week to discuss offering the training to non-police employees, Town Manager Anthony Roberts said.
Town of Huntersville employees will undergo training for natural and man-made disasters – an idea that had already been in the works before the San Bernardino shooting, said Town Manager Greg Ferguson.
Some local municipalities have for years offered active shooter training through their human resources or risk management departments to avoid exorbitant costs.
In Davidson, the town’s 50 employees take hourslong classes and seminars that cover shooting situations in town buildings and schools, said town spokeswoman Cristina Shaul.
“We think through real-life scenarios in case something could come up,” she said. “We recognize the fact that there’s sort of an increased emphasis on active shooter scenarios out there, (but) yes, we feel like we’re prepared.”
Employees in Union County underwent active shooter training this past spring and plan to host a series of seminars in March with a workplace violence consultant. Those seminars will cost about $1,500. Officials call it “threat training” because “it doesn’t have to be somebody with a gun – it could be a baseball bat, knife, pair of scissors,” county Risk Manager Keith Richards said.
The classes are patterned after “RUN. HIDE. FIGHT,” a how-to video on surviving an active shooter situation produced in 2012 by the city of Houston, he said.
Cabarrus County leaders use the same video but are working with sheriff’s deputies and safety and risk management staff to review procedures and consider enhanced training opportunities, a county spokeswoman said.
‘It feels like family’
Christina Lantis is still reeling from the slayings in San Bernardino. She spent the evening of Dec. 2 in front of the television, weeping.
“People are going to be unhappy or happy with us, and now we’re a target as well,” said Lantis, 50, a California native who started her career as a tax assessor in San Bernardino County.
She worked there for 28 years before leaving her post as the county’s chief of assessor services last year to take a job as an assistant assessor in Mecklenburg County. She was in her office at the Bob Walton Plaza uptown when her mother called her with news of the shooting.
“I didn’t realize the depth of it until I looked at the news,” Lantis said. “You get that sick-in-your-stomach feeling. It feels like it’s family.”
She didn’t know anyone who died there. But she did frequent the Inland Regional Center, a complex of government offices that provide services to the developmentally disabled, and the site of the shooting.
She never took active shooter classes in San Bernardino. Several media outlets have reported that employees in San Bernardino County had active shooter training in the same room as the massacre a year ago.
Lantis feels those skills may have saved lives last week. But not all of them.
One of her friends is married to a county employee whose boss lost her husband, Robert Adams, 40, an environmental health specialist who left behind a 20-month-old daughter, according to the Washington Post.
“It feels very close to home,” Lantis said. “You can’t make sense of it. Unfortunately, our world is a place where we have to be on guard.”
Funerals begin: San Bernardino shooting victim Yvette Velasco was remembered Thursday in an outdoor funeral, the first of about a dozen memorials, funerals and burials for those slain in the attack.
Missed clues online: The U.S. government appears not to have picked up on extremist messages exchanged online between Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik, his then-fiancee in Pakistan, federal officials told Congress in closed-door briefings Thursday. Officials said the two discussed martyrdom and jihad as early as 2013. Malik entered the U.S. on a fiancee visa last year.
The gun buyer: Syed Farook, the gunman who killed his co-workers, and Enrique Marquez, who bought the assault rifles used in the shooting, were related through marriage and may have plotted an attack together three years ago, investigators say. Marquez has not been charged.