WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Calling it a "game changer" and "important milestone" for school safety and security, officials on Friday announced a major new partnership that's designed to protect students and staff members during active shooter situations in Palm Beach County.
The Active Shooter Hostage Event Response (A.S.H.E.R.) Agreement is a collaboration between all law enforcement and fire agencies in Palm Beach County, and lays out each agency's responsibility ahead of time in the event of a security incident at a school.
"It will undoubtedly save lives," said School Police Chief Frank Kitzerow. "It minimizes risk and maximizes safety for everyone involved, especially our first responders."
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Chief Kitzerow said the A.S.H.E.R. Agreement is the first of its kind in Florida, and allows for a faster and more efficient response to emergencies, a more robust system to care for victims, and better family reunification.
"Every day, even on just the minimal amount of cases or incidents that we have to follow and have to deal with, there are a lot of moving parts. When a critical incident happens, there are even more moving parts," Chief Kitzerow said.
Among those moving parts, according to the chief, are law enforcement officers arriving on scene, neutralizing a threat, establishing teams to go in and provide help to victims, and communicating among multiple radio platforms.
Chief Kitzerow said the A.S.H.E.R. Agreement lays out many of those responsibilities in advance so there is less "chaos" at school emergencies.
"We work ahead of time to mitigate those things so that we are spending our time more efficiently, more accurately, and directing our attention where it needs to go," Chief Kitzerow said.
Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw said one of the "worst things" about the deadly mass shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland in 2018 and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in 2017 was "self-deployment" by law enforcement officers.
"People from agencies just decided, OK, there's something happening, they have to need me, so I'm going there. Well you know what happened? It shut radio systems down," Sheriff Bradshaw said. "We don't want that to happen because the scene can become a parking lot with vehicles that you don't need. People that are running around could be plainclothes people that we don't know who they are."
The sheriff said the A.S.H.E.R. Agreement will allow law enforcement and fire agencies to "reduce the amount of chaos" at any emergency through more effective communication and planning.
"This particular thing, going back to what the chief said, is applicable to any active shooter anywhere in this county," Sheriff Bradshaw said.
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Officials also said on Friday that for the first time ever, all 179 schools within the School District of Palm Beach County have at least one school district police officer there to protect them.
"This is very important because, prior to this year, we needed the assistance of all the chiefs of police, their teams, the sheriff's office. Everyone pitched in to make sure every school in Palm Beach County was covered," said Superintendent Dr. Donald Fennoy.