Safe Schools Committee

Sheriff B. Phil Howell addresses the Safe Schools Committee during it third meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 6, in the media center of Ashe County High School.

WEST JEFFERSON — The Ashe County Safe Schools Committee held its third meeting Tuesday, Aug. 6, in the media center of Ashe County High School, hearing updates on the active shooter drill held at ACHS.

Those in attendance, including first responders, student representatives from ACS, administrators and directors, heard a summary of the active shooter response drill held on Saturday, Aug. 3, from Chief Deputy Danny Houck and Emergency Management Director Patty Gambill.

“There are a lot of moving parts to an active shooter drill,” Houck said. “Our main goal is to have shooters eliminated and all wounded transported within the first hour, and in this last drill, we learned a lot of things. We did some things very well, and we learned a lot of things that we can work on.”

Houck said one of the most important lessons learned during the drill was keeping entrance and exit routes open during the event of an active shooter is absolutely key, which depends heavily on fire departments to block intersections so that victims can be transported quickly to the hospital.

“Overall, it went really well,” Gambill said. “The officers made entry quickly. They were very aggressive in taking down the shooters. They escorted wounded out of the building. The fire department was in place to block the roads, and EMS transported multiple patients in ambulances.”

In total, Gambill said the drill lasted 57 minutes.

Gambill added that the biggest takeaway from the drill was the need for more inter-agency training between the school system, sheriff’s office, police and fire departments, EMS and the hospital.

“We don’t always know what the other department has planned,” Gambill said. “There are already plans in place, but we just need to finely tune them a little bit.”

Superintendent Phyllis Yates added that ACS held a directors meeting Aug. 6, discussing what exactly needs to be stored within a school’s black box. Yates said the directors came to the conclusion that a master key, floor plans, medical needs and a class list should be held within the box and updated every nine weeks.

Also during the meeting, Sheriff B. Phil Howell discussed how the sheriff’s office handles threat assessments and investigations.

“It is a fine balance we’re trying to find,” Howell said in relation to ways of sharing information about an active threat while the investigation is ongoing. He added that the sheriff’s office is developing a small team to work with ACS in outlining a plan for releasing information.

During the meeting, the board of education shared remarks with those in attendance, as well as Yates and other ACS directors.

“Safety is very important in our schools,” board of education Chairman C.B. Jones said. “In Ashe County Schools, on a lot of projects it seems like we’re the cutting edge.”

Technology Director Amy Walker reported during the meeting that Ashe County Schools would be conducting its annual audit of all panic buttons between Aug. 8 and 13. The final test at ACHS was completed on Tuesday, Aug. 13, and Walker said in an email that “testing went very well at all schools.”

For more information about safety measures at ACS, visit

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