ORLANDO | St. James wrote, “If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:15-17). Our living faith calls us to care for each person, so dignified by God. In light of this, the people of the Diocese of Orlando continue to work diligently to implement top-notch security for every school and parish in the nine counties we serve. As phase one of the partnership with Life Safety Solutions nears an end, significant strides have been made and the diocese is determined to launch phase two with careful consideration.
Life Safety Solutions is a Florida-based company that specializes in loss control, risk management, and safety and security services. The security team has been on the ground in Central Florida since May 2018 and has completed vulnerability assessments for 37 schools and early learning centers along with their parish communities. Those reports have been shared with both principals and pastors. “A lot of the issues will be addressed in training and emergency plans,” explained Tracy Dann, risk manager for the diocese. “The physical changes are currently being mapped out based on priorities made by Life Safety.” The diocesan office of finance is also working with individual locations to develop funding plans for those improvements.
Raptor Visitor Management software has been installed at each school and some parish locations to screen visitors, volunteers, and contractors against the sexual predator/offender database. When there’s a hit on the system, parish staff and school administrators are notified immediately. Lanyards have also been implemented for easier threat assessment. “Everyone will be identified as staff, visitor, volunteer, or contractor,” said Dann. “Every lanyard will be a different color so that from a distance you can see who is and who is not supposed to be on campus.” Two-way radios have been purchased to allow for better communication in the event of an emergency between the church and school community and local law enforcement.
Additionally, all principals have received Mental Health First Aid Training, an evidence-based course provided by Catholic Charities of Central Florida (CCCF) that teaches participants how to identify and respond to signs of mental illness. This program will eventually be offered to all teachers and guidance counselors and has been offered at many parishes as well. “There will always be situations that are out of your control,” shared Patty Dailey, project coordinator for the diocese. “But the risk of violent incidents can be reduced. The impact of violent incidents can be minimized. The prevention of violent incidents is possible.”
The FortifyFL state threat reporting app is now used in all Catholic schools. The app allows students, parents and teachers to report possible crimes or threats to law enforcement anonymously. All of these steps are in line with the Diocese of Orlando’s commitment to uncompromising standards. “We all need to embrace our responsibility in speaking up if something isn’t right,” said Dailey. “If you see something, say something, and then do something. Our training has taught us that we all play a vital role in alerting our community to an emergency situation.”
The diocese has committed to annual security reviews for continued success and a security committee has been established to serve as an advisory group to improve overall practices and protocols. The team dedicated to this project is making sure it ties back to Catholic teaching every step of the way. “As Catholics, we have a moral responsibility entrusted by God to uphold the spiritual, emotional and physical well-being of each person as they participate in activities within or sponsored by our diocese,” noted Bishop John Noonan. “It is our responsibility and commitment to providing an environment that is safe and nurturing.
In phase two, the diocese plans continued focus on vulnerability assessments for facilities that have not been reviewed yet. Experts will also pay close attention to security for students participating in faith formation programs in our parishes. “What I like most about Life Safety is they’re also aligning with emergency plans currently in effect in other counties across Florida,” said Dann. “The Diocese of Orlando is taking the lead on some initiatives that are going on statewide.”
Looking ahead to Spring 2019, the diocese plans to conduct evacuation and lockdown drills at each school and parish community, meet with local law enforcement to review site specific emergency management plans, and provide threat assessment training for parish ushers and volunteers. The chancery offices and campus of St. James Cathedral in downtown Orlando are also being closely examined for new opportunities to tighten security standards. “We need each other now more than ever,” Dailey reflected. “We must ensure those entrusted in our care are safe as possible.”
By Jennifer Drow, Special to the Florida Catholic – January 29, 2019