Safety and Security - Top Priority at Fort Worth, Texas ISD
At the Fort Worth, Texas Independent School District, safety is a top priority.
For 25 years, Daniel Garcia proudly served with the Fort Worth, Texas Police as a police officer and assistant chief. One of his roles was overseeing the Patrol Bureau, which makes up the uniformed patrol services, traffic and aviation function for the department. Garcia then joined the Fort Worth Independent School District (FWISD) as a security coordinator in 2016. “It was a natural fit as I had cultivated a relationship with FWISD for those 25 years,” Garcia says.
His role included coordination and staffing of all athletic and special events at the district with Police Officers to provide a safe and secure environment for students, staff and visitors. In 2017, Garcia was promoted to law enforcement director and then safety and security executive director in 2018.
Garcia is in charge of all operations within FWISD related to all law enforcement, to include police security for sporting and special events, as well as the School Resource Officer (SRO) program. To succeed in this role, Garcia continues to build and maintain positive relationships with local law enforcement entities, with an emphasis on the Fort Worth Police Department. In addition, Garcia is in charge of evaluating and monitoring all safety aspects of district operations.
Throughout his tenure, Garcia has strived to maintain and improve the safety and security of students, staff and visitors throughout the school district, which encompasses more than 84,000 students in 82 elementary schools, 24 middle schools and 6th grade centers, 21 high schools and 16 other campuses.
Although Garcia’s roles have changed, the responsibilities have remained the same, which is something he enjoys. “Ultimately, I have always worked for the community and for the public. And the opportunity to serve the community, specifically to improve the safety level for students, staff and visitors of the district, has always been a rewarding experience,” he says.
Safety and Security Operations
“Covering such a large district can be difficult,” Garcia says. However, Garcia is fortunate to have a very effective safety and security department that is ready to respond to any event.
The staff includes a law enforcement director, who coordinates staffing all athletics special events, along with working closely with all SROs and the School Resource Unit (SRU).
The department also employs an emergency management coordinator, who manages the district’s emergency management needs, to include ensuring all school’s drills are conducted and assisting with developing school emergency plans.
There are 14 area advisors, who are liaison team members with the SROs, that serve as representatives of the safety and security department at all district schools. “They work closely with the school administration to address and collaborate when it comes to the safety and security at the schools,” Garcia says.
A campus monitor supervisor oversees more than 160 campus monitors throughout the district, as well. The monitors are located throughout the district and serve as the “eyes and ears” at all schools, Garcia notes. The security monitor team works 24/7, monitoring the district’s extensive 4,500-camera surveillance system, alarms and access control operations.
“You have to stay in-tune with each school’s specific needs,” Garcia notes. “Each school is unique and different, as are the communities and neighborhoods where each school is located. We ensure that the security plan is customized to fit the school properly to meet every need.”
One challenge the district faces, like any other in the K-12 sector, is staying on top of all emerging security technology, says Garcia. “Right now, it can be overwhelming at times to learn as much as I can about new products and technology. We want to make sure we are making informed decisions when we purchase new products so that they benefit our district the most,” he says.
Social media threats continue to plague K-12 security teams, including FWISD. “We’ve received several social media threats in the last year, and we have to be ready to meet those challenges that those threats can bring in a moment’s notice, “Garcia says.
He and his team continuously revise and adjust plans to mitigate those threats. “There is no time or room to be complacent,” he says “There are many days when we may have multiple situations at the same time, so we really need to rely on our preparation and on effective communication to be ready to respond and mitigate different types of situations.”
“After an event, our goal is to bring the school’s environment back to normal as quickly as possible,” he adds. The security department works hard to gain the trust of the community, parents and students by responding to situations quickly, by answering any questions they may have in regards to the safety of their children and to put them at ease in knowing the security department has a solid plan for emergency preparedness.
Safety is a Top Priority
After the 2018 shooting at Parkland, Fla., where a gunman killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and the 2018 Santa Fe High School shooting, where 10 people were fatally shot, Garcia and the security department were inspired to take further action to improve safety in their district. FWISD formed a committee to address emergency preparedness and asses their ability to respond to an active shooter situation.
Out of the committee, an After Hours School Response Team was born. “Social media threats and many other threats don’t just happen within a normal school day. Many threats come in after-hours, on the weekend, and many security teams are unable to respond until Monday morning,” he says. “We wanted to ensure we were able to mitigate threats as soon as possible, and not wait until Monday morning.”
The After Hours School Response Team, comprised of law enforcement officers, has been a major success for FWISD’s safety operations, he says. If there is a threat made against a school, the After Hours School Response Team will immediately respond, investigate and identify the individual who made the threat.
“We’ve had many success stories where a suspect or suspects were developed, identified and arrested all within a matter of hours over the weekend,” Garcia says. “If the After Hours School Response team were not in place, Monday morning would have been a very tense day for security staff, students and parents alike, knowing a threat was made against a school and had not been addressed yet.”
Another initiative Garcia has taken is hiring former law enforcement officers with extensive experience in protecting citizens. Many of the 14 Area Advisors are former police officers, who are now bringing talent and experience to the security team and are further benefiting the district by working with the SROs.
Garcia notes he is proud of FWISD’s camera surveillance system, which includes more than 4,500 cameras that have been valuable in providing an extra layer of security and have captured many offenses, as well. “They have stopped violent attacks before they escalated,” he says.
The Fort Worth Police Department has also provided a large amount of FWISD staff (such as teachers and administration) with Civilian Response to Active Shooter Events training, known as CRASE. “This has been valuable in training our staff to know how to respond to events. It has also provided them with the necessary tools and skills to be able to survive an event,” Garcia adds.
Additional successes includes the School Resource Program, which began with only two officers. In 20 years, the program has grown to 44 SROs, who all stand ready to respond to any emergency. A school district Police dispatcher, who is a licensed telecommunicator, now dispatches the SROs to calls for service at all schools. By having them in schools, SROs serve as “tremendous mentors to students that attend our schools. They have developed relationships with not only staff, but students as well,” Garcia notes.
In addition, as of January 1, 2020, all Texas public and charter school personnel are required to participate in Stop the Bleed training, to offer training to students in grades seven and higher and to install bleeding control kits in all schools. In preparation for the legislative update, FWISD started training with local fire departments and health officials months before the deadline. Although students have not yet been trained, this is something FWISD is working towards, says Garcia. “We have already purchased our trauma kits, and they will be installed during the next couple of weeks,” he adds.
Keys to Success
Overall, Garcia is very proud of what the safety and security department has done to improve safety and security at all FWISD schools. Garcia attributes the department’s success to the following key elements:
- The organizational leadership of FWISD and the support from all stakeholders.
- The commitment and talent of the safety and security department staff.
- The strong partnership with the Fort Worth Police Department.
“These three elements are key to our success, not only now, but into the future. We are very happy to be here to serve and to be part of the FWISD community.”