Safety committee tries to improve emergency response

When Kevin Seagel slipped into Swain County’s courthouse during a mock exercise brandishing a pretend weapon, it only took emergency responders one minute to find him, but by then, he had already killed several people.

Although the drill illustrated a fake scenario, it allowed employees to simulate what would happen if a real shooter assailed the building that is the epicenter of the county’s operations.

The recent run-through was more successful than when the county’s safety committee first started its monthly meetings five years ago, before a clear lockdown protocol was in place.

“I guess what that taught us was nobody knew what to do,” said Seagel, Swain County’s director of inspections.

Seagal is the head of the safety committee, which is comprised of all the county’s department heads and focuses on promoting safe practices among county employees.

“We try to catch the safety stuff on the front end before something happens,” Seagel said.

Although the committee and county employees continue to run through active shooter scenarios, such an extreme event is statistically unlikely.

Fire and medical emergencies are much more likely to occur. The safety committee is responsible for educating people on what to do during those situations as well and how to prevent them in the instance of a fire.

“Fires are the big issue because it’s so easy to happen,” Seagel said. “People don’t think about it.”

During the winter, employees’ heaters are checked to ensure that they are functioning correctly and are not in danger of falling over. Employees are also taught to keep an eye on extension cords, which could spark a fire.

“You’re going to catch nothing if you don’t look for it,” Seagel said.

Although the safety committee tries to plan for as many scenarios as possible, the truth is often times the plans aren’t needed because of prevention efforts and preparedness.

“We don’t have a whole lot of accidents, but that’s the reason,” Seagel said.

Seagel said that the employee safety training and planning has truly made a difference.

“A lot of people are more knowledgeable now,” Seagel said. “That shows us that it’s working.”

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