HIAWASSEE, Ga. – As a Towns County family’s COVID-19 quarantine ends, the wife of a South Fulton County firefighter exposed to the virus in metro-Atlanta was surprised to learn that her family does not meet the criteria for virus testing. Shannon Baldwin-Nguyen told FYN on Friday that she and her family fully expected to receive the newly-introduced swap test following their two weeks in isolation. Because she nor her husband, Thanh – along with their four children who chose to quarantine with their parents – are not showing symptoms, the family is not eligible for COVID-19 screening.
FYN spoke with Dave Palmer, Public Information Officer of District 2 Public Health, on Friday afternoon. Palmer explained that COVID-19 testing is ordered at the discretion of physicians, and testing is typically not offered to those who are not displaying severe symptoms associated with the virus, even after evident exposure. Palmer said that although area healthcare providers are capable of collecting samples from patients, those who remain non-symptomatic following a 14-day quarantine do not meet CDC criteria for testing as the incubation period has expired. Palmer echoed President Donald Trump’s message to the nation, that not every citizen requires testing.
According to the CDC, symptoms typically appear 2-14 days after exposure (based on the incubation period of MERS-CoV viruses), with the primary symptoms being:
- Shortness of breath
Towns County EMA explained that residents experiencing symptoms requiring medical attention should call their primary care physician, or the local emergency room, prior to arrival.
As the COVID-19 pandemic makes it way through the state and nation, local officials continue to recommend heightened hygiene practices, social distancing, and that citizens remain at home whenever possible to slow the spread of the virus.
Towns County EMA additionally discouraged the public from speculating on social media, even in the form of questions, as it may lead to misinformation and rumors taking hold.
FYN continues to communicate closely with local leaders, emergency officials, and Towns County residents to provide now-information for the citizens that we serve.
Below is a statement received from Shannon Baldwin-Nguyen in its entirety:
“After 10 days of being in self-quarantine at our home in Towns County, Thanh was released by The City of South Fulton’s physician to go back to work,” Baldwin-Nguyen said. “The exposure was on Friday, March 6, and was confirmed on Monday, March 9, that he and two other firefighters were exposed. The quarantine actually started late Monday. It was requested that the three firefighters be tested before going back to work, that however was denied. There were no testing facilities to our knowledge in Fulton County. We contacted our local PA who referred Thanh and me for testing here. We were first told that we could be tested in Clay County, but later told they wanted to only test residents. We were then told that we would be tested on Friday at the Towns County Health Department. Before going there on Friday morning, I called to make sure the referral papers had been received. I was told they were not doing testing there either. We tried to have at least Thanh tested, but were denied. I was told by the Health Department that only the people that are ‘really, really sick’ are being tested. I expressed my concern with our local health department as well as the State of Georgia Health Department, and the Governors Office that reports have shown that some positive cases show no symptoms. The CDC guidelines are not requiring testing after definite exposure, which is scary. Our concern is that if more people are aware they are positive, there would be less ‘really, really sick’ patients. Now is not the time to adjust guidelines…we need certainty. It’s not a good feeling to be unknowingly exposed to something and then denied testing.”
The Nguyen family emphasized that although their physician requested testing, they are not showing symptoms of contracting the virus.
As of March 21, the date of this publication, there are no confirmed nor presumed COVID-19 cases in Towns County.
HIAWASSEE, Ga- Towns County Schools announced Tuesday, March 17, that an elementary school teacher who was thought to have possibly contracted COVID-19 received a negative test result. The Towns County resident was transferred from Chatuge Regional Hospital in Hiawassee to Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville overnight on Monday, March 16, with severe symptoms resembling the virus.
“The Towns County Elementary School teacher who was tested for COVID-19/Coronavirus has received a negative test result,” School Superintendent Darren Berrong stated. “We are pleased to announce that the teacher does not have the virus and is beginning to feel better.”
Towns County Schools made the suspected virus case known on their social media page, March 16, as a precaution due to the rapid rate of spread of the virus.
“Towns County Schools learned early today that an Elementary School teacher was tested for the Coronavirus this morning.,” the school board stated March 16. “Results for the test can take up to 72 hours and we will inform everyone as we get more information. Please understand that this is NOT a confirmed case of the virus. Elementary School Employees were informed to stay home and keep their distance from parents, grandparents, and elderly populations until the test results come back. Our suggestion is the same for parents and students who were in the Elementary School last week. This is not a time for panic, but a time for wisdom. Be smart, keep your distance from other people, wash your hands religiously, and monitor yourself and children for any symptoms. Working together as a community, we can minimize the effects of this virus in Towns County. Once we learn the results of the test, a decision on what school will look like for the next 3 weeks will be made and passed on to you.”
As of March 17, no confirmed COVID-19 cases are present in Towns County.
“TCEMA (Towns County Emergency Management Agency) is monitoring the COVID-19 outbreak and is connected in real-time with our local, state, and federal partners,” TCEMA Director Brandon Walls said on Tuesday. “We are working around the clock to monitor, mitigate, and respond to all situations. Proper management includes proper education. We will continue to update the public regarding potential and actual COVID-19 cases in an effort to reduce the spread of false information.”
Walls additionally suggested that concerned citizens visit the Department of Public Health’s website.
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – A wife and mother quarantined with her family to monitor for COVID-19 in Towns County reached out to FYN on Sunday afternoon, March 15, to share her story, stressing the importance of transparency with the public in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak. Shannon Baldwin-Nguyen — the spouse of Thanh Nguyen, a Fulton County firefighter who was exposed to the virus when responding to an infected patient — had several pertinent messages for the local community.
Rather than separate from Nguyen while the veteran firefighter self-monitors for the onset of symptoms, the family decided to quarantine as a unit for the 14-day period required. The quarantined family consists of the couple and their four children, two of whom attend college and a daughter who attends Towns County Schools.
Shannon Baldwin-Nguyen assured that none of her children visited the school campus following her husband’s exposure to the virus and that the family self-quarantined immediately upon Nguyen’s arrival in Towns County on March 10. “Whenever we were notified that he was going to be on home quarantine, I called (Towns County Schools Superintendent) Dr. Berrong and let him know,” Baldwin-Nguyen explained. “I didn’t want anyone at the school to have questions as to whether she had exposed anyone. We have two in college and they did the same. They contacted the administration and their employer to inform them of the situation. The college students are doing their assignments via email and not going to work.”
Baldwin-Nguyen said that their food supply is beginning to run low but the family has relatives who have delivered additional supplies to their driveway.
“We have four children at home so I’ve always bought more than most because of that,” Baldwin-Nguyen said.” I didn’t go out and buy more on Monday night whenever they put them in quarantine. He arrived here at this home around 2 a.m. Tuesday. We have multiple homes, but the one in Hiawassee is the one that I keep fully stocked so that is why he is here. We felt as a family that we should be together.”
The family, who is on day 6 in isolation, is not experiencing any indication of COVID-19 at this time. Nguyen, a Vietnamese refugee who became Georgia’s first Asian firefighter, is reporting his daily health conditions to the proper authorities. “He had a video-chat with the physician during the week,” Baldwin-Nguyen told FYN. “I can’t stress how impressed I am with The City of South Fulton Fire Department, I’ve been through almost 50 years of being in the fire department family with my daddy and husband so I’ve witnessed a lot. The new chief did a great job after finding out that his firefighters were exposed.”
Nguyen and his family were not advised to test for the virus unless they begin to exhibit symptoms.
Towns County Emergency Management Agency assured that there are no other known quarantined individuals in Towns County as of March 15, and no confirmed cases of the virus.
“Towns county government and emergency services continue to learn and prepare,” Towns County EMA Director Brandon Walls issued in a statement to FYN. “We want to remind citizens that we currently have no active cases of COVID-19 in Towns County. We understand that one individual was exposed while working in a public safety role in another county and is on home quarantine within Towns County, please be aware that this poses no risk to other individuals. We ask that you take part in preventing the spread of this virus by being mindful of your health and hygiene, and educating yourself from credible sources.”
FYN contacted Towns County Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw who stated that he was made aware of the quarantine situation last week by Towns County EMA. FYN intends to remain in remote contact with the Nguyen family throughout what will hopefully be the final week of their ordeal.
“It’s our duty that everyone works together to keep the spread of germs to a minimum,” Baldwin-Nguyen said. “We knew that this would get out and feel that it’s best if information comes from us as opposed to assumptions.” Towns County EMA, along with the Ngutgen family, urged residents who may experience symptoms related to COVID-19 to alert 911 dispatch prior to the arrival of emergency responders.
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – FYN learned from Towns County EMA on Monday morning, March 16, that a patient suspected of contracting COVID-19 was transferred overnight from Chatuge Regional Hospital in Hiawassee to Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville, GA.
The patient was described as a female in her 50s.
UPDATED: Towns County Board of Education announced Tuesday morning that the test results were negative for COVID-19.
UPDATED: FYN confirmed that the patient suspected of contracting the virus is an elementary school teacher at Towns County Schools.
“Towns County Schools learned early today that an Elementary School teacher was tested for the Coronavirus this morning.,” the school board stated. “Results for the test can take up to 72 hours and we will inform everyone as we get more information. Please understand that this is NOT a confirmed case of the virus. Elementary School Employees were informed to stay home and keep their distance from parents, grandparents, and elderly populations until the test results come back. Our suggestion is the same for parents and students who were in the Elementary School last week. This is not a time for panic, but a time for wisdom. Be smart, keep your distance from other people, wash your hands religiously, and monitor yourself and children for any symptoms. Working together as a community, we can minimize the effects of this virus in Towns County. Once we learn the results of the test, a decision on what school will look like for the next 3 weeks will be made and passed on to you.”
FYN reported this morning that two Towns County EMS responders who assisted the teacher were placed under mandatory quarantine.
“Last night, a Towns County resident was transported to North East Georgia Medical Center from Chatuge Regional Hospital with suspicious symptoms,” Towns County EMA Director Brandon Walls said. “County officials were made aware of the transfer and circumstances late last night. Steps have been taken to mitigate and further exposure possibility. Two EMS employees will be on isolation pending test results. Please remember this is only a suspected case at this time. More information will be posted as available.”
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Towns County Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw addressed COVID-19, commonly known as the coronavirus, during a special-called meeting on Thursday, March 5, with Towns County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) Director Brandon Walls in attendance.
“Towns County EMA is constantly monitoring the situation and is, as always, connected in real-time with our local, state and federal partners,” Walls told FYN. “We are always ready to mount a response to any situation. We urge the public to educate themselves from reputable sources such as the CDC and the state department of health. Monitoring, education, and research is a key factor in managing, mitigating and responding to any situation like the CoVid-19 outbreak. Follow standard infection control hygiene practices such as hand washing and staying home when sick. We would also like to ask the public to avoid adding to ‘hype’ and spreading unverified information.”
Two known cases of the coronavirus have been documented in Georgia; a 56-year-old father and his 15-year-old son residing in Fulton County. The man was reported as a recent visitor to Milan, Italy.
Symptoms include a fever, cough, and difficulty breathing.
As of March 5, the CDC reported 99 cases of confirmed coronavirus in 13 U.S. states, along with 10 deaths resulting from the illness. Of the 99 cases, a total of 30 have been deemed travel-related, 20 cases were spread person-to-person, and 49 cases are currently under investigation. As of March 4, a total of 1,526 U.S. patients had been tested for the novel virus. The number, however, does not include testing performed at state and local public health laboratories as testing began this week.
The CDC advises the following preventative actions to avoid respiratory illnesses:
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
- Follow CDC’s recommendations for using a facemask.
- CDC does not recommend that people who are well to wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19.
- Facemasks should be used by people who show symptoms of COVID-19 to help prevent the spread of the disease to others. The use of facemasks is also crucial for health workers and people who are taking care of someone in close settings (at home or in a health care facility).
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
- If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Words can lead to dire consequences, and that may prove to be the case for Crystal Clinton, wife of Towns County Sheriff Chris Clinton. In response to a social media post dated Oct. 20, Ms. Clinton fired online allegations at 2020 sheriff’s challenger Daren “Bear” Osborn, accusing the candidate of starting a pervasive rumor that Sheriff Clinton sought treatment for drug addiction. Ms. Clinton publicly claimed that she learned the source of the widespread rumor through an estranged relative who supervises Osborn’s law enforcement division in a neighboring county.
FetchYourNews (FYN) met with Osborn and his supervisor Nov. 1, both of whom adamantly denied Ms. Clinton’s allegations. “I did not start the rumor,” Osborn asserted. Osborn’s supervisor explained that she, like many in the community, heard talk of the sheriff’s alleged stint at a rehabilitation facility long before the topic was broached by Osborn, and attempted to learn firsthand whether the hearsay held weight through the Clinton clan.
FYN followed a similar course of action in late February, offering Sheriff Clinton an opportunity to address the rampant rumor of addiction after inquiries on his whereabouts poured into FYN from dozens of concerned citizens. Sheriff Clinton ceased communication with FYN at that time.
The sheriff’s spouse continued on in reference to Towns County’s “safety officer,” Emergency Management Agency-Homeland Security Director Brandon Walls, publicly alleging that the appointed official is a “convicted felon” and insinuating that Walls should not be trusted to hold the county position. “The only statement I will make at this time is that her accusation is false,” Walls said.
Developments are expected as a result of what the parties involved consider defamation.
Ms. Clinton did not respond to FYN’s request for comment, issued via email through Sheriff Clinton, prior to publication.
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YOUNG HARRIS, Ga. – The National Weather Service (NWS), in cooperation with Towns County Emergency Management Agency (EMA), held a SKYWARN storm spotter class Oct. 18 at the Towns County Emergency Operations Center. Towns County citizens, along with first responders from Hiawassee Police Department, Towns County Fire and Rescue, and Towns County Emergency Medical Services, attended the severe weather seminar. The course was conducted by Peachtree City NWS meteorologist Dave Nadler.
The SKYWARN class was designed to prepare participants to identify and report severe weather events, alerting the NWS of meteorological ground conditions and resulting damage to the area. Attendees were supplied with information on how to determine and monitor the structure of approaching storms, and what to report to the NWS in the event of severe weather. Safety instructions were included in the course.
Towns County became a StormReady community approximately 12 years ago, and re-certification is required by the NWS every four years.
Towns County EMA urged the community to sign-up for the CodeRED Weather Warning system, a computer-operated program that alerts residents of foul weather-related conditions. CodeRED Weather Warning is a unique service that automatically notifies citizens in the path of severe weather, moments after a warning has been issued by the NWS. CodeRED alerts are available at no cost.
The service delivers notifications to landlines and cell phones, emails, texts, social media, and/or mobile alerts. Residents and visitors will receive enhanced public safety alerts no matter where they are located via the CodeRED Mobile Alert app – a free public safety app for both Android and iPhone users. The CodeRED Mobile Alert app delivers community and emergency alerts to individuals targeted within an impacted geographical area so that citizens receive timely notifications when traveling away from home.
Feature Image: NWS meteorologist Dave Nadler leading the SKYWARN class.
YOUNG HARRIS, Ga. – Towns County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) encourages citizens and first responders with an interest in weather to attend an Oct. 18 SKYWARN training session in Young Harris. The course will cover the importance of storm spotters, the basics of thunderstorms, the relationship between the National Weather Service (NWS) and EMA with the media, basic radar interpretation, identification of potential severe storm features, information on reporting weather observations, and storm spotter safety tips.
SKYWARN storm spotters are an important group of volunteers that report severe weather, winter weather, and resulting damage to the NWS, the organization’s website explains. These reports aid the weather service in accomplishing its mission of “protection of life and property” by providing forecasters essential information of what is occurring at ground level. SKYWARN spotters receive training from the NWS, learning weather safety, storm structure, and reportable criteria. The course is typically held in conjunction with local government or area SKYWARN groups.
“Towns County has been certified as StormReady for several years,” Towns County EMA Director Brandon Walls said. “The recertification cycle is every four years, the last being in 2016.” In order to be recognized as StormReady, a county must meet criteria jointly established between the NWS and state-local emergency management officials. Approximately 230,000 citizens have participated in the SKYWARN program nationwide.
The SKYWARN course is scheduled Friday, Oct. 18, at the Towns County Emergency Operations Center at 1100 Jack Dayton Circle in Young Harris, GA, at 6 pm.
For additional information, contact Towns County EMA at email@example.com
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) Georgia Executive Director Edward Ahmed Mitchell contacted FetchYourNews (FYN) Oct. 2, regarding a controversial incident occuring in Towns County last Thursday. Mitchell voiced staunch criticism toward a media ban initiated at an event sponsored by the Towns County Republican Party at the Towns County Civic Center. FYN previously reported denied entry into the “conservation activism workshop” featuring national security consultant Chris Gaubatz. Mitchell boldly described Gaubatz in the phone conversation as an “expert in anti-Islam.”
Mitchell, a former criminal prosecutor and journalist, chided that prohibiting media access was an illicit act due to the fact that the meeting was held at a government facility. Mitchell stated that he was “not surprised” that the incident had occurred, describing Gaubatz as “paranoid” and “not willing to be criticized.” What has caused greater concern, Mitchell said, was that Gaubatz’s decision to thwart media coverage was conducted “in partnership with the sheriff.”
Gaubatz later extended an apology to FYN for prohibiting access to the “not super secret” meeting. Gaubatz explained that the decision to prevent entry was based on misleading information, presumably gained from Towns County Sheriff Chris Clinton, who was witnessed engaged in conversation with Gaubatz at the time that FYN was asked to leave.
The news was delivered to the political reporter by Towns County GOP 1st Vice Chair John Alger who falsely termed the meeting an “executive session.” Alger was reported by a law enforcement officer inside of the meeting as making light of the situation with Sheriff Clinton, repeating the phrase “executive session” as the reason given for denial. The issue has left local conservatives calling for Alger’s resignation as a Republican officer. Towns County GOP Chair Betsy Young, who has voiced apologetic disapproval, stated that an executive board meeting will likely take place in the near future.
Based on information gathered from sources, FYN’s reporter defines the incident as “deliberate suppression of freedom of the press set forth by an elected official sworn to uphold the Constitution.”
CAIR Georgia is expected to issue an official statement on Gaubatz and the controversial incident, adding that the organization intends to contact the Towns County Republican Party and Towns County Sheriff’s Office concerning the matter.
Furthermore, a Towns County Emergency Management/Homeland Security deputy director who accompanied the reporter to the event was prevented from attending, despite reservations and official credentials presented to the speaker and the sheriff. The matter is under investigation by Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) at this time.
Towns County Attorney Robb Kiker issued a formal statement on behalf of Towns County Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw, whom Kiker described as “prudent in protecting the integrity of the office.” Commissioner Bradshaw was not present at the event when the incident occurred, later learning details of the situation through third-party accounts.
“I understand Mr. Bradshaw personally expressed disappointment in the handling of the matter,” Attorney Kiker said. “This is characteristic of Mr. Bradshaw because I have always found him to be a strong supporter of the Constitution and, particular to this matter, the freedom of speech.”
Towns County Republican Chair Betsy Young, Towns County Sheriff Chris Clinton, and Security Consultant Chris Gaubatz did not respond to FYN’s invitation to comment on recent developments.
FYN archive: Chris Gaubatz event, March 2019:
HIAWASSEE, Ga.- According to the American Red Cross, while approximately 38 percent of the U.S. population is eligible to donate blood, only about 10 percent of those who are eligible actually donate. The demand for donated blood in our nation’s hospitals, however, is consistently high. It is estimated that roughly 40,000 pints of life-saving blood is used every single day, and the demand never decreases.
A total of 25 individuals signed up to donate blood at the Towns County Public Library, May 30. Towns County Emergency Management Agency hosted the event, and EMA Director and Paramedic Brandon Walls was on hand to sign in participants and answer donors’ questions.
Donated blood is used for a wide range of circumstances that can potentially affect anyone, which is also a primary reason people donate. Patients undergoing treatment for injuries suffered during an accident often rely on donated blood to save their lives. While all blood types are always needed, donations of more rare blood types are especially in demand. For example, people with O negative blood only make up about 8 percent of the population, but their blood can be given to patients of all blood types, making their donors highly needed.
Following an initial assessment which included various questions, along with body temperature, blood pressure, and hemoglobin checks, donors were led to begin the donation process which took approximately 10-15 minutes to complete. Juice and snacks were offered following the procedure in order to hydrate and restore the donors’ blood sugar levels.
Feature Image: Towns County’s FYN reporter, donating blood
Towns County EMA
Towns County Public Library
99 South Berrong Street
Hiawassee, GA 30546
Thursday, May 30, 2019
10 AM to 2:30 PM
Register online at redcrossblood.org
or call 706-896-6169.
ALL BLOOD TYPES NEEDED!
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Governor Nathan Deal issued a state-of-emergency for Georgia’s 159 counties ahead of the impact from Hurricane Florence, a downgraded Category 2 storm expected to stall over the southeastern states once it makes landfall.
While the anticipated effects from the remnants of Hurricane Florence on Towns County have not been determined as of yet, Towns County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) officials are closely monitoring developments as heavy rainfall and potential flooding is possible.
Towns County EMA is expected to provide a local forecast update at approximately noon today.
UPDATED, 9/14: Towns County EMA has advised that 1 – 4 inches of rain is possible over a 36-hour period, with 15 mph winds and 30 mph gusts.
UPDATED, 9/13 : Flash flooding with 30 mph winds could occur, late Sunday into early Monday, according to Towns County EMA Director Rickey Mathis. FYN will provide further updates, as necessary, as the remnants of Florence lash inland.
As of 8 a.m. on Thursday, Florence was approximately 275 miles east-southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina, and 220 miles east of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
According to the National Hurricane center, the storm was moving northwest at 12 mph, and had maximum sustained winds of approximately 110 mph.
In the event that area flooding becomes an issue, Towns County EMA will provide information, along with the locations and operating hours of local shelters.
Towns County EMA encourages residents to subscribe to the CodeRed emergency alert system. The automated service notifies citizens of pertinent, area-specific information.
September is National Preparedness Month, and FYN recently reported on the importance of emergency planning.
Follow FYN for weather updates as Hurricane Florence approaches.
Feature Image: Projected path provided by FOX News
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HIAWASSEE, Ga. – On the morning of Wednesday, March 14, a lock-down training exercise took place at Towns County School at 10 a.m.
While there was a call for a nationwide walk-out in remembrance of the 17 lives lost Feb. 14, 2018, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, many schools across the nation chose a proactive approach.
FetchYourNews (FYN) learned of the drill and hoped to highlight the positive measures taken.
In the aftermath of the Parkland tragedy, FYN has reported on the subject of school safety in Towns, Gilmer, Fannin, Union, Lumpkin, and Dawson County, Georgia, as well as Cherokee County, North Carolina.
While the ultimate safety of students is not being called into question, with FYN maintaining conviction that security is of the utmost concern for Towns County School administrators and Towns County first responders alike, unexpected questions arose during our research.
In a letter forwarded to FYN, dated March 13, 2018, and signed by Towns County Elementary Principal Dr. Sandra Page, parents of elementary school children were advised a day in advance that the drill would occur. The letter reads, in part, that “during an active shooter drill, it is necessary to reenact the scenario of a shooter on campus in order to find strengths and possible weaknesses in our emergency plans.”
The letter goes on to state that “local agencies such as the police, EMS (emergency medical services), and the fire department will be involved in this drill and will be arriving on campus.”
Following an unsuccessful, in-person attempt to acquire sufficient information on the active shooter drill from the Towns County Sheriff’s courthouse office, FYN contacted the emergency agencies listed as participants in the training exercise.
FYN was surprised to learn that the Hiawassee Police Department, Towns County Emergency Medical Services (EMS), Towns County Fire and Rescue, as well as the Towns County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) were not notified that a drill was scheduled, and therefore did not participate.
At a Movers and Shakers meeting held Feb. 23, Towns County Sheriff Chris Clinton, along with Towns County School Superintendent Dr. Darren Berrong, spoke with concerned citizens regarding school safety. The sheriff divulged that a few years had passed since an active shooter drill was conducted.
Sheriff Clinton opened his speech by recalling a recent conversation with Hiawassee Police Chief Paul Smith.
“The chief and I were just discussing this, what, a week ago maybe, that it’s about time that we do another one, and that we do it together,” Sheriff Clinton assured.
Sheriff Clinton continued, “How do we make our children safer? Now. Not some place down the road at some philosophical perfect normal for you, but right now. How do we do that? Frankly, at the end of the day, we have to make it a harder target.”
After referencing the 1999 Columbine tragedy, Sheriff Clinton asked, “What’s been done by the government to make our children safer? Not a single thing. Because a lot of people think they can get up and talk about it, and they can harp on whatever their pet issue is. I’m pro-gun, I’m anti-gun, whatever, but as long as they’re talking about it and people are listening, they are getting political mileage out of it, and they really don’t care. I’m sorry, but I care.
“I’m coming to silence the gun. I’m not coming to survive it. I’m coming to silence the gun,” Sheriff Clinton emphasized. “Frankly, that’s what I expect from every deputy sheriff and every law enforcement officer in this nation. God help me if I have to walk past my own children while they bleed. I’m coming to silence the gun.”
At the conclusion of the forum, Sheriff Clinton acknowledged a need to ensure all first responders are familiar with the school’s campus and lock-down procedure. The sheriff told those in attendance that it is up to the community to decide what level of security they want in place. “I work for you,” Sheriff Clinton reminded.
FYN contacted Sheriff Chris Clinton on the evening of the lock-down in anticipation of learning why his plans to include other emergency agencies had changed.
Sheriff Clinton failed to provide an explanation, focusing rather on garnering the individual identities of FYN’s sources. Shortly after asked if proper protocol was followed, a concern brought to the attention of FYN by an emergency official, Sheriff Clinton ended communication.
The following day, Thursday, March 15, FYN Chief Executive Officer Brian Pritchard sat down with Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales, Hiawassee Police Chief Paul Smith, and Towns County Fire Chief Harold Copeland, reconfirming the lack of communication and coordination.
FYN met with Superintendent Dr. Darren Berrong on Friday, March 16, in search of further clarification.
Berrong revealed that the active shooter drill was implemented between himself and Sheriff Clinton, following the Movers and Shakers forum.
When the question was posed concerning the absence of agencies, Berrong replied, “Well, (the school) wasn’t sure of everyone who was involved. I think there were some of those individuals there.” Upon learning that was not the case, Berrong stated there may have been a miscommunication in verbiage, saying, “Personally, for me, it wasn’t about the fire department. It was about the police officers.”
Berrong was then asked to recap the drill.
“At 10:00, Mr. Perren came over the announcement through all three schools and informed them we were going into a lock-down, that there would be police officers walking through the hallways, make sure to keep your doors locked, and to keep the kids in a safe area,” Superintendent Berrong explained. “While that was going on, police officers were making their rounds through the building, just to make sure they were still familiar with what the campus actually looks like, what’s going on during a lock-down, where can you go and where can’t you go in case there is a shooter in the school, and what areas can we access. They made their rounds through the school while we were in lock-down. We were in lock-down probably ten minutes. Our school isn’t a very big building, you can make a round through there fairly quickly. So ten to fifteen minutes, and pretty much that was the end of the drill.”
FYN inquired if there are plans to hold a subsequent active shooter exercise. “We may have further drills. We don’t have any planned currently,” Dr. Berrong said. “Sheriff Clinton and I are in discussion about this summer, getting together with all personnel, fire department and everyone, just to sit down and make sure everyone has plans of the school building, and make sure everyone has access to the ‘Crisis Go’ app, which alerts people when there is an emergency on campus, and just have another round-table discussion about what we are going to do when something like that happens, how do we shut the campus down. We had one of those several years ago, but it’s about time we had another one.”
FYN contacted Towns County School Facility Director Roy Perren. Director Perren relayed that the exercise was exclusively planned for the Towns County Sheriff’s Office and that there was never an intention to include other emergency agencies. The facility director added that a Towns County School meeting will be held in conjunction with the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) April 13 concerning the involvement of all first responders, should an emergency situation arise.
Elementary School Principle Dr. Sandra Page returned FYN’s request for comment on the afternoon of Monday, March 19.
Page stated that to her knowledge, the active shooter exercise was changed to simply a lock-down drill on the morning of March 14, shortly before the training occurred, excluding the need for the involvement of agencies other than the Towns County Sheriff’s Office. “I just wanted to get the information out so that students, parents, and teachers were aware that a drill was going to take place,” Dr. Page said. “That was my main concern.”
This left FYN with more questions than answers, considering that none of the emergency agencies listed in the letter had been notified that an active shooter drill had been scheduled.
Hiawassee Police Department, Towns County EMS, Towns County Fire and Rescue, and Towns County EMA state that their departments expect to take part in future training exercises.
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Towns County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) is offering a three-hour CPR and First Aid certification course to the public Friday, March 16, 2018, beginning at 3 p.m.
The class will take place at the Towns County Library, located next to the Towns County Courthouse.
EMA Director Brandon Walls, a paramedic and class instructor, tells FetchYourNews that in a critical cardiac event, acting fast and knowing what to do is the key to survival.
“Around 400,000 out-of-hospital cardiac arrest events occur every year in the U.S. Over 90 percent of potentially savable individuals experiencing an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest will die or suffer irreversible damage before help can arrive,” Walls explained. “The biggest reason for this large statistic is an untrained public. No age group is unaffected by this statistic.”
“First responders encounter these events every day and see family members who simply do not know what to do in an emergency,” Walls said.
Would you like to know what to do? Would you like to help family or friends in a critical emergency situation? Would you like to help lower the statistics?
If the answer is yes, register by calling 706-809-0454 or visiting the Towns County Public Library on South Berrong Street in Hiawassee.
The cost of the course is $30, paid by cash or check. The fee covers necessary materials, as well as a certification card.
Future classes may be offered based on demand.
Towns County EMA encourages citizens to visit their Facebook page and extends appreciation to the Towns County Public Library for hosting the event.
Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month in Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. – FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week and reaches between 15,000 to 60,000 per week on our Facebook page. – For the most effective, least expensive local advertising, call 706-276-6397 or email us at advertise@FetchYourNews.com
Towns County, GA – September is National Preparedness Month and Towns County government, along with the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) and Homeland Security, encourage residents to prepare for unexpected situations in advance.
Towns County, along with a nationwide coalition of thousands of private, public, and nonprofit organizations, will host local events and initiatives designed to motivate people to take the necessary steps to ensure their homes, workplaces and communities are prepared for disasters and emergencies.
“National Preparedness Month is a perfect opportunity for people to evaluate their emergency plan, and if they don’t have one, to make one,” says Rickey Mathis, Director of Towns County Emergency Management Agency.
Residents can learn how to prepare and stay informed in the event of natural or man-made disasters by visiting ready.ga.gov.
By creating a Ready Profile, Georgians can construct a tailor-made plan for their families which will include the specific amount of supplies necessary for household Ready kits.
In addition, the Ready Georgia mobile app provides preparedness information on the go.