[Image via youtube]

electionlineWeekly’s Mindy Moretti has a chilling – but important – story about a new program in Harford County, MD where election judges are now required to receive active shooter training along with their other mandatory preparations for Election Day:

Poll workers are trained in a variety of areas for early voting and election day. Everything from how to check in voters, start-up voting machines, shut down voting machines, what to do if the power goes out and what to do if they run out of ballots.

And now, all the election judges in Harford County, Maryland will be trained in one more element: What to do in the event of an active shooter.

“For a while now, in a lot of our election training classes, we would get at least one question about ‘What if…,’ explained Sara Mohan, program manager – Social Media & Outreach for the Harford County Board of Elections.

After attending an active shooter seminar at the Maryland Association of Counties 2017 Winter Conference given by the Harford County Sheriff’s Office, Election Director Kevin Keene and Deputy Director Dale Livingston knew that the time was right to answer “What if…”

“They were so impressed with the message and presentation by Deputy Tom Wehrle that they decided right then that the time was right to offer this message to the election judges,” Mohan explained. “There is no way that printed material could have the same impact of a live presentation. Particularly when it is presented by these deputies who are so dedicated not only to their mission as police officers, but to their desire to reach as many people as possible with their message.”

The board has set up four trainings for elections judges. The first one was held earlier this month in the auditorium at Harford Community College. With 237 election judges in attendance, Mohan said it was a packed house for the two-hour presentation.

In the first hour Deputy Brad Crossley discusses statistics and things to be aware of in terms of your surroundings and other things that could be signs to alert you for your safety.

The second hour, Deputy Wehrle gives guidance as to the tools you may have available, what you can do to protect yourself and others, and what to expect from the officers when they arrive on the scene. The options are to RUN, HIDE, FIGHT and he goes into the specifics of each one of these decisions you may have to make and the ramifications of each.

The Sheriff’s Office offers Civilian Response to Active Shooter/Assailant Training to any entity in Harford County that would like it, whether that be a government entity, private business, church, daycare centers, etc…  

“The training was not tailored specifically for the Board of Elections. They received our standard Civilian Response to Active Shooter/Assailant Training,” Deputy Crossley explained. “Our program is geared for any civilian entity and will help citizens remain as safe as possible in any scenario.”

The active shooter training is mandatory for all election judges in Harford County. The only judges excused are those who have received the training through other avenues. Mohan said that was about 10 judges. The judges are paid $50 for attending the training like they are for all election judge trainings. The cost to pay the election judges is the only additional costs the county incurs for the training.

Mohan said that by-and-large the responses from the election judges has been very positive about the training.

“The election judges who have attended so far, have come away with very positive comments and feel more empowered and informed,”

Mohan said in the current climate in the country and around the world that it cannot be ignored that any type of violent incident can happen at any time and anywhere and that by training election judges so their awareness is heightened and they can possibly save a life.

“There are risk management issues that we must address. This information can benefit the election judges no matter where they are, at school, church, the mall, or even a polling place,” Mohan said.

Deputy Crossley echoed Mohan’s comments about the importance of this training, not only for election day, but for every day.

“We would absolutely recommend this training for other counties, states, etc.,” Deputy Crossley said. “This training is invaluable to civilians to empower them and provide them knowledge in the horrible event they are ever involved in one of these incidents. No longer can we bury our heads in the sand and pretend this won’t happen. Knowledge is power and we love empowering our citizens.”

I’m sure all of us hope that no election judge, or anyone else, will ever need this training in real life – but kudos to Harford County for recognizing the interest and meeting the need. Thanks also to Mindy for picking up on this story and sharing it with the community – I’ll be interested to see if similar programs crop up elsewhere. Be careful out there and stay tuned …