Dare County administration building

Visitors to the Dare County administration building must go to a front desk and wait to be escorted to the office they want to go to. 

HERTFORD, N.C.

The town council here meets in a small administration building where anyone intending harm would face little resistance.

Referring to last week's Virginia Beach shooting, Hertford council members discussed Monday redirecting $10,000 or more of its budget funds and could install a panic button for staff, bulletproof glass at the reception window and a steel door to the administrative offices.

"Everywhere it happens, they didn't think it was going to happen there," said Frank Norman, a councilman. "It needs to be addressed immediately."

Most cities and counties from Hampton to Dare County have already installed a range of security measures following deadly shootings of recent years. Last week's assault sparked renewed safety evaluations and changes.

Buildings can be almost guaranteed gun free with enough safety hurdles in place, said Eddie Caldwell, executive vice president and general counsel for the North Carolina Sheriffs' Association. His organization conducts security evaluations for county facilities.

The more edgy ideas include making employees as well as patrons pass through metal detectors. In Hertford, there was a brief debate over arming the staff.

"If you lock it down that tight, are people using that facility going to put up with it," he said. "Everybody has to balance the cost and inconvenience for security."

In Portsmouth, the city has added security guards and police are making extra trips to the administration building, said spokeswoman Dana Woodson. There has been an increase in active shooter drills and workplace violence training.

The public can go to the front desk, but elevators to other parts of the building remain available, she said.

"There are things we are reviewing," she said.

The Norfolk City Council discussed building safety at a work session Tuesday. The city plans to hire a security consultant to look at relocating high traffic offices to the lowest floors to help control unnecessary traffic through the entire building.

Active shooter training is now mandatory, said spokeswoman Lori Crouch.

Chesapeake was already in the middle of installing brighter lights around the building, upgrading video monitoring and cutting back landscaping for better visibility, said spokesman Heath Covey.

The City of Hampton had already redesigned its lobby to direct visitors to a security station. Employees go through other secure entrances. In Dare County, visitors report to a front desk and must be escorted to the office they need and escorted back out again.

Currituck County administrative offices are located in a building constructed in the 1800s. The exterior doors were not even locked overnight until a couple of years ago, said county attorney Ike McRee.

Offices are lined along hallways on two different floors without a central reception area. It is possible to walk the entire building unobstructed. The sheriff and emergency management are evaluating the safety of the Currituck buildings, he said.

Years ago, a large man and his wife upset over a zoning issue entered the building, went upstairs and confronted McRee in a conference room. He was not armed, but threatened to hurt McRee by striking him, McRee said. His wife was cheering him on. A clerk called 911 and a deputy arrived shortly afterward. McRee managed to avoid the man by staying behind the conference table.

It could have happened even with heavy security, he said. The man entered unarmed and with the intent of talking about zoning. He could have passed by guards or a front desk.

McRee said he feels safe in the building.

The public must pass through metal detectors in Pasquotank County to get to the courts or administrative offices. Employees have cards to allow them to enter other doors, said county manager Sparty Hammett.

The county plans to get a security assessment from The North Carolina Sheriffs' Association, he said.

"The way we're doing it right now would not stop what happened in Virginia Beach," he said.

Jeff Hampton, 252-491-5272, jeff.hampton@pilotonline.com

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