Position: District Safety Coordinator
School: Ware Shoals High School
School District: Ware Shoals School District #51
City, State: Ware Shoals, SC
Music that Describes Eric
Eric Cox was nominated by his superintendent, Dr. Fay Sprouse.
"Get your phones out now and put my number in there. If you need me, I don’t care if it’s 11 at night, call me."
Thus begins each grade level meeting the first week of school at Ware Shoals High School, Mr. Cox’s alma mater and home base. He has served as District Safety Coordinator for Ware Shoals School District 51 for the past 10 years. This role is perfect for the Retired First Sergeant with the South Carolina Highway Patrol and Retired Master Sergeant with the South Carolina Army National Guard.
Mr. Cox is making a difference in his district, region, and state as he works to make school campuses and communities safer through prevention efforts and training. He developed a student-led First Responder program for his district called Squad 51. Students selected for this program become members of the Firefighter Explorer Program at their local fire department, which helps fill the need for volunteer firefighters in rural communities. He trains the students in CPR/AED, First Aid, Stop the Bleed, and use of the proper personal protective equipment. Squad 51 members respond to medical emergencies on and off campus, providing timely assistance to responding emergency units.
Mr. Cox provides Squad 51 members with reflective vests and go bags that contain the tools necessary for emergency response. He has these students provide assistance during special events, from directing traffic and parking cars, to helping those who are handicapped get into the building and onto the elevator. Squad 51 members also help serve food to the elderly during the school's Thanksgiving meal. Additionally, they present the colors at the town Veterans Day program, and they provide support during deployment ceremonies for the local National Guard unit. In a news story for Fox Carolina, Mr. Cox noted, “This is a way for our young people to start early and give back to our community.”
Thanks to the program Mr. Cox started in the 2015-16 school year, all ninth grade students receive the American Heart Association’s CPR/AED training and tourniquet training. One of the students he trained saved her grandmother’s life by performing CPR while waiting on emergency personnel to arrive. Other students have come to the aid of people in life or death situations, including Hunter, one of the Squad 51 students. He assisted a fellow FFA camper this summer during a serious asthma attack.
“Mr. Cox is a great role model," said Hunter. "He is always looking for ways to advance our training, so that when we get the call, we know how to jump right in and get the job done.”
Another student, responding to a call with his fire department, helped perform CPR on a heart attack victim. His fire chief praised his valiant attempt to save the victim’s life.
Last fall, a bus from a neighboring district crashed, seriously injuring many children and adults. Two Squad 51 students responded to the accident, helping remove victims from the bus and get medical attention. Meanwhile, Mr. Cox led members of the district’s Emergency Response Team in opening a reunification site so that families could be reunited with children who had not been transported to hospitals.
After that tragic event, Mr. Cox saw a need for a Reunification Mobile Unit (RMU) and Mobile Response Teams (MRT) from surrounding districts, so he undertook this project. The RMU will be a station stocked with supplies necessary for reunification, like parent forms and Wi-Fi hot spots. The trained MRTs will also travel to the scene of the emergency to provide assistance to the affected school district, the victims, and the victims' families.
“Eric has worked with the local government and other agencies to develop detailed response and reunification plans,” said George McKinney, Emergency Management Coordinator for Greenwood County. “He not only has plans, but he has trained on them and exercised them to ensure those tasked are knowledgeable and able to execute. He shares his knowledge and time with other school district safety managers to help them improve their programs. One project Eric spearheaded was the sharing of his plans in a secure on-line program. His forward thinking has led to all the response agencies, teachers (including substitutes), and administrators having quick access to those tools they need online.”
Ware Shoals School District 51 was the first in the state to go online with the Palmetto EOC system, which provides emergency responders and dispatchers with crisis plans, floor plans, training schedules, and access to camera systems. Mr. Cox also procured radios that are used by each school to communicate directly with law enforcement and fire dispatchers, which will save precious minutes in the event of a crisis.
This past summer, Mr. Cox teamed up with Wayne Freeman, Special Agent for the SC State Law Enforcement Division, to conduct reunification training for all surrounding school districts and agencies. In addition, he led his district in becoming the first in South Carolina to host the Active Attack Integrated Response Course (AAIR). The AAIR, taught by Texas State University trainers, is a 16-hour course designed to improve integration between law enforcement, fire, telecommunication and emergency medical services (EMS) in active attack / shooter events.
Mr. Cox is committed to ensuring all students, staff, as well as emergency responders know what to do in case of an emergency in one of the schools. He even meets individually with teachers to tell them how they should arrange their classrooms for students’ safety, and he teaches all students, in an age-appropriate manner, how to best respond in case of a crisis. This summer, after training substitute teachers that his district employs through a staffing service, Mr. Cox was hired to train all of the staffing services's substitute teachers in the region. He is an Alive at 25 instructor, and he offers frequent sessions to area students, teaching them how to make safe, respectful and legal driving decisions.
Mr. Cox has spoken to many civic and parent groups, and he has provided safety training for church groups in the area. SLED Agent Freeman recognized the talent and dedication of Mr. Cox, and he has invited him to be a presenter at the SLED school safety conference this fall. Hundreds of people have received training at no cost thanks to the efforts of Mr. Cox and his commitment to making schools and communities safer places to learn and grow.
"Mr. Cox is making a beneficial, life-changing difference for schools, communities, individuals, and groups through his vision, leadership, and service," said Sprouse. "He may be seen in our schools and on our campuses early in the morning and late at night, on weekdays and even on weekends. He answers his calling – school safety – and he will answer that phone, even if a student calls him at 11PM on a Saturday night to say ‘I need you,’ because he truly cares."