As published in the Marietta Daily Journal
Journalist: Dick Yarbrough
I have just visited the Cobb County Safety Village. You have to see it to believe it. I have seen it and I believe it to be one extraordinary facility. The Safety Village is one of only twenty in the nation. I doubt there is one better anywhere.
I toured the facility at the invitation of Allison Carter, currently in her third year as director. The Safety Village sits on eight-acres off Al Bishop Road and includes a 27,500-foot facility with four classrooms for children, two adult classrooms, a multipurpose room and a 127-seat theater.
To the rear of the building is a child-size city with scaled down but functional buildings, street signs, pedestrian crossings, a life-size locomotive and a school bus.
The staff consists of Carter, four full-time fire services personnel, two Cobb County police officers and a couple of administrative assistants.
In 1978, the state mandated fire and life safety training. Cobb County was already ahead of the game. Then-Cobb Fire Chief Dave Hinton had already started an education division in his department. From that grew the current Cobb County Safety Village.
Currently, all second- and fourth-grade students in the Cobb County School District, the City of Marietta schools and all private schools, save one, as well as home schoolers and special needs students come to the Safety Village for safety education. The facility also serves senior citizens through Cobb Senior Services.
A main feature inside the facility is Sparky’s House, an interactive house with a living room, kitchen and bedroom. Sparky’s House has simulated fire and smoke and teaches the youngsters escape methods. (Fall, find a wall and crawl along the floor to the nearest exit.) Does it work? Since 1978, Cobb County’s population has more than doubled but the number of fire-related deaths have been cut almost in half.
Another valuable lesson the kids learn is how to call 911 by cellphone or landline phone and also how to text. The exercise involves talking to an actual 911 operator. Carter cites several examples of where students who had been through such an exercise were able to possibly avert a serious situation.
All fourth-grade students have a session on bullying in the facility’s police classroom, including the different kinds of bullying, be it cyber-bullying, verbal or physical and what students should do when they are bullied.
An important part of the Safety Village is the Safe Kids facility, coordinated by WellStar, which is the only permanent child safety location in Georgia. Last year, Safe Kids averaged over 250 car seat inspections a month, making it among the top five in the nation.
Stepping out of the education building into the interactive village, I felt like Gulliver in the land of Lilliput. (Look it up.) All the buildings revolve around a miniature town square and are built to scale. There is the Cobb EMC building where students learn about electrical safety; the Cobb-Douglas Public Health building with a neat show-and-tell on personal hygiene; There is a Colonial Pipeline building showing youngsters how gas gets from a storage tank and across the country to the automobile gas tank.
In the village is a replica of the city of Kennesaw train station, along with a locomotive, train tracks and cross arms to emphasize pedestrian safety and a school bus to teach the kids about bus safety.
As impressive as the interactive village is, Carter says she plans to see it get even better with the help of the Safety Village’s Foundation and additional sponsors. She wants a grocery store to teach young people about good eating habits in an effort to curb childhood obesity and a Weather Channel-type facility to educate children on what to do during natural disasters.
In my opinion, the Cobb County Safety Village is a bargain. The education staff’s budget is $1.2 million and funded out of the county’s fire fund. The Education Building has a budget of $275,000 and is part of the general fund. The buildings in the interactive village are owned and maintained by the Cobb County Safety Village Foundation. Beyond that, saving a child’s life because of what they learned there is incalculable.
In part because of the good works of the Safety Village, the Insurance Services Office just awarded Cobb County Fire & Emergency Services with its Class 1 rating, the highest rating possible. Why should you care? Many insurance companies use ISO as a factor to determine fire insurance premiums. A Class 1 rating can be good for your pocketbook.
There are a lot of good things happening in Cobb County. Put the Safety Village at the top of the list and thank county manager David Hankerson who has been the driving force behind the effort. Mr. Hankerson should feel proud of what he has done. After having toured the place, I am proud he has done it.