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Monday August 15th

UNC system’s safety director brings Secret Service experience to North Carolina

Formerly in U.S. Secret Service

Brent Herron, Associate Vice President of Campus Safety and Emergency Operations for the UNC system, discusses what his job entails. Part of his job includes making sure that every UNC campus has a safety system and a way for students to find out if there is an emergency. He also discussed what it was like working for the Secret Service and how the skills he learned during that job help him at his current job in the UNC system. He explained that safety is a very personal issue for him.
Buy Photos Brent Herron, Associate Vice President of Campus Safety and Emergency Operations for the UNC system, discusses what his job entails. Part of his job includes making sure that every UNC campus has a safety system and a way for students to find out if there is an emergency. He also discussed what it was like working for the Secret Service and how the skills he learned during that job help him at his current job in the UNC system. He explained that safety is a very personal issue for him.

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, as the first planes struck the World Trade Center, President George W. Bush read “My Pet Goat” to elementary students.

Outside that Florida classroom, wearing an all black suit and an earpiece, Brent Herron stood guard as a member of Bush’s personal protection — the United States Secret Service.

For Herron, now the vice president of campus safety and emergency operations for UNC-system schools, that morning would become one of many unforgettable moments in a lifelong career of security and law enforcement.

Now, nearly a decade later, after personally protecting all of the living presidents, from Jimmy Carter to Barack Obama, Herron works to ensure those kinds of moments don’t happen on North Carolina’s college campuses.

“It’s sort of like the equivalent of protecting the president. You can do everything you want to do, every day, 365 days a year, but there’s always a chance something can happen.”

Hired by the UNC system in response to the Virginia Tech shootings in 2007, Herron is responsible for preparing campuses for any threats that come their way.

“I’ve been there and done it, and just about everything I have learned in over 30 some years of being in this profession I use on a regular basis in this job,” he said.

Herron works with campus police departments to prepare and prevent everything from swine flu outbreaks to school shootings.

He also oversees the budget for campus safety for system schools.

“He really serves as an advocate for the public safety department on UNC-system campuses,” said Jeff McCracken, the director of public safety for UNC-CH.

“The individual campuses still maintain their autonomy, but he’s the catalyst that brings all those systems together.”

Herron’s journey from protecting heads of state to protecting state college students began in Durham, his birthplace.

He worked for the city’s police department in the 70’s after graduating from East Carolina University and climbed the ranks in both the police and fire departments.

Along the way, he advanced using hard work and an all-business attitude, said Glenn Millan, Herron’s former colleague.

“I’ve been with him the whole way, we made sergeant in the Durham police department on the same day and went into the Secret Service afterwards,” Millan said.

“He’s always been hardworking, focused and dependable — he’s a great guy to back you up.”

That’s something campus police chiefs know well, said Tom Younce, chief of police at N.C. State University.

“He’s very reliable,” Younce said. “He helped secure a grant for a live shooter drill on campuses that I’m sure we wouldn’t have been able to do without him.”

Much of the time Herron advocates for campus police departments like Younce’s.

He works with the UNC General Administration and local police departments to make sure the campuses have necessary funding, training and resources for safety.

That reliance on cooperation among several agencies is one of the most significant similarities with the Secret Service, where agents work with local law enforcement, federal agents and communities to protect heads of state and conduct criminal investigations, Herron said.

“I worry about everything, and I seriously do,” he said.

“There are certain things out there that you really can’t stop. You just have to try to prepare people to respond to it and deal with it.”

Contact the State & National Editor at state@dailytarheel.com.

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