Schools 'vigilant' one year after Newtown
December 13, 2013
Sac County Sheriff Kenneth McClure (left) walks the main entrance hall with East Sac County School liaison Kale Brady. The sheriff’s office and school staff have been working together to implement ALICE, a response system designed to give educators more ways to protect students if an intruder is spotted in the building.
Nearly a year ago, Adam Lanza, 20, opened fire in Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., killing 20 first-grade children and six adults before turning the gun on himself.
The shooting led school districts across the country to re-evaluate their own security measures and emergency plans. Local districts were no exceptions.
Most districts ultimately made only minor changes - ensuring that doors were locked during the day, installing cameras or buzzer systems at the doors, changing outdated locks - but the brutal tragedy reminded school officials to be ever-vigilant.
In the Carroll Community School District, a buzzer has been installed in each of its buildings, requiring visitors to identify themselves to the secretary via a video and audio feed before they are let in the building. The system is programmable to automatically lock at certain times. Throughout the day, educators have keycards to access the building. The system can also be programmed to accept keycards only during specific hours.
"It's been a good system for us," said superintendent Rob Cordes. "It was put in as a safety measure as a result of certainly much of the school violence from around the country."
The district is also working on a series of remodeling projects, including a renovation of the entrance at the middle school that would require visitors to pass through the office to gain access to the rest of the building.
It has also sent several staff members to ALICE training. The acronym stands for alert, lockdown, inform, counter, evacuate, as opposed to the more traditional lockdown reaction to an intruder scenario. Cordes said implementation of the more active policy will probably take place in the "near future."
In the Kuemper Catholic School System, officials have made efforts over the past few years to ensure all doors except main entrances are locked throughout the school day, said president Vern Henkenius in an email statement. Entryway and hallway camera systems have been upgraded. Some funding from the district's current capital campaign will be used for security upgrades, such as renovation of the high school's west entry, cited by Henkenius as a "major priority."
In the Glidden-Ralston Community School District, the number of doors left unlocked was significantly restricted, and a survey on building, safety and security was sent to the staff.
According to superintendent Rob Olsen, the district's insurance company conducted a safety and security audit earlier this week. The board is considering rekeying the building and relocating the central office closer to the main entrance to more easily require visitors to check in
In the Jefferson-Scranton Community School District, efforts have been made to ensure all doors except the main entrances are locked throughout the day. The high school has a keycard system that restricts access to the building. Superintendent Tim Christensen said officials hope to install similar systems in the rest of the buildings as well.
"Not because of security issues so much as the building is 50, 60 years old. You never know how many keys are out there," he explained. "That eliminates that question."
In the Coon Rapids-Bayard Community School District, officials tightened security following the Newtown shooting, said superintendent Rich Stoffers. Exterior doors are locked except for two main entrances, and visitors and staff are now required to wear identification badges.
Three keyless-entry companies have presented proposals to the board, and Stoffers expects a visual and audio buzzer system to be in place by mid-January.
"It was always something we had considered, but we definitely became more keenly aware that we needed to move a little quicker," said Stoffers.
A safety and security expert reviewed the district's emergency plans, and then arrived in the school unannounced to test access. The district is also considering a move to the ALICE response plan but has not made a decision.
"We may not have totally changed our planning safety procedures, but we're continuing to review," said Stoffers. "It's definitely something on out minds."
In the IKM-Manning Community School District, officials are waiting to make significant security upgrades until they decide how the district will be restructured. However, they did install cameras at the middle school in Manilla and at the elementary school in Irwin, said superintendent Tom Ward.
A buzzer system and a move to the ALICE response program are also under consideration. The district also changed several locks and began locking more of its doors following a law-enforcement evaluation of school security.
According to Ward, the upgrades were already under discussion before the Newtown shooting. However, the tragedy did prompt district officials to review their procedures, as well as their equipment.
In the Ar-We-Va Community School District, no security changes were made following the shooting at Sandy Hook. According to superintendent Kurt Brosamle, all doors except the main entrances were already being locked, and cameras were already installed on these entrances.
"We're about as tight as we can get right now, except to lock everybody out, period," he said. "We haven't had any issues or problems, and I hope we never have to worry either."
In the Audubon Community School District, officials have been tougher about who is in the building since the Sandy Hook shooting, said superintendent Brett Gibbs. Visitors must be identified as such, and teachers wear identification badges as well. Camera and communication systems have been updated, so every room is now linked into the system to send and receive calls and announcements.
The communication system had not been updated since the school was built in the 1960s. Though the district already intended to upgrade it, the Newtown tragedy made it a higher priority, said Gibbs.
The district is planning renovations on the elementary school that will include a secure entrance through a central office. Though Gibbs does not want to see a buzzer system installed at the high school, he believes it will happen eventually.
"When the current entrances were designed, I'm sure they never dreamed about the time they would need to lock it down," he explained. "Now there is more pressure" for additions such as a buzzer system.
The administrators have been making extra efforts to work with local law enforcement to check security both in the buildings and during school events. Gibbs said he would also like to work with other area districts to share a resource officer.
In reviewing scenarios, Gibbs said, he would be as worried about the accidental damage the public could cause as the intentional damage a shooter could cause. He is confident the teachers could keep kids safe, but he doesn't know how a small town's limited law enforcement could control the overwhelming response to an intruder call dispatched through police scanners.
"We're a rural community. We'd probably have 300 people show up in pickups with guns," said Gibbs.
He'd like to think he doesn't live in an area where such a thing could happen, but the Newtown residents probably had the same thoughts, he added.
"I'd just as soon not be an administrator that has to do all that," he said. "We take the steps we can without making it a fortress. We still want parents to feel welcome to be a part of the school."
In the South Central Calhoun Community School District, a few cameras have been added to the buildings and the buses, but no other security changes have been made in the last year.
According to superintendent Jeff Kruse, there are no current plans to install a buzzer system. Educators concerned with safety are focused on addressing bullying more than building security. Officials had already reviewed the district's safety plan before the shooting in Newtown.
"It continually makes people more aware that we live in a time you have to constantly look at monitoring and re-evaluating safety and security at school, home and in communities," he said.
In the East Sac County Community School District, officials expedited the installation of a keyless-entry buzzer system. The district already requires all adults in the buildings to be clearly identified with different colored lanyards - for visitors, the color is bright neon green, making them easy to spot, explained superintendent Kevin Fiene.
The most significant change a local district made int he aftermath of Newtown was the East Sac decision, not to discuss, but to implement ALICE. The decision was driven by statistics from past school shootings that show survival rates are higher if potential victims fight or flee, rather than locking down and trying to hide, said Fiene. The staff has been working with the local sheriff's office to complete training and establish evacuation routes.
The ALICE program is discussed more fully in the accompanying article.
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