Area school districts continue looking for ways to improve security
Experts said things like keeping classroom doors locked and forming crisis teams within schools can be some of the most effective methods for preventing shootings and other tragedies.
As students across the country call for legislators to implement gun control to stop school shootings, local school districts are using more and more high tech measures to protect their classrooms.
Many area school districts already have rebuilt the entrances to their buildings to create secure vestibules that force visitors to enter through the office, installed security cameras in their buildings or on their buses, and made arrangements with local police to have an officer visit the school or maintain an office there.
Now they’re adding specialized software to the tools they have to protect students.
Centennial School District Chief Financial Officer Chris Berdnik said that in the last few months, the district has approved spending $2,200 on emergency medical training for staff members in each school and $2,200 on a software application called GAGGLE that tracks threatening social media posts.
“This isn’t just reactionary,” he said of the latest measures. “These were all in the works before Parkland.”
The school board at Central Bucks, Bucks County’s largest school district, recently approved spending $150,000 for the School Gate Guardian visitor management system at all 25 of its buildings.
School Gate Guardian requires all visitors to run their driver’s licenses through a kiosk, which then checks the visitor’s name against a national database of sex offenders and prints out a photo visitor’s sticker. The system is similar to the Raptor System used in Council Rock, Morrisville and other area districts.
“We are always evaluating our school safety measures and some discussion had occurred on these products prior to Parkland, but the tragedy in Florida did expedite these new safety measures,” Central Bucks Superintendent John Kopicki said.
Several area school facilities now are using Blazemark, described as an internet-based “all hazard pre-incident planning program” by Jamie Haddon, vice president of sales for Upper Makefield-based Fire Planning Associates Inc., the company that makes Blazemark.
The New Hope-Solebury School District and Middle Bucks Institute of Technology in Warwick use Blazemark. The Bucks County Intermediate Unit uses the program at its headquarters in Doylestown Township and buildings in Lower Southampton, Middletown and Perkasie, where children go for programs like Head Start.
The cost depends on the number of square feet being covered by the system, Haddon said. New Hope-Solebury pays $3,000 a year, MBIT $745 a year and the IU about $1,500, officials from those schools and agencies said.
The program provides instant access for all first responders to detailed floor plans of all school buildings they might have to respond to, and tells them what entrance to use in case of an incident and what is stored in each room, including chemicals.
“It’s able to give information about every square inch of a building,” said Haddon, former president/CEO of United Way Bucks County.
MBIT Facilities Manager Rich Hansen said, “It also allows first responders to access security cameras to see what is going on.
“It takes the element of surprise away from first responders who might have to come here,” he continued. “I think it’s an absolute bargain.”
Bucks County Intermediate Unit Operations Director Kasey Kollar said the use of Blazemark has allowed the IU to “maximize our preparedness.”
He is chairman of the Bucks County Schools Safety and Security Council, a group of officials from county school districts that meets to discuss best practices in school security. He also coordinates a Bucks County and state purchasing consortium that will seek to make Blazemark available as cheaply as possible to other schools.
Steve Satterly, analyst for the nonprofit Safe Haven School Safety Center in Macon, Georgia, said taking steps to prevent tragedies like Parkland is vital but shouldn’t prevent school officials from viewing the wider security picture.
“One kid dying is horrible, but we’ve seen school districts so occupied with active shooter preparation they overlook things like proper fire alarm drills, transportation safety and what to do in case of a weather emergency,” Satterly said. “It has to be a holistic approach.”
Fairly basic measures like locking doors during classes and having crisis teams in line at all schools can go a long way toward preventing tragedies like Parkland, he added.
Kenneth Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services in Cleveland, said he warns his clients against the “do something, do anything and do it soon approach” to school security.
“There can’t be tunnel vision on active shooters to the extent schools are ignoring the much more common security concerns like non-custodial parents coming in,” he said. “We’ve seen schools that don’t hold regular lockdown drills and don’t have crisis teams in place. You can’t overlook the fundamentals.”
If your educational facility or corporation need assistance in creating, updating or auditing your life safety and emergency preparedness plans (EOP) or conducting training, contact Blazemark at 800-965-0041 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The creators of Blazemark pre-planning software, FirePlanningAssociates.com, has extensive experience in preparing pre-incident plans for government and business. This experience also includes incorporating plans into tabletop exercises and full scale drills where all stakeholders can learn and practice skills in preparation for natural disasters and man made incidents. Get more information at www.getBlazemark.com.
Jamie Haddon has nearly 30 years of emergency service experience, serving six different fire/ems/rescue departments and obtaining a graduate degree in Public Safety Management. He also has extensive community building experience as a Major Gift Fundraiser in the non-profit world and has served as the President and CEO of the United Way of Bucks County before joining FirePlanningAssociates.com. You can follow him on social media @JamieHaddon and @getBlazemark