Walled Lake, Huron Valley Schools Update Security Technologies
In the wake of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary, and others like it, schools are more concerned than ever about how to keep their students, staff and administrators out of harm’s way.
Walled Lake Consolidated School District already had undertook measures during the 2012-13 school year that included locking its doors and installing door monitors at each open door of each school. The monitors inquired of visitors who they were, and where they were going and directed them to the office, where they needed to sign in.
That was the first portion of a three-phase plan, explained Superintendent Ken Gutman.
The second was implemented at the start of the 2013-14 school year. Every building in the district has a AIPHONE audio/video intercom system installed at its entry doors, Which was installed before the start of the school year, said Bill Chatfield, director of operations.
“It’s worked very well,” Chatfield said. “The system allows each school to have locked doors all day long and for visitors to be identified before they enter the building by office staff ”.
Here’s how it works, he said: The visitor presses the button, notifying the person in the main office, He or she speaks with the visitor, asks who they are, and who the person is there to see. Once the visitor is properly identified, the office staff member pushes the button that releases the door latch.
Judy Evola, director of community relations added, “We always had a sign in and sign out; it’s merely the intercom allowing them access to the building. They still have to go to the office, get a visitor badge and sign out.”
She added, “The whole purpose of the system is to keep our buildings locked all day while students are in our building. You can never be too safe. The more barriers we put up, the more obstacles, the safer they are.”
Gutman said, “We are so grateful for our secretaries, they do such a wonderful job already.” Now they also are in charge of running the new system, identifying people before they enter at all facilities in the district.
Next in line are the security items which are included in the bond issue that will be voted upon November. 6, he said. The bond was primarily called for because, based on district parents’ input, their top priority was their children’s safety.
“They are willing to give up immediacy (of access) for safety,” the superintendent added. “We’d rather err on the side of caution. We’re going to treat all of our children like our own children.”
Chatfield said the initial items post-passage of a bond would include enhanced security surveillance inside and outside of each school, “to provide enhanced visibility and observation of all visitors.” Other items for the future are keyless entry systems for all schools. Staff and others with authorization would be issued key cards to swipe to gain entry.
Additional safety measures the district hopes to incorporate are upgrades to security alarms, fire alarm replacement, new Public Address (PA) and mass notification systems. Evola added that the district, which currently uses an analog phone system, also should upgrade to a new phone system.
Huron Valley Schools is still in the process of choosing a new, unified security system that will take its security to the next level, as discussed in a presentation on the topic by Kim Root, at its Monday, September 9 board meeting.
Root, who gave the summary presentation of Patriot Services’ findings, said the final report of the assessments, which took place at all district buildings during May and June, were received in August.
Patriot Services was chosen because it was locally owned and operated; in addition, the firm had previously been contracted by the district and has no association with any specific security products and technologies, ensuring an unbiased assessment.
An overview of the findings was shared with instructional staff on the district’s opening day.
They include the fact that while all schools are successful in limiting exterior doors used, “many unsecured doors go unmonitored for extended periods.” Among the considerations suggested were the installation of “a proximity access system on primary exterior doors,” with a particular focus upon the main entrance and doors regularly used for outdoor activities.
Patriot Services’ evaluation also suggested the district may wish to install a video access system that would allow communication between the person outside the door and those inside.
Weak points found during the assessment included areas such as propped open doors in the district’s many buildings. Solutions suggested include creating a district-wide policy to discourage this practice as well as conducting refresher training and performing regular walkthroughs to ensure it is being followed.
Another problem uncovered was that many of the exterior doors do not close properly. Patriot Services therefore recommended inspecting each one and adjusting so that they all will shut properly.
The question of visitor control also was raised in the assessment. Report solutions include laminated, school-specific visitor badges that include name, date and time and also to improve visitor accountability by emphasizing the importance of visitors signing out before they leave the school.
In addition to visitor badges, ID badges for staff can be problematic. Many staff members were observed without their ID cards on their persons. Reasons given included that the policy isn’t enforced as well as safety concerns the lanyards pose while instructing special education students. Root added as an aside that this was not a valid concern, since clip-on badges that can be worn at waist level are available to staff if they ask.
Patriot Services advised the district to “consider enforcing this policy in all buildings and ensure staff members properly display ID cards at all times,” again, suggesting that alternate means of wearing IDs be made available to alleviate any safety concerns.
Additional suggestions included:
· Installing hardware on inter-connecting classroom doors that allows the securing of adjoining rooms from either side
· Creating policy requiring all classroom doors/window to remain secure when not in use
· Enforcing “no parking” policies (In particular, Root said, there is an area at Milford High School near the loading dock where people park and block it. “Ticketing and/or towing are options that we may consider,” she added.
· Purchasing “go kits” for each classroom (consisting of a bag with water, snacks, class list and anything else deemed necessary if have to evacuate classroom, Root said.)
Improving key control, meaning that the district would issue fewer keys, only to those who really need them.
Considerations for the future might include reconstructing entrances to all buildings to funnel visitors directly to main office; constructing fencing around dumpsters, and installing protective bollards to prevent damage to utilities.
Already in progress is a 120- day plan to, as Root said, “tackle the low-hanging fruit. In other words, the district will immediately address items that are no-cost or low-cost, such as ensuring all ceiling hatches latch, automatic closing exterior doors, moving trash cans to safer areas, where potentially hazardous items would not be located right by school doors, making policy changes that improve safety, engaging in employee training, employing consistent visitor badges district wide, and RFPs for access control systems.
Scott Hiipakka, owner of Patriot Services in Commerce Township, said he was glad to help assess where the district stands from a security standpoint. As a parent of two students in the district, he applauds the district making “an honest assessment” of its strengths and weaknesses.
Secretary Bonnie Brown wanted to know why the district could not install an expandable intercom system that would allow all schools to keep their doors shut now that also would allow the district to add on to it later.
Hiipakka strongly advised against what he described as a “knee jerk response.”
“When we look at any technology, we need to make sure the system is expandable,” he explained. “You don’t want a ‘band-aid.’ I would not recommend you go with a temporary solution.”
The board will make further discussion of the system at its October board dialogue on October 7.
When asked by Vice President Rebecca Walsh, who ran the meeting due to Board President Sean Carlson’s military commitment being served, if he would be at that meeting, Hiipikka said he would be available as long as they needed him that day.