Local schools takes steps to pump up security

PERKINS TWP. In the wake of Columbine and other school tragedies, schools are trying
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010



In the wake of Columbine and other school tragedies, schools are trying to find ways to keep students safe inside their buildings while keeping unwanted intruders out.

Within the last few years many area districts have upgraded building entrances from standard lock-and-key entry, installing security devices such as door buzzer-intercom-camera systems or finger-scanning devices.

The most widely used entry system in area schools is the buzzer with an intercom and camera. School districts using this system include Bellevue, Berlin-Milan, Monroeville, New London, Norwalk, Oak Harbor, Perkins, Plymouth, Port Clinton, Sandusky and Vermilion.

Perkins chose to install this type of system after consulting with the police department about building security.

"They gave us a road map of stuff to look at," Interim Superintendent Dennis Rectenwald said. Ideas ranged from reducing shrubbery where intruders could hide to adding extra security cameras.

Six months after the discussions began, Furry Elementary started using the entry system, and the remaining buildings are nearly ready to go.

"All the systems in the district are fully operational," Interim superintendent Dennis Rectenwald said Thursday. "We're just waiting on the proximity cards that should be in next week."

Proximity cards, which are swiped through a card reader for entry, will be supplied to all 250 staff and administrators within the district, excluding bus drivers.

Though the equipment, software and installation took a $28,400 chunk out of the permanent improvement fund, Rectenwald believes the security provided is worth the cost.

"Who can put a price tag on the security of children and teachers?" Rectenwald asked. "They're priceless; no amount can be put on that."

Students coming and going before or after school will continue to be monitored by faculty at the main entrances, but five minutes after the tardy bell rings the exterior doors in the building will be locked. All of the buildings excluding Perkins High School will have one main entrance. The high school will have the main office entrance as well as the athletic wing entrance.

Each of these entrances is equipped with the buzzer-camera-intercom system. Once a visitor presses the buzzer, the camera and intercom will help the office staff determine the person's identity and whether to allow the person inside the building.

During the school day, employees will be able to use their cards to enter or leave the building.

The doors will be unlocked from when dismissal bell rings until 10 p.m.

After 10 p.m. the custodians will do a security sweep. People may exit the building after this time, but only those who have privileges can reenter.

The cards will be programmed according to the employee's position and the specific times they can be inside the building. Cafeteria workers might only gain admittance during the hours 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., while coaches might be given access until midnight or later. All of this information is stored in a central software system.

The system can only be accessed by the district's maintenance supervisor and school board treasurer Lisa Crescimano. They are the only people in the district who can activate or deactivate cards and schedule events.

Rectenwald said the system is a great investment for those who pay taxes.

"Every time you have a key floating around out there a building would have to be re-keyed," he said. "That can get really expensive."

Rectenwald said he believes the new system will help prevent unwanted visitors and circumstances.

"All the precautions in the world can't prevent a tragedy," Rectenwald said. "We're concerned with the safety and security of all students faculty and staff. This is a different world than it was in the 80's."

Finger scanning system

Huron schools have not only implemented new technology, but have taken it one step further.

Superintendent Fred Fox said the district was looking for what future technology may bring rather than current need.

"Looking at technology in the future," he said, "I think a lot of public buildings are going to finger scanning. We decided to take the keys and cards out of it."

The Huron Eagles funded the $61,000 project; wiring will begin this week.

Fox said the scanning system does not store fingerprints. It recognizes certain points of focus on the finger -- not the entire print -- to pull up a match.

The district will work with a combination of the scanning system as well as the video surveillance and intercom for visitors wishing to enter.

Teachers and staff will watch the entrances before and after school hours. During the school day the building will be locked down with one or two points of main entry.

Only those with privileges stored in the database will be able to access the building after hours.

"I think it'll give you a little more peace of mind after school hours as well as during school hours," Fox said.

He said Huron's been waiting to allocate funds on something solid, and the finger-scanning system was the most up-to-date technology the district could find.

"It's going to take a while to get used to," he said, "but we'll be able to make sure we have the appropriate people in the building at all times. You can pass keys and cards off, but you can't pass off your fingerprint."

Locks, keys ... and video

Funds are an issue in the Sandusky Central Catholic Schools, as they are in most school systems, superintendent Sr. Mary Jon Wagner said.

"We are continuing to look for grants to help us strengthen security," she said.

The four campuses are equipped with security cameras focused on an unlocked main entrance. The office of each building has a monitor to view individuals as they enter.

The Holy Angels Campus, which houses preschool, pre-kindergarten and day care, uses the security camera-intercom-door buzzer system.

"Who makes the strongest security system?" she asked. "Anyone who wants to get in will get in. You just use your system and have student, teacher and visitor compliance to maintain a safe environment."

Wagner said grants are essential for security systems, which can be quite costly.

"Most of our efforts come from local grants," she said. "Sometimes local grants take longer, which is why you could say we are moving slower in the process."

Kenneth Trump, president of the National School Safety and Security Services, a Cleveland-based consulting firm specializing in school security, said any type of technology is a supplement to -- but not a supplement for -- a school safety program.

"Technology is only as good as the human behind it," he said.