College Community School District administrators aim to buy seconds with new building security systems

Other school districts following suit; some with stricter measures

Published: December 17 2013 | 5:00 am - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 12:56 am in
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Weekdays between the hours of 9 a.m. and 3:45 p.m., anyone seeking entry to Prairie High School has to go through Brenda Haendler. One push of the building secretary’s finger can unlock the main doors.

“It’s usually kids coming in late or kids whose parents are picking them up,” said Haendler, who one day counted over 200 guests coming to the building.

Since, Nov. 11, this is the new normal at all College Community School District schools. That day last month is when the new building entry system debuted districtwide. Prior to then, “It was impossible to monitor people coming and going,” said Superintendent John Speer.

Now, each visitor presses a button at the building’s entrance. The button connects to a box at the building secretary’s desk and a camera allows that person to see the visitor and ask his or her name and reason for arriving at the building. The secretary then either sends a building employee to greet the person or allows him or her to walk in. Students can just show their identification badges to the camera lens and gain access.

Nonstudents who enter buildings, perhaps for meetings or to volunteer in classrooms, then must sign in electronically. If someone is just dropping something off for a student, typically a staff member will just meet that person at the door and retrieve the items. For large events when many community members will enter the school, Speer said staff have the capacity to shut down the system.

“It’s just another level of safety,” Speer said of the system. “It’s especially important at the buildings (Prairie High, Prairie Creek Intermediate and Prairie Crest Elementary schools) where the offices aren’t near the entrances.”

The entry system, which Speer estimated cost $4,000 per district building, was the result of a building safety audit administrators invited the Cedar Rapids Police Department to perform in January – weeks after the Dec. 14, 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. that left 26 students and staff members dead. That structure reportedly also had a monitored entry system, in which office staff had to visibly identify visitors before allowing them to enter the school’s locked doors, in place at the time of the tragedy.

“What you hope in the worst case scenario the security system buys you 10 or 15 seconds and that’s the difference of getting help there,” said Speer.

Laurel Day, security administrator for the Cedar Rapids Community School District, shared a similar sentiment.

“It’s all about seconds,” she said. “It’s all about putting in additional efforts to help staff and students, who are your first responders in these situations because our first responders used to be law enforcement but by the time law enforcement get there the event is over. … It’s all about survivability.”

Cedar Rapids Community School District

As of summer 2013, all Cedar Rapids district buildings have security cameras.

“We actually sped up the process of putting cameras in buildings and actually finished that project a year ahead of schedule,” Day said. “Cameras are great because they do provide a deterrent but they also provide you, after the fact, a lot of evidence. I think it was very important for us to finish that project.”

The elementary and middle schools all use a camera and buzz-in system similar to the one installed at College Community schools. Because of the high traffic and multiple buildings at some high school campuses, Day said administrators opted against using the entry system there.

“High schools are just a different breed,” Day said. “The kids are much more independent. The traffic flow is much more fluid. … The way that the buildings are set up, to put a buzzer system in to go from one building to another building doesn’t work out well.”

In January, Day underwent Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate (ALICE) training in order to learn how to best respond if a shooter enters a school building. She’s taken some of that information and applied it to building security efforts.

Things in the Cedar Rapids district are also changing for building staff. Phased implementation of a card access system – already in place at Washington, Jefferson and Kennedy high schools at a cost of about $15,000 per building, estimated Buildings and Grounds Manager Rob Kleinsmith – is set to reach McKinley, Nixon, Van Buren, Cleveland, Metro and Wilson schools by the end of the 2013-14 academic year.

The system provides each staff member with an identification card containing a programmable chip that allows them to enter the buildings, Day said, and allows district staff to track who is in buildings while also limiting access.

“We know we can’t prevent something from happening but we can provide barriers,” Day said. “Everything you put in is a false sense of security. … If someone is determined to get in, they will.”

Iowa City Community School District

In April, the Iowa City Community School District’s school board approved a $4.8 million building safety and security enhancement plan. District documentation shows that $56,000 of that was allocated for a new visitor management system.

Earlier this month the school board opted to indefinitely delay adoption of the Raptor system, which requires visitors to show a photo ID in order to enter a school during the day. Office staff would then use the technology to scan the card, generate a temporary sticker for the guest to wear in the building and perform a background check for any sex offenses in the visitor’s history.

“At the time, we had no standard methods of visitor management throughout the district, and had some incidents with non-custodial parents attempting to pick up children, so we thought this was a good system to address those and other concerns,” wrote David Dude, chief operating office for the district in an email to The Gazette. “The Raptor system does not replace physical security methods, such as the buzzer/camera system or secure entrances where visitors are physically prevented from entering the building without checking in at the office first.”

The enhancement plan also calls for front-entry door cameras at building entrances, electronic door access and intruder locks which allow classroom doors to be locked from both the inside and outside – which Prairie will have installed on all classroom doors by summer 2014, Speer said.

To him, though, precautions are just that: precautions.

“No system is fool proof. No system will guarantee 100 percent safety,” Speer said. “They’re designed to slow down or momentarily stop or slow down someone getting into the building who shouldn’t be.”

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