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Area School Districts Update Security Systems

by and on October 01, 2013 12:00 PM

With the 2013-2014 school year in full swing, area school districts continue to make updates and improvements to their security systems to ensure the highest level of safety for students and faculty.

Some of the changes are in response to school violence that has occurred in recent years across the country, and others are routine revisions as part of the districts’ overall plans.

Following a physical audit after the Sandy Hook tragedy in December 2012, the State College Area School District added panic buttons to all of its buildings, increased training for staff and refined the drill procedures and frequency, according to Ed Poprik, State College Area School District’s director of the physical plant.

“In response to the tragedy at Sandy Hook, we partnered with local law enforcement, emergency responders and other security experts to complete a physical audit of all of our buildings,” he says, similar to the one completed after the Columbine school shootings in 1999.

“At the high school, this audit also led us to make improvements in terms of restricting access to the buildings,” he says. “Because of the large number of students that move between the buildings for class change, the campus had previously been ‘open’ with many unlocked doors.”

Over the summer an electronic access system was installed that will unlock the doors between the buildings during a class change and re-lock them at the beginning of each period. Additionally, a “buzz-in” system was installed for each of the main offices.

The school district’s security efforts are broad and encompass many strategies to protect the students. In the years since the Columbine tragedy, the district has continually looked to improve security and has made yearly revisions to its “All Hazards School Safety Plan.”

Some of the changes that have been made over the years, in addition to panic buttons, the “buzz in” security system and increased staff training, include employee identification badges, locking all perimeter doors, a video surveillance system in the secondary buildings, and “secure in place” drills.

“This will continue to be an ongoing effort for us and we will make changes as needed,” he says.

Bald Eagle Area High School is discussing putting into place a School Gate Guardian, which is a visitor check-in system. The program scans visitors’ identification cards when they sign in, and uses information from Megan’s Law database, says John Peters, school safety coordinator at the Bald Eagle Area School District.

The system would be installed at all of the district’s buildings, he says, explaining that the idea was inspired by administrators being aware of its recent launch at Bellefonte Area School District.

Now, visitors check in face-to-face and are required to sign in.

Additionally, the school district has added more security cameras. There are now approximately 92 cameras within the middle and high school and Wingate Elementary School, Peters says.

“We keep adding them as we see little areas we need improvement,” he says.

The school district is also in the process of implementing a keyless entry system at Mountaintop Area Elementary School.

Recently school administrators started using a “Principong” software application on their iPhones, which uploads information on students, such as demographics and medical information, says Jeff Miles, Bald Eagle Area School District superintendent.

With the app, administrators can access the information from anywhere. It enables them to see who belongs and who doesn’t belong, from a football game or in the hallway, to during an evacuation.

The updates to the schools are a “continuation of keeping ahead,” Peters says, explaining that every level added is “needed in protecting students and staff.”

Miles says the school district practices drills, lockdowns and evacuations on a regular basis throughout the school year.

He says safety is taken very seriously, and safety precautions are for the whole Bald Eagle community.

“Our childrens’ safety comes first and foremost,” Miles says.

Philipsburg-Osceola School District is in the process of adding additional security cameras at its new middle school and its elementary school buildings, and this past summer it implemented self-expiring identification stickers at the middle school, says superintendent Gregg Paladina.

“We have … implemented a policy where all staff wears ID badges,” he says. “Everyone does that.”

The new middle school was designed with an entrance that has two double doors which forces parents to enter through the office.

“Our administrative team has worked closely with both Centre and Clearfield County officials to develop the county-wide emergency response plan,” says Paladina. “We are constantly evaluating security measures at our monthly safety team meetings and bi-monthly administrative team meetings.”

This story was produced by the staff at the Centre County Gazette. It was re-published with permission. The Centre County Gazette is a weekly publication, available at many locations around Centre County every Thursday morning.

Staff Writer at The Centre County Gazette
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