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Safety comes down to access, Charles City School Board is told

By Bob Steenson,

The key to safety in a school building – or any building for that matter – is controlling access, members of the Charles City Board of Education were told at their meeting this week.

Director of Communications Justin DeVore and Director of Operations Jerry Mitchell gave a presentation on district planning and preparation for responding to a crisis and on dealing with safety issues.

Over the summer the district formed a committee for every school district campus to coordinate efforts and have ongoing communications and planning to develop “efficient, effective responses” system-wide, DeVore said.

“One of the things the Police Department will tell you, one of the things that I will tell you, one of the things that Jerry will tell you, one of the things you will repeatedly hear ad nauseum, is if you can control access to the campus through the correct doors, you will be much, much safer,” DeVore told the board.

“That is key. You can’t be walking in and out of fire exit doors. You can’t be walking in and out of doors that aren’t monitored,” he said.

One of the things the committees did before anything else was go on a walk-through of the each of the six district campuses and Central Services with officers of the Charles City Police Department, and the officers gave them notes on things they liked and things they didn’t like and would change, he said.

Mitchell said an important part of controlling access is the card reader system on the doors on the buildings.

“Everybody’s assigned a badge,” he said. “You go to any of the doors that have them on – each school has a different number on the exterior – and you swipe in to get in if the door’s not unlocked at the time. That tracks everyone who goes in and out of the building. I can look, and a few other people can look, at any time, do a history report, see who went in and out of the building.”

He said the goal is to have a card reader on every door. The middle school, being the newest of the buildings, has the most card readers on its doors, but the rest of the buildings have quite a few, too.

DeVore said another feature is that there are a few special key fobs that, if touched to any card reader, will lock down the building.

He said he and Superintendent Anne Lundquist tested the system one day after school and her fob worked as intended, locking down the middle school.

Mitchel said, “Not only does it lock down the middle school, but it locks down this whole campus. If someone swipes one of those it locks down the campus. … And it stays locked down until we reset the program.”

One thing that can defeat the system is if doors are propped open, and DeVore said they have been diligent in trying to stop that, getting the word out that isn’t allowed and going so far as to walk around the buildings and removing things that can be used to prop doors open.

“There was a rock outside one, there was a brick outside another one. There were several bricks outside some other ones. So we removed those door props. I went around, took pictures, sent them to Jerry. He had a maintenance person go around and pick them up and get them out of here,” DeVore said.

Part of access control is controlling access once people get in a building, and Mitchell said three of the campuses don’t have an interior secure entrance, so once a person is buzzed through a door to enter, that person has access to the halls and can go anywhere.

“We’re looking at creating a vestibule at those three buildings similar to what we have at the middle school. You buzz them in, they can come right in to where the staff is, and then from there they find out what they need and they can go into the facility if they have an appointment,” he said.

“A couple of them will be very reasonable to do. The third one might be a little more expensive, but we’re applying for state grants to help pay for that,” Mitchell said.

Another aspect of security is monitoring spaces, and Mitchell said there are numerous video cameras at every facility.

“We’ve tried to be proactive and try to add more and more each year. I’m not going to say exactly how many, but we’ve got exterior cameras and numerous interior cameras,” he said. The cameras also work with the door card readers, so when someone swipes a card a picture is taken that can be referred to later to see if someone is using another person’s card for access.

“We’re continually upgrading that system. In fact, part of last year’s funding that was approved we’re upgrading all our DVRs so we can even have more capacity and have more cameras in the future,” Mitchell said.

The monitoring includes on buses and any vehicle that transports students, he said.

“We have five interior cameras on every bus now, and we have two exterior cameras on every bus for stop sign violations. There’s not a spot inside that bus really now that we can’t see if something happens. Not only the buses but the cars that go to other facilities that we transport students to, those cars also have cameras in them now, too,” he said.

In the area of safety, Mitchell explained that the district has regular life safety inspections done by third parties, as is required by the state. The middle school fire sprinkler system, all fire alarms and all fire extinguishers are also inspected according to a schedule.

DeVore said one of the steps the committees took was to come up with a red binder that lists the way to respond to various situations, and have them available in every classroom.

“This gives a step-by-step instruction for anyone involved or anyone needing to know what needs to happen,” he said.

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