Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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Locked doors, peace of mind
What some area public schools are doing to improve security

by Steve Targo

May 23, 2013

"There was a day in schools when all the doors were unlocked," Traver School Principal Craig Collins said May 15. "Those days are long gone now because it's an unnecessary risk."

Considering the idyllic surroundings of Collins' school, one may perhaps wonder what kind of risks he's talking about.

After all, most of the land which abuts school property is open fields.

It's likely that, from Traver School, one could see the enemy coming from a mile away in any direction.

But as Collins warns, "in this day and age, if you're too loose, you're negligent."

His school is purchasing an "electric strike" system for the front entrance, thanks to a $1,000 grant that Linn police officer James Bushey secured from Walmart. Currently, Traver is accepting bids for the system.

"I think it brings peace of mind," Collins said. "It isn't a bad idea. It's the peace of mind you get from added safety. Along with the grant to pay for it, which makes it a rather easy decision."

Collins said the system is more of an "unlocking" than locking system. The door to the main office remains locked until a staff member presses a doorbell-type button.

At Traver, there are two sets of main doors. Once one steps through the first set, which is usually unlocked during the day, they can easily access the unlocked main office — which has no outside windows. Collins said with the electric strike system, that office door will be locked unless someone triggers the unlock button.

He said last fall, security company LaForce conducted a security analysis of Traver.

"They don't just look at the possibility of intruders," Collins said. "They take in the bigger picture."

He said the LaForce reps considered Traver as secure. That lack of a main office window works well in that regard.

"They really thought that this building was secure because of the way we do things," Collins said. "One of the things it also boils down to is glass, because glass can be broken."

So why the system?

Bushey, who heads the DARE program at Traver, Reek and Woods schools, said on May 16 that he pitched the idea to Collins. DARE, or Drug Abuse Resistance Education, is a police officer-led series of classroom lessons that teaches stuidents how to resist peer pressure and live free of drugs and violence.

"With Traver, if someone walks in through the front doors, they're already in the school," Bushey said.

Bigger picture

At least twice a week, Bushey visits the administrators at Traver, Reek and Woods. He said Linn police also have increased their presence at Traver and Reek.

"A couple years ago, people questioned why was there a squad car parked out in front of the schools," Bushey said. "Now, they question us whenever it's not in front of the school."

In these post-Sandy Hook days, is the increased presence and frequent school security talks based on fear of future shootings?

Bushey said a threat can derive from "somewhere else."

He and Collins brought up the recent armed robbery at a Walworth gas station as an example.

Suppose dangerous subjects are fleeing police in a vehicle and, for whatever reason — stop sticks are deployed or the car simply runs out of gas — it stops near Traver School.

What if those dangerous subjects also become desperate enough to try to enter the school? What if they do and they decide to take hostages?

"This lock system can keep kids inside the school, a more secure location, until we can get those outside problems under control," Bushey said. "That's one of the ideas I presented to (Collins) with this door lock system."

Reek and Woods have a different system — the Aiphone. When someone wants to enter the school, he or she presses a button and speak to school staff via an intercom-type system. From inside, the staff can unlock the doors. Bushey said that last part bears a similarity to the electric strike system that Traver is installing.

What Woods has — and what Reek will be installing — are camera systems.

"With the system that Woods has, and that Reek is putting in, we're looking also at remote access from our squads," Bushey said, adding that it's possible for video feeds from the cameras to be called up on the laptops in police squad cars.

What about Traver?

"We've actually had talks about that," Bushey said. "I'm looking into other grants."

What parents should know

There have been no criminal or violent incidents reported at Traver and Reek, Bushey said, and nothing he was aware of in Woods.

Perhaps that's because school staff are taking the "best offense is a good defense" approach to security from multiple angles — not just lockdowns, but by increased police presence at the schools.

"We're constantly working to keep on top of the most up-to-date security plans and response procedures," Bushey said. "We're constantly reviewing our risk management plans."

At least twice a year, by state law, schools must practice lockdown procedures.

Bushey said there are different lockdown procedures — one if, for example, the search for suspects in the Walworth armed robbery led them to the area of Traver, another for something less dramatic but potentially more dangerous.

"There are soft lockdown procedures we work on, too," he said. "Like, say, if there's a chemical spill outside the building, like a tanker spill. We can keep the kids inside the building."

On one hand, it's easy to say since there's been no major incidents at these schools, why bother? But being prepared could mean the difference should the worst become a reality.

"The thing is always timing," Bushey said. "How long does it take a school to get secure?"