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Scoring High Marks

Scoring High Marks

Rural school district makes the grade with security strategy

Highway 94, which runs a ruler-straight path between Colorado Springs, Colo., and Kansas, is about the only thing that breaks up the vista of lush, green alfalfa fields and cattle ranches in eastern Colorado. The town of Rush is one of several unincorporated towns that dot the Highway's path, and it is the rural home to a population of fewer than 750 people.

Located 40 miles east of Colorado Springs—the state’s secondmost- populous city, nestled at the base of the iconic Pikes Peak in the Rocky Mountains—Rush also is home to the only school building in the Miami-Yoder School District, which for years struggled with many issues stemming from its remote location and the poor condition of its facilities. The district, which serves a 500-square-mile area of three counties in this rural part of Colorado, was spending a significant portion of its budget busing students elsewhere to provide them with services not available at the school.

The Challenge

The Miami-Yoder School, which serves the needs of students in prekindergarten through high school, needed a new facility to remedy some significant safety and security issues. Most notably, the district needed a building with fewer accessible entrance and exit points than its then-current arrangement, a mixture of a nearly 100-year-old main building and series of aging portable classrooms, some of which dated back to the 1970s, replete with leaking roofs and sagging floors. Not only were the portable classrooms cramped and in disrepair, but students often had to leave the buildings and walk around the campus, which borders a huge cattle ranch on one side, to reach their next class.

In May 2007, the school went into lockdown due to a shooting threat from a high school senior who found out he would not be graduating. As a result of the campus’s fragmented nature, it took law enforcement more than two hours to clear the buildings and grounds. Also, due to the school’s remote location, it took the responding SWAT team nearly 45 minutes to arrive at the school from nearby El Paso County.

“That was a big concern out here because of our location,” said Rick Walter, the district’s superintendent. “In the event of an incident, it’s very difficult for law enforcement to respond, and we needed to have our own processes in place to ensure the safety of students until their arrival.”

The construction of a new facility for Miami-Yoder would ensure that administrative staff could take advantage of technology that would allow school officials to control entry to the building and have access to surveillance video footage of incidents as they unfold. Administrators also wanted the security system to help manage the activities of the school population—controlling student and staff access to certain areas and using the system as a deterrent to ward off such incidents as vandalism or minor assaults. Administrators also valued it as an investigative or evidentiary aid should any incidents occur on school grounds.

The Solution

Thanks to Colorado’s Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) program, the town of Rush is now home to one of the newest and most technologically advanced school facilities in the state. Funded by an $18.1 million BEST grant, the new Miami-Yoder School consists of a 91,000-square-foot building that features new construction; renovated spaces; several new classrooms for the school’s 300 students; new and remodeled gymnasiums; and new spaces for special education, music, art and vocational instruction in welding, woodworking and agricultural mechanics.

Despite all these advances, school administrators ranked their new access control, intrusion and surveillance system from Tyco Security Products, designed and installed by Denver-based systems integrator Secure All Solutions, as perhaps the new school’s most important technological improvement. Access through the building’s 11 doors— including three main entrances into the elementary and middle school wings, one into the main administrative offices and several interior doors separating different areas of the school—can, for the first time, be controlled automatically using the EntraPass Corporate Edition access control platform from Kantech.

“Being able to finally control access to the entrances and exits of our facility was really one of the primary drivers of our construction,” Walter said. “Not only does this limit access through our exterior doors, but it limits the amount of traffic roaming the hallways within our building and between the different areas of our school.”

The vocational arts teacher, for example, would have access to the school’s new 1,900-square-foot vocational wing and its welding and metal-working workshops, woodworking area and a greenhouse, and to one of the school’s five computer labs. But he would not have access to the elementary wing. Likewise, facilities staff and certain administrators would be the only people granted access to the school’s physical plant, which houses the new ground source pumps for heating and cooling. They, along with solar photovoltaic arrays on the school’s roof, are expected to reduce utility costs to less than $1 per square foot.

“For such a small, rural school, they could have kept their access control system simple and not integrated with intrusion or surveillance video,” said John Castle, president of Secure All Solutions. “We were working with a blank slate on this project, and it became clear early on that they wanted a first-class type of system to meet the security challenges identified at Miami-Yoder school.”

Working with Secure All project manager Cory Franklin, school officials required that all doors be locked and remain secured throughout the day, with the exception of a 20-minute period each morning when students and staff arrive. Visitors, including parents, vendors and other guests, must gain entry using telephone entry systems at each of the three main entrances. When the building is not occupied during non-school hours or holidays, it remains protected and secured with DSC PowerSeries intrusion alarm panels, also integrated into the EntraPass software.

For the first time, administrators can monitor conditions within each classroom, hallway and other common areas, including the gymnasium and cafeteria, and exterior areas, such as parking lots, using a mix of about 80 American Dynamics IP and analog cameras. Two American Dynamics HDVRs, which handle both IP and analog video feeds, integrate into the EntraPass software, which can automatically call up a corresponding camera view of an access control event, such as a person entering a door or someone presenting an invalid badge, Castle said. The cameras record to two 32-channel HDVRs, one handling video from the north side of the building and another from the south. Video is stored for 30 days, but the school has the capability to increase that to 90 days if necessary.

The cameras focus on the students’ behavior in the classroom and not the performance of the teachers, per Colorado regulations. Surveillance footage has already aided in the resolution of several incidents, including minor vandalism, thefts of items from backpacks, and disputes between teachers and students. It has served as an instrumental tool in an expulsion hearing.

School officials can also view video and access events and reporting, and they can manage the system from their desks in the school’s administrative offices or remotely using a Web browser. This ability for remote access using Kantech’s Remote Client also makes it possible to provide real-time management and surveillance capabilities to local law enforcement agencies, which are able to access the system both at a central dispatch location as well as from their patrol cars, with the ability to completely lockdown the school if necessary.

This remote access also provides conveniences when servicing the system. “If there is a problem, we’re able to diagnose more than 85 percent of that system from our offices more than two hours away,” Castle said.

By employing a strategy of using state-of-the-art technology to improve security and safety conditions and significantly reduce ongoing operational costs, Miami-Yoder School satisfied the district’s goals of becoming a safe and secure environment for students, staff and the surrounding community. Now residents of the town of Rush have a local landmark of their own.

This article originally appeared in the November 2011 issue of Security Today.

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