North Carolina Elementary School Security Project Serves As Model for Campuses across the Country
Nearly a year after the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy, a rural North Carolina school has initiated a highly comprehensive pilot security program designed to tightly control entry onto its campus. Administrators of Duplin County Schools said they hope the project at Wallace Elementary will prove to be a model for their other schools and for K-12 campuses across the nation.
While the district’s 16 campuses had reported no major security problems, the Sandy Hook shooting last Dec. 14 in Newtown, Conn. that left 26 people dead struck a nerve with district leaders.
“Our thought had been that elementary schools were off limits to armed gunman,” said Chuck Farrior, board of education chairman for Duplin County Schools, located about 75 miles south of the state capital of Raleigh. “Sandy Hook triggered an alarm and got us thinking about providing better security for our students. At Wallace, we had a building that wasn’t designed with security in mind. Now we have what we think is a good, safe and repeatable model for our district and others.”
Before making any changes in its security plan, the district asked nationally-recognized security consultant Patrick V. Fiel and his PVF Security Consulting firm to complete an extensive risk assessment of each campus. The Wallace campus was chosen for the pilot study. While addressing security issues across the entire campus, much of the effort focused on the main campus entry — historically, the most common access point for a shooter to enter a school.
Fiel used his industry connections to gain contributions from six leading security equipment and service providers. The donations included a video intercom, visitor management system, surveillance cameras, door locks, security screens and integration services.
Contributors to the project include:
- Tyco Integrated Security (integration services);
- Aiphone (video intercom);
- Harmony Security Products (security screens);
- SISCO Identification Solutions (visitor management system);
- Axis Communications (cameras); and
- ASSA ABLOY Group brands Corbin Russwin (door locks), Securitron (power supplies), HES (strikes) and Rockwood (latch guard).
Signs clearly direct visitors to the main entry at Wallace Elementary. There, they are instructed to push a button on the video intercom. Seated safely behind a locked door, the school receptionist confirms whether a visitor should enter and remotely unlocks the door. The glass entry doors are additionally protected with security screens that cannot be ripped or penetrated to allow a gunman to enter.
Inside the main office, the visitor must present a government-issued photo identification card that is swiped through the visitor management system. Within seconds, the system checks federal and state databases looking for registered sex offenders and local information such as fired employees and suspended or expelled students. Temporary restraining orders can be added to help prevent a non-custodial parent removing a child from a campus. Once cleared, he or she is given a temporary badge to wear while on campus. Only then is a second door unlocked, allowing access to other parts of the campus.
New door locks allow teachers to keep their rooms locked from the inside while classes are in session. Additional cameras monitor the campus both inside and out. Panic buttons with direct links to local police were installed in several campus locations accessible to the staff. Also, Wallace Elementary has a full-time school resource officer (SRO) on campus.
Farrior said that the changes have been transparent to the students. Parents have told him they feel reassured that their children are well protected. Faculty and staff have been supportive of the new project knowing that the improvements also help to protect them.
“Throughout this process, the board members and administration have been behind this effort 100 percent,” Farrior said. “Security for our students, faculty, staff and visitors is a top propriety for us all.”
Fiel said that in addition to noting equipment needs, the risk assessment also identified landscaping, fencing and lighting improvements so signage and other procedural steps to follow during an emergency were added. These items were quickly and inexpensively implemented to add to the school’s overall security.
“All schools can follow the Wallace Elementary school plan,” he said. “These solutions have been proven in real-life situations and are not prohibitively expensive. It’s time for all campus stakeholders to make security an ongoing process and give it a priority along with academics.”