County schools eye increased safety for upcoming year
Published in Jan. 14, 2015 issue
Additional cameras, as well as upgrades to existing systems, will be added to Washington County school campuses to further secure the schools and keep students safe.
The Washington County Board of Education approved monies for an additional 25 to 30 exterior cameras, as well as upgrading the existing 500 camera systems at its meeting last week. The money, $30,000 for additional cameras and $108,000 to upgrade existing cameras, was taken from the remaining safety money funds provided by the county commission. The county commission provided a total of $500,000.
The upgrades are a part of a security assessment study done with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in conjunction with the FBI and U.S. Marshal.
“They performed a systemwide security assessment for us a couple of years ago and made some recommendations,” Director of Schools Ron Dykes said.
The monies provided by the county commission helped to begin the implementation of those recommendations.
The upgrades will help bring the camera systems to a higher standard with increased camera resolution, greater ability for the camera to pan, tilt and zoom, as well as provide digital images. The surveillance capabilities, Dykes said, are also now remote.
“The patrol cars can literally log into the system, and they can see the activities in the schools remotely,” Dykes said.
The approved funds will also allow the purchase of additional cameras for the school campuses. Some of the cameras will be added to certain buildings where there are blind spots. Others will be added to longer hallways to shorten the camera views, as well as at some entrances and exits of the campuses.
“We continue to investigate and try to keep our buildings and campuses secure and our students as safe as possible,” Dykes said.
In addition to the camera systems, all Washington County schools have a priority access entry system to enter a campus. Dykes said if an individual goes to any of the WCDE buildings, schools in particular, there is a two-way communication before they can enter the building.
“You must buzz in now before you are allowed entry,” he said.
Other security enhancements include increased fencing, additional vehicle barriers, window tinting and additional security measures for the school buses. Dykes said each school bus has a GPS system, so its movement and behavior can be monitored throughout the day. All bus drivers also have cell phones in case of an emergency.
Safety will also be increased with the presence of School Resource Officers.
Dykes said by the end of the 2014-2015 school year, Washington County Schools will have 12 School Resource Officers, which are all full-time. He said in addition, they have two supervisors who often fill in when needed.
Dykes said six officers are stationed at a particular school full-time, while the other six rotate between schools.
“All schools are covered daily,” he said.
Three new SROs were implemented this school year in a staggered process. Dykes said two of the SROs have come on board already, and the third should be in place in a matter of weeks.
“That is due to the cooperation that we have with the sheriff’s office and willingness of the county commission to also understand the need to increase safety to this level,” he said. “We are very appreciative of the funding provided by the county commission, and the working relationship with the sheriff’s office is quite exceptional. They are wonderful partners to the world of education.”
Dykes said the sheriff’s office essentially stops their world when they call to provide assistance. He said the school system has also engaged in such proactive activities as armed intruder training with the sheriff’s office.
“Our faculty has gone through three sessions of that over the last year and a half,” Dykes said. “We try to increase not only vigilance, but awareness and skills to better protect our children with the worst case scenario (that could) happen.”