Now that the Georgia Legislature has gone home until next year, we can get the good silver back out.
Just kidding. We hocked that long ago. The economy, you know.
But seriously, the good news is that the unfinished business spares us for another year from bad legislation. The bad news is that everything unfinished this year can come back up next year.
That includes gun legislation. In that regard, the best we can hope is that there’s not another mass shooting or other high-profile event between now and then to cause lawmakers to stomp the panic button. Again.
(Then again, 2014 is an election year – so all bets are off.)
In any event, with all of us getting a breather until next year on changes to gun laws, especially those regarding schools, we have plenty of time to take a rational approach to improving school safety. This might sound like a novel idea, but why not get suggestions from people who do this sort of thing for a living?
In the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre, we seem far more inclined to listen to ideas for improving school safety from politicians, educators, laymen, various message-board commentators and anyone who has ever fantasized about being the hero who takes down an armed gunman.
What we haven’t done is spend much time listening to people whose job it is to make things more secure.
Here’s what I’d like to see happen here in Columbia County. The school system should get a consultant to perform a security audit of every school and make recommendations based on what they find.
It doesn’t have to be expensive. It doesn’t even have to be a paid consultant, though it probably wouldn’t hurt to see what that would cost. I feel sure the Sheriff’s Office would be happy to supply someone for the task, just as the fire department readily provides tips on fire safety.
Our company had such a security review of the downtown office building several years ago. The security consultant was a stranger who no one in the building would recognize.
When he presented his report afterward, everyone was shocked at how easy it was for him to get in and ramble through the building unchallenged. The result was a new security system and protocol, limiting the number of entry points and requiring everyone inside to wear a badge.
And that was mostly to guard against thefts, not violence. It’s violence schools are worried about, so surely they could use a similar level of scrutiny.
My own recent experience hasn’t been reassuring, though it’s skewed somewhat by the fact that many of the people in the schools know who I am and therefore might be less likely to challenge me if I go somewhere I’m not supposed to.
Even so, in visits to three different schools I was surprised at how little challenge I had, and somewhat troubled at how easy it would seem to be for someone to get deep into the building before anyone even questioned them. Some schools are fixing that with buzzer entry systems at the front door.
Obviously, schools aren’t built to be walled-off compounds with a single, guarded entry. And with 32 public schools in the county, we aren’t going to have the money to batten them all down like miniature prisons (which, ironically, are far more secure than schools).
Even so, surely it wouldn’t hurt to have someone with experience on the topic provide feedback. It’s certainly better than just listening to the noisiest armchair experts.
What do we do in the meantime?
Superintendent Charles Nagle says he’s certain that if everyone follows the proper protocols, the schools will be safe. And that’s probably true, especially if you consider that in reality they probably could ignore all the rules and still be safe. School attacks like Sandy Hook are exceptionally rare.
Scott Peebles, not as a captain in the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office but as owner of a private security company that he runs on the side, suggests the county purchase a system that would put sophisticated panic buttons in every school at a cost starting at about $15,000 per school.
Lance Poss, chief of the school system’s public safety officers, wishes he could station an officer at every school – but that would mean hiring at least 25 more officers.
All of this represents a pretty broad range of response to fears that might be more irrational that real. So, before we do nothing or do too much, would it hurt just to see what we have?
And do it before next year, please, before it’s time to hide the silver again.