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Would it hurt to audit school security?

Posted: April 3, 2013 - 12:00am

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.

(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. Email barry.paschal@newstimesonline.com, or call 706-868-1222, ext. 106. Follow at www.twitter.com/barrypaschal.)

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Comments (16)

Spelunkerman

Defense in-depth

Why not ask the military? Why not concentrate on stopping bad guys at the perimeter before they make it inside the building?

Barry Paschal

Good question

Good question, Spelunkerman. That, however, would require a perimeter fence around every school and someone to man and check that fence daily. And then a fence around that fence to make sure no one could stand outside that fence and shoot at people inside. Or maybe a wall. And a moat. With alligators.

Seriously, though, that's what experts could tell us with an audit. I'm guessing part of what they'd tell is is that we simply are not going to harden an elementary school campus to the point that it's as impenetrable as a military base or a prison - partly because of the expense, and partly because it isn't a rational response to a reasonable risk.

Riverman1

The Main Issue

The main issue we debate is whether a few teachers or other school personnel should be armed. The single issue leaves logic behind and takes on an emotional tone. When the NRA suggests armed personnel in schools, the teachers’ union says, “It’s a cruel hoax to suggest that.” No one offers any rational reason why it’s not a good idea. The fact is armed teachers are a deterrent because they offer a chance against intruders. The objective, successful example we have is of Israel. They have armed guards, but also employ other measures. Access to schools is limited and the perimeters are monitored with cameras. No one is allowed on campus without a good reason. Metal detectors are also employed.

Barry Paschal

Israel, etc.

RM: I know you're fond of the Israel example, but the comparison isn't entirely valid. Israel has compulsory military service for adults, so those teachers likely would all have served in the armed forces. Their country also is surrounded by enemies and constantly under attack, so things they do out of what they believe is necessity wouldn't be considered remotely reasonable or rational here.

In any event, this is another example (from both of us) of armchair experts offering solutions. My suggestion is that we use actual experts to review existing security at each school and then to make solid suggestions based on that information.

To do otherwise is to act as if we don't want to send the patient to a doctor to see if he's sick; we just want to shove our favorite meds down his throat until we can pronounce him cured.

Spelunkerman

School Safety

An "expert" will only recommend logical solutions based on experience and research. Physical security costs money and since the School System has none, why venture down this road?
I subscribe to the notion of arming prior service members or others who have had some formal combat/police training. Set standards of conduct and make them attend training at the CCSO or Academy prior to being armed. It would be a low cost deterrent whose primary objective is to draw an active shooter away from the children. After all, isn't that the primary objective?

Riverman1

Barry, this is like talking

Barry, this is like talking about the law. Sure there are scholars, lawyers and judges, but we all have opinions. Our thoughts are often no less valid because we are not members of the Bar. Frankly, there is no better way from a cost benefit analysis that I know of to protect schools than by arming a few people. There is no secret method or we would have heard of it, experts or not. While the Israeli example is not a perfect one it does make a good point. We copied many of their concepts for ensuring the safety of air passengers after 9-11.

You feel the biggest drawback is we wouldn't have the former military personnel to be armed as the Israelis do. I read they have about 3 people secretly armed in each school. It would be interesting to see how many former military people teach in the CC schools. There may be more than you think. Beyond that many are competent with firearms. Many would volunteer for a few hours of training, also. I don't see the lack of ex-military, if there is one, as a problem. A preliminary step for the CC school system to take would be to determine how many ex-military personnel they currenty have working in the schools. Later decisions could benefit from that knowledge.

Riverman1

Also, I propose we all bring

Also, I propose we all bring forth ideas such as keeping doors locked with limited, monitored, access that has to go through the main office. Future designs of schools and remodeling can take that into account. Better communications, individual room doors that can be secured, automatically locked from a central location and withstand attacks. Having armed school personnel is the necessary ingredient, but it doesn't mean we stop with that.

Sweet son

Riverman

In your last comment you have basically already provided the CCBOE with the security audit as proposed by this article. It all boils down to keeping the doors locked and keeping your eyes open.

Adding qualified people with firearms would just enhance the aforementioned security measures. But being ex military wouldn't automatically qualify someone to carry a firearm at school. Only those who pass written tests and range firing as prescribed by the Board should be allowed to participate in this added measure of security. Since arming "teachers" has become a hot topic maybe the firearms training has already been outlined at the federal level and could be passed down to the CCBOE and other boards.

Barry Paschal

More armchair expertise

You guys keep providing the armchair expertise. I prefer to have security experts evaluate each individual school, each with far different architectural designs, each with vastly different campus layouts, and not to just rely on suggestions from people who haven't been on each of those campuses and aren't security experts. Doesn't that make more sense?

Riverman1

Paid Consultants Not Needed

I believe determining the security of schools is a common sense matter. Plus, I detect a reluctance by some, including Charles Nagle, to arm school personnel that's not based on experience, but more on emotion. The whole idea of school security against a murderer is a new problem. It hasn't been studied and possibly can't be beyond what our common sense tells us. I mean exactly who do you call an expert on this matter? A principal, a police officer, a military person, a guy who sells security systems, Sizemore Security????

I'd leave it to the CCSO to work with the schools AND arm a few school personnel. Those armed people should be awarded by the school system for the increased value they provide to the school system with future promotions.

Barry Paschal

Free

My column specifically says the consulting likely could be free. There are highly trained people in local law enforcement who would perform walk-through evaluations of every school and make recommendations for improving security. The fire department does that now for fire-safety purposes - and to allow them to set up a plan of attack for potential fires. Shouldn't the sheriff's office have a similar plan for respond to each of the school system's very-different 32 campuses?

Just throwing guns in people's hands and calling for a one-size-fits-all approach is useless until each individual school can be evaluated. THAT is common sense - just as it is common sense not to make plans for school security security based on recommendations from people with zero experience or expertise in school security. I recognize that I have no such expertise, which is why I suggest calling upon experts for the evaluation and not just throwing out ideas because I think somebody else will think they sound good. That's what politicians do.

Riverman1

Die Hard

It's good the consulting will probably be free. It's good that we are on the same page as far as having law enforcement do the survey. Nobody wanted to slap guns on some people and make them watch Die Hard for instructions. But I doubt general security plans will be much different for each school. That could also be an arm chair opinion as you feel we have. It could also be Sweet Son and I both have more experience than you think along these lines. I laid out my ideas. Arm 3 educators, secure all doors from the outside and have visitors enter via one controlled and monitored location. Does anyone else have ideas? By the way, how did Scott Peebles get involved so early in this unannounced consideration to the point where he offered to sell schools security systems for $15,000 a piece?

Barry Paschal

Peebles

The only reason I mentioned Peebles is that he came to a board meeting and signed up to speak under public comment. He used his three minutes to talk about his private company that sells the high-tech panic-buttons.

And I'm not going to assume one way or the other on the security experience of you or Sweet Son (both of whom I know in real life). I'm confident in saying, however, that if the school system wanted security audits, none of us would respond to the RFP.

Sweet son

Just layin' low and watching the banter between Barry and

Riverman1. I hope that he gets his security audits on all 32 schools and I am sure that whoever does the audits will write a 'carte blanche' proposal that will be the same for every school. Sure some schools will have specific problems that should be addressed but overall the recommendations will be the same.

Since Riverman1 and I have nothing but "armchair expertise" in the security field I will offer no other suggestions for the improvement of school security.

I really hope that the CCBOE doesn't pay $15,000 for high tech panic buttons when it's nothing more than simple electronics.

Riverman1

Barry

Okay, thanks for the explanation of how Peebles became involved. What a civic minded individual. Still, it's interesting that he jumped into this other county, price and all ready to go when other security plans, by other companies, were not given the opportunity to be considered.

Barry Paschal

They all had the same opportunity

Time out: You clearly have the wrong impression of Peebles' presentation. He signed up to speak during the public comment portion of the school board meeting, which anyone - you or I included - can do. He wasn't given a spot on the agenda. He showed up, filled out a "speaker card" (as it's called) and spoke within a 3-minute time limit during public comment. Any other person or company has precisely the same opportunity to do the same thing.

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