School Security Measures Take on Renewed Urgency

By Mason, Angie | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), April 6, 2013 | Go to article overview

School Security Measures Take on Renewed Urgency


Mason, Angie, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


YORK, Pa. -- Visitors to Valley View Elementary in Spring Garden Township will see a small sign on the door, advising that every person must ring the doorbell in order to enter.

"Thank you for not opening this door for others!" it states.

The sign is new, added sometime after a December grade school shooting in Newtown, Conn. But the procedure it's reinforcing is not.

Valley View, where renovations were finished in 2011, has a double-door entrance system. Visitors must ring the doorbell outside. The receptionist, with the help of cameras, can see the guest, ask what they need, and decide whether to unlock the doors leading directly into the main office. Doors into the rest of the school remain locked.

Many schools in York County have turned to that system in recent years as buildings have been constructed or older schools have been renovated. It's among considerations being made by districts planning renovation projects.

The Newtown tragedy has renewed the sense of urgency and put safety at the forefront of conversations about school buildings.

"It's moved to front and center and it should be," said John Bebdia, architect for Crabtree, Rohrbaugh and Associates, a Mechanicsburg-based architecture firm.

The 1999 school shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado was a "very big turning point and wakeup call" for most schools, said Don Smith, emergency planning and response management coordinator for the Camp Hill-based Center for Safe Schools.

Since then, he said, school districts have been routinely pulling out their security and emergency plans and reviewing them. After the Connecticut shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, he said, schools are most likely not starting from scratch, but will be updating and fine-tuning their plans.

Since the shooting, demand has also increased for assessments by the Pennsylvania State Police Risk Vulnerability and Assessment Team, according to Trooper Adam Reed, spokesman. The assessments are offered for schools and other entities.

During an assessment, the team visits schools, reviews existing security plans and meets with administrators before making recommendations, Trooper Reed said, but he declined to share more, saying school security is a sensitive topic.

Mr. Bebdia said that school board meetings he's attended recently have put safety discussions front and center.

"Schools are reassessing what they think they can do as quickly as possible to increase that safety," he said.

School districts that already have construction projects on the books are looking at ways to add to their projects to provide additional safety, he said, noting it's more cost effective to do as part of a larger project.

But another longtime client called recently, having no projects in the works, and asked Mr. Bebdia to walk through some of their buildings and look at what they could do to increase safety. Some districts are learning that in older facilities, they can significantly increase the level of protection for a reasonable amount of money, he said.

In a letter to school districts shortly after the Sandy Hook shooting, Mr. Smith told school officials not to be surprised if the shooting led to new lessons once it was fully investigated.

Such lessons might include the elimination or reduction of glass in entrances, standardization of double-door "capture" entrance ways, and the incorporation of "crime prevention through environmental design" in building design and remodeling, he wrote. …

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