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5:34 PM Sat, Sept. 22nd

Local schools looking to fortify campuses

Richard Rodriguez takes notes while touring Bright Futures Pre-school in Prescott Valley for an Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University study on school safety he’s assisting with. (Max Efrein/Courier)

Richard Rodriguez takes notes while touring Bright Futures Pre-school in Prescott Valley for an Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University study on school safety he’s assisting with. (Max Efrein/Courier)

The expression “school safety” may seem like a bit of a contradiction nowadays given the number of tragic events that have taken place in schools throughout the country in recent years.

Local schools and municipalities appear to be taking the hint, however, and are beginning to look at tangible ways to mitigate security risks.

One good example comes out of Humboldt Unified School District (HUSD), which is looking at possibly restructuring the entrances to each of its schools’ primary buildings.

“Our schools are pretty secure, but the one issue that we have is that at most of our schools, you can walk in our front doors and we don’t have total control of the traffic flow once you enter,” said Dan Streeter, HUSD superintendent.

To fix the security flaw, the idea would be to make it so that anyone entering the buildings would have to first interact with a receptionist and then be buzzed through a second door to gain access to the rest of the facilities.

The district has already had an architect walk through each school, draw up proposed plans and provide a cost estimate.

The challenge to following through with the idea is funding.

“You’re looking at about $2.5 million just to restructure our front offices,” Streeter said. “When you start looking at items beyond that — security cameras, changes to exterior perimeters — that dollar figure is going to go up.”

If the district chooses to follow through with the effort, they may have to ask the public to approve bonds to do so.

“Some of the cuts we’ve received in the past with regard to capital funding, there’s going to be impact on that, so we’re going to have to look at some alternative funding sources to address a lot of these needs,” Streeter said.

EMBRY-RIDDLE STUDY

As HUSD independently addresses some of the more evident security flaws on its campuses, it has also volunteered to be the first school district in Arizona to begin working with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s (ERAU) College of Security and Intelligence on a study that could change the way school’s throughout the country approach school safety.

The study is funded by a $769,890 grant from the National Institute of Justice (part of the U.S. Department of Justice) for the multidisciplinary evaluation of school security technologies.

The grant application, titled “Identifying Cost-Effective Security Barrier Technologies for K-12 Schools: An Interdisciplinary Evaluation,” was authored by ERAU Assistant Professor of Global Security and Intelligence Tom Foley.

Over the course of about the next 18 months, Foley and his team of fellow researchers will test technologies designed to keep a potential school intruder from entering a building and then determine how those technologies can be reasonably applied in a school setting on a school district’s budget.

Specifically, the money will be used to test various barrier technologies (doors, windows, window films, and locks) to determine how long each technology will delay an intruder’s ability to move past that barrier. Each product will be tested against 9mm, .357, 5.56 x 45mm, and 12 gauge shotgun ammunition and brute force attacks.

“The Sandy Hook shooting took six minutes from the first to last shot,” Foley said. “We are figuring out how to keep a shooter away from students long enough for police to arrive and stop the shooter. In essence, we are figuring out how to enhance security design to give the kids at the next Sandy Hook six minutes before the bad guy can get to them.”

Foley and his team are still in the preliminary stages of their research, but hope to eventually conduct onsite security surveys of schools throughout Arizona to determine which security technologies are currently being used in schools, the condition of those technologies, and how they are being used.

They’ve started doing such surveys with HUSD, but hope to eventually collaborate with upward of 50 school districts.

“They’ve already walked a couple of our campuses, and they’ll be walking all of our campuses,” Streeter said. “They’re looking at something that’s much bigger than Humboldt, but the information that they gather from us is going to be helpful to us.”

Once all of the data is collected and the testing completed, the goal is to develop an emergency response time framework that schools can use to design physical security systems to protect faculty and students. They also plan to create a security buying guide for school administrators and principals.

“This research is truly unique and nothing like it has ever been conducted,” Foley said.

“It combines academic research with real-world application to further our understanding of school security and to actually provide the non-researcher with information they can apply in their schools.”

Follow Max Efrein on Twitter @mefrein, email him at mefrein@prescottaz.com or call him at 928-445-3333 ext. 1105.