For almost a year, Richmond County school officials say, they have been upgrading facility safety measures with a focus on technology improvements.
School safety officials said last week they were busy long before the tragic shootings in Connecticut prompted parental concerns nationwide.
Benton Starks, the school system’s senior director of facilities and maintenance, said the plan will integrate more technology in buildings and improve communication.
The new technology includes a sophisticated intercom system that will allow administrators in the central office to communicate through the speakers to any classroom in any school.
The system could be used to relay messages in the event of severe weather or an intruder.
“It’s command and control from virtually anywhere,” Starks said. “A lot of times when you need to communicate, you might not be right in your office. You can be in your parking lot or the football field.”
Officials are also looking at expanding badge access already used in about 10 schools. The badges give staff members access to certain doors of the building, depending on which department they are in.
Currently, administrators can view the live feeds from security cameras on their iPads, no matter where they are. Starks said that helps officials keep an eye on who goes through the buildings.
Starks said the coming security upgrades, in the works for almost 12 months, must be used and understood by everyone in the building so that in an emergency there is no confusion about how to operate the technology.
“You don’t want to have something that’s only good for one thing for that one employee in 100 years because then no one knows how to use it,” he said. “We’re trying to make this an everyday fiber of school life.”
Wayne Frazier, the principal of the Tubman Education Center, said that, apart from technology, administrators must have a relationship with their students and community to keep a school safe.
He said the neighbors and owners of nearby businesses must know the administrators by name so they can report any suspicious activity or concerns.
The manager of a gas station across from Tubman has Frazier’s cellphone number and dialed it when a few students left the store without paying for some items. They used the experience as a way to get the family members involved and teach the students to make the situation right.
“When it comes to security badges and keys and access codes, none of that stuff is any good without a person being proactive,” Frazier said. “It’s getting to know the people around and in the school.”
He said that approach helped avert gun violence in 2011 when he was principal of Glenn Hills High School.
Frazier asked several known gang members to join a student advisory council, where they talked about issues and concerns on the campus. In their conversations, the students admitted they knew where a gun was hidden in a nearby neighborhood, and school officials contacted the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office.
“These folks will tell you things that they won’t tell you if you don’t have a good relationship with them,” Frazier said. “That’s the key for success is really getting to know all the stakeholders.”