THE MAGAZINE

District Offers Security Lessons

By Laura Spadanuta

Eye-opening results. The results of the audit were “eye-opening,” says Carol Gregorich, the school district’s chief business officer.

Poor controls. One of the major findings was that, although the school claimed to have a closed campus, access controls were weak to nonexistent. The school was closed in the sense that students were technically not allowed to leave for lunch and other errands, but the campus was quite open in the sense that anyone who wanted to get on campus could do so.

Some of that had to do with the sheer size of the campus, which Gregorich compares to a junior college. There were 32 entry points onto the campus, which contained several one and two story buildings, as well as various fields, a swimming pool, and other structures. 

The number of ways onto and off campus created a problem as did the fact that students had to constantly move among the buildings to change classes.

“You try to secure your school the best you can, and the best way to do that is lock it down,” says Mark Weimerskirch, of San Jose, California-headquartered TAL Global, who consults with New Haven. He adds, “When you get to the junior high, and especially the senior high level, when you’ve got kids going between buildings and classes, it makes it very difficult.”

The solution at Logan was to close down all but four gates onto campus. The four main entrances are monitored by staff members who require that anyone entering or leaving show an identification card.

The locking down of nonessential doors greatly improved access controls. But the audit also found that the presence of an independent study program on campus presented another obstacle to the ability to monitor who was on campus, according to Gregorich. It meant that students were entering and leaving campus at all hours, and it was harder to get a handle on who belonged. The school district decided to move that program to another smaller site where it would be easier to keep track of the students.

False alarms. Another problem uncovered during the audit was the high number of false alarms. Gregorich says the district was not aware of how much of a problem false alarms had become.

 The issue arose because teachers were coming in on breaks or during the summer to retrieve items from their classrooms. That would trip the alarms, and building personnel and police would have to respond.

“People weren’t thinking,” says Gregorich. To solve the problem, the school now requires that teachers turn in keys before extended breaks. That way, they can’t decide “to come down to get that book in their classroom,” setting off the alarm, Gregorich says.

Another issue with the alarms was that, due to the custodial hours and the heavy use of the campus buildings, alarms and motion detectors would not be turned on until 3 a.m., and then they’d be turned off at 6 a.m. when staff and students started to arrive at school. Now, the school district has amended some of the hours of the facilities staff so that the alarms can be turned on at midnight. Additionally, the school plans on setting up zones in the alarm system so that alarms and motion sensors can be turned on even earlier in areas of the campus that are not used at night.

ID card enforcement. Logan High School has had an identification card system in place for years. The trouble was, no one was enforcing it. Many students had lost their cards, and no one was checking to see if students had cards with them when they entered or exited campus.

This was another eye-opener from the security audit. Gregorich says the district found it illuminating “that our students were not carrying their identification cards, because it was so built into the system, we just assumed.”

Such issues are not that unusual at schools, say Lauk and Baratta. Policies and programs get set up, then gradually stop being followed properly.

Logan’s days of not enforcing the identification system are gone. The school has since provided new cards for the students and staff members who had lost them, and now everyone who enters or leaves campus must show identification.

The school-issued ID cards include the following information: a photograph, the student or staff member’s name, the school name, an identification number, and the school year. Additionally, there are special stickers on the cards of students who are leaving campus for portions of the day as part of the district’s regional occupation (vocational) program.

Visitors must go to the administrative office to secure a temporary card. Gregorich says that in the future, the school may look into purchasing a machine that scans visitor identification, such as a driver’s license, to vet visitors.

Poor maintenance. Lights are a major component of a school’s security, and the lack of lighting upkeep is an issue that Lauk and Baratta say they commonly encounter on their audits. Logan was no exception, according to Gregorich.

The audit found that lights on the Logan campus were scheduled to be repaired or replaced that were simply not receiving the attention they needed. It was in the custodian’s job description, says Gregorich, but “sometimes the custodians didn’t get to it, and we didn’t have a higher-level manager checking to make sure that they were following through. We are [doing that] now.”

Security staff problems. The security personnel staff at Logan High School includes a risk manager; two school resource officers (SROs); who are sworn police officers paid by Union City, campus security technicians, who are hired by the district for security monitoring; and administrators, such as principals.

The audit found that security staff were not performing their duties, according to Deputy City Manager Tony Acosta. He facilitates the city-school partnership committee, which holds meetings between city council members and school board members, and frequently tackles security issues. “When the auditors were there …they witnessed some of the school security staff actually going out and getting food for students, leaving their post, just sitting there not doing anything,” says Acosta. 

The assessment also found that SROs spent too much time in the office attending to paperwork and not enough time interacting with students and watching what was happening on campus, says Acosta.

“The point was that folks had gotten kind of casual about it. And that’s changing,” he says.

To solve the problems with security staff, says Gregorich, the assessment report recommended more training, especially for the SROs and campus security technicians. In response, Union City has offered to send SROs to designated training sessions.

The police department has agreed to put together a training program for campus security technicians and administrators, who were previously trained only by the school district. Union City Police Department Chief Greg Stewart told Security Management he expects that plan to be in place in time for the next school year, although the details of the training were not concrete as of press time.

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