By Pat Jenkins
After learning some lessons during a mock shooter and hostage crisis last June, Eatonville School District officials are bolstering security at school buildings.
The district is installing a school lockdown system from School ALERT. Eatonville is the second school district in Washington to use the system, which was designed by school administrators and law enforcement agencies nationally as an added layer of protection in emergencies.
According to its manufacturer and proponents, ALERT (the acronym for Active Lockdown and Emergency Response Technology) can quickly lock down buildings and improve communication between school personnel and authorities responding to an emergency. Any authorized school staff member can initiate a lockdown.
“We hope we never have to use it, but it will help protect lives,” said district superintendent Krestin Bahr. She added the new technology should help parents and the general community feel better about school security.
During its meeting Nov. 25, the School Board was given a presentation on the system by a police SWAT representative.
A SWAT team and other authorities conducted an active-shooter and hostage exercise involving schoolchildren June 3 in Eatonville. In an effort to gauge responses of schools and police and medical aid units to a real-life situation, students pretended to be wounded by gunmen at Eatonville Middle School and others were held at gunpoint by a captor on a school bus while police plotted their rescue. The drill was funded by the federal government and involved 10 law enforcement and fire departments and other emergency agencies.
One of the outcomes was that communications between personnel inside a school building and first-responders on the outside could be more effective. As a result, installing ALERT “seemed like a good next step,” Bahr said. She noted the system is expected to improve the flow of information between school personnel and-police.
The system has video cameras to provide live video feeds for police and district administrators to see what’s happening at schools that might be under siege. Another feature is remotely-controlled locks on exterior doors that can be activated by school personnel using computer or phone applications. A decision on how many locks to install is pending, Bahr said.
A per-school cost of $2,500 pays for as many phone apps as the district wants for staff members, who will be trained to use the system. Funding for the installation is from the current district levy.
The bottom line, Bahr said, is to quickly alert district administrators, school staffs and emergency agencies and provide two-way sharing of potentially life-saving information.
“While technology such as this is of great value, I want our community to know that it doesn’t replace our efforts as educators to get to know every single one of our students and build relationships,” said Bahr. “School safety starts with building strong relationships with our students and community. We all play a critical part in creating healthy, safe environments.”
ALERT is a product of Helix Group, a Tumwater-based technology developer.
Eatonville is the second school district in south Pierce County to ramp up security since the start of the 2013-14 school year. The Bethel district now keeps all outer doors of school buildings locked and allows access only through the main entrances. Parents and other visitors press a buzzer outside the building and are identified through a video camera and intercom before school personnel let them in.
District officials and the Bethel School Board adopted the new system to improve security in the wake of the mass shooting of students and staff member at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. last December.