A year after Newtown, Anderson fine-tunes school security

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By Meaghan Downs

Change in school security came with two new buzzers.
School staff at Robert B. Turner and Saffell Street Elementary now stop people at the door and ask for names before visitors to any Anderson County school are allowed to enter and sign in at the office.
Diane Womack, bookkeeper and attendance clerk at Robert B. Turner Elementary, said the new security buzzer system at Turner — installed this past summer — requires front desk staff to ask visitors to identify themselves in addition to their usual offers of assistance.
“You have to do it for safety reasons, that’s the bottom line,” Womack said Dec. 2.
Judy Carlton is not the main secretary at Saffell Street Elementary, she explained, she’s the bookkeeper.
But on days like the Monday morning after Thanksgiving break, Carlton is one of several front office gatekeepers in charge of monitoring who goes in and out at the school.
Carlton is required to pay special attention to visitors, even in a small city like Lawrenceburg.
The buzzer helps.
“It’s just part of your job,” Carlton said of the emphasis on vigilance over the last year. “It’s part of something we’re supposed to do.”
Last December the Anderson County Middle School was the only Lawrenceburg school with a buzzer security system.
But in the year following the 2012 mass shooting tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary that left 20 Connecticut first-graders and six staff members dead on Dec. 14, school districts across the country found themselves readdressing their emergency plans on how to prepare effectively for the unthinkable.  
New state regulations instituted new safety practices for Kentucky school districts as well in the months following last December’s shooting.
State legislation introduced through House Bill 354 and Senate Bill 8 (which went into effect in June of 2013) now requires a minimum of two safety drills — one for earthquake and one for tornado — and a practice lockdown must be conducted within the first of the year.
School facility emergency plans are no longer available as public records under the new law, according to House Bill 354.
 “The faculty and staff, they need to understand [emergency plans], but that’s not something you want to broadcast to everybody,” Ronnie Fields, current director of programs and operations and former Anderson County High School principal, said in a phone interview.
According to House Bill 354, schools must be notified of those students with mental or emotional conditions, a new addition for the 2013 school year. Fields said to his knowledge, these types of notifications are sent by other agencies, and not generated by the school district itself.  
All additional emergency management requirements — including a list of primary and secondary evacuation routes for all classrooms — were required to be verified by district superintendents by Nov. 1 of this year, according to documents from the Kentucky Department of Education.
Some of the new requirements weren’t new to the district, Fields said, such as the classroom evacuation routes mentioned.  
Buzzers for three schools — Saffell, Turner and the Anderson County High School — were, he said.
All school facility campuses, including Phoenix Academy, now have visual confirmation of visitors standing at the front doors through Aiphone system upgrades, he said, which came with video entry monitoring and magnetic door release equipment for the price of $9,568.72 for all Anderson schools.
Staff sitting at the front desk can visually confirm a visitors’ identity from the Aiphone monitor, he said.
So lockdowns, in essence, happen every day at Anderson County schools when using the buzzer and Aiphone system in tandem, according to Fields.
“In a sense, as soon as the kids are in the building, the school is locked down,” he said.
The school board must be informed four times a year of security updates, Fields said during his second safety presentation during the Nov. 25 school board meeting.
Fields, in his update to the school board, said the district had completed first responder visits to all schools and updated emergency management plans.
There are, of course, suggestions to improve security at the schools, he continued.
One suggestion from the county department of public safety is to add sally ports, or secured and controlled hallways, between the front door buzzer and the school’s front desk itself.  
Spending additional funds for sally ports — outside of the limited monies available from state and federal grants — would be up to the school board, Fields said.
For the moment, the district is continuing its “all-hazards” approach to safety. That includes training for staff on “run, hide, fight” response options for emergencies, as well as smaller improvements like periodically checking doors are locked during the day and requesting visitors to sign in before getting anywhere near a student.
“We’re getting better at that,” Fields said of using security buzzers. “Ms. [Superintendent Sheila] Mitchell definitely wants to be asked to sign in. The law requires that for good reason.”