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Oklahoma Schools Beef Up Security

From bullet-proof panic rooms to surveillance cameras, schools in Ardmore opt for hypervigilance.

by Rhiannon Saegert, The Daily Ardmoreite / July 23, 2018

(TNS) — Ardmore City Schools' extensive security camera system is just one tool in the ever-changing conversation about school security, privacy and defense.

Public schools are more concerned with safety than ever following February's deadly shooting in Parkland, Florida, including those in Carter County. But the shift toward hypervigilance started long before spring's tragedy. Healdton Public Schools had bulletproof panic rooms placed in their buildings, Dickson Public Schools is updating their doors and locks and Ardmore City Schools is expanding their camera system.

ACS placed Axis brand security cameras in every part of the middle school and is now adding them to nearly every part of the high school, replacing and expanding the old system. Technology Director Scott Foster said the cameras aren't just high quality, they're capable of surveillance without much human input at all.

"It really helps with discipline issues," Foster said. "At first, teachers felt like they were being watched by them, but that's not really the purpose at all. It helps with issues in the classroom, and it helps protect the teacher and the district."

He said the cameras can be programmed to do a lot of the work on their own, following motion and adjusting for glare. The cameras are on 24/7, but can be set to only record in response to motion after school hours. During the day, the cameras can automatically track a person from one hallway to another, something law enforcement or school staff could use to track an intruder.

The system consists of multiple servers tied together. Administration and staff are granted access based on their position. For example, a principal may only be able to access their own school's camera system while the superintendent's office can access multiple schools. Foster said the administration is also looking into granting access to the system to law enforcement.

Ardmore Police Department Capt. Keith Ingle said if given access, the department could use the footage to follow the movements of a shooter in an emergency or solve more mundane crimes like theft.

"If we had access to footage of the inside of the school, of course that would be a tremendous help," Ingle said.

Law enforcement has a presence at most American high schools, and Ardmore is no exception. School officers are the first line of defense in an active shooter situation.

"They'll probably use them to monitor entrances and exits," Ingle said. "Back then, with Columbine, the idea was to wait, set up a perimeter, then take action when you've got your people in place. These days, if even one officer gets there... You don't have to wait for a four man team, it's up to the officers' discretion."

He said live footage from inside a school would give officers crucial insight during an active shooter situation.

"We know that one person can make a difference," Ingle said. "Civilians have stopped shootings by blocking shooters from gaining access to the school."

The cameras could also be used for smaller incidents, like fender benders.

"It's there for the protection for the kids and the faculty," Ingle said. "It's just like police officers with body cameras and the cameras in our cars. A lot of us don't feel comfortable doing it, but it's needed."

All APD officers have active shooter training and opportunities to learn more through Oklahoma Municipal Assurance Group. Ingle said the topic is never far from their minds.

"It can happen anywhere," Ingle said. "You can never say, 'it can't happen here.' There's a lot of schools smaller than ours where it has."

Following the Parkland shooting, the Department of Homeland Security has taken a more direct role in school security. DHS has launched programs to help local schools prepare ahead of time for disasters, assess their security measures, inspect school buses and provide emergency training to faculty and staff.

Security measures may prevent some crimes, but statistically speaking, it takes a concerned person raising an alarm to successfully stop most school shootings before they start., a database compiled by school shooting expert and psychologist Peter Langman, analyzes different incidents and foiled attempts for patterns. In his book "Why Kids Kill: Inside the Minds of School Shooters," he writes that prevention is not as simple as upping security measures.

"In the wake of shootings, schools often increase their physical security measures by giving students identification badges, adding surveillance cameras, and installing metal detectors, among other measures," Langman states in the analysis. "These measures, however, do not prevent school shootings. When students commit school shootings, they typically do so at their own schools."

Langman said cameras may deter people trying to commit crimes in secret and restricting access to the school may prevent strangers from committing mass shootings, but neither measure deters would-be student shooters who aren't usually concerned with hiding their identity and are usually foiled because someone else, a parent, friend or teacher, noticed red flags and spoke up.

Dickson Public Schools is also ratcheting up security as part of their last construction bond. Superintendent Jeff Colclasure said his district is mostly concerned with updating their doors and locks.

"We're focusing more on access control," Colclasure said. "We're trying to limit access to only one entrance at each building."

Each building's doors and locks are being replaced with electronic locks and key cards. Colclasure said when the new locks are in place, the entire campus can be put on lockdown with the push of a button.

"For years we've had open access to our playground at the elementary," Colclasure said. "Then we're going to start working around the high school."

Colclasure said fences around part of the elementary school and high school are in the works, and the administration is also looking into shatter-proofing windows in its buildings.

"We're kind of isolated out here, so we need to make determinations," Colclasure said.

Colclasure said his district, which is located in a rural area, is in a much different situation than ACS. The school's isolated position in a tight-knit community means that for years, students and faculty have felt relatively safe.

"You want school to be a safe, secure environment but at the same time you don't want to turn it into a prison," Colclasure said. "That's the challenge."

©2018 The Daily Ardmoreite, Okla. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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