Voter-approved bond money funding new security systems in all Eagle County schools
EAGLE — More than a year before the latest round of school shootings, Eagle County taxpayers voted to spend more than $6.3 million on new school security systems.
Most of that security gear is installed, making it much more difficult for people to get into schools who aren’t supposed to be there.
And sure, it’s also a little more inconvenient for visitors, but in the trade-off between security and convenience, security wins, say Eagle County Schools officials.
“This kind of technology is pretty groundbreaking for school districts. For a district our size to have a system this sophisticated is great. We can be proud of what it is and what it does for us,” said Todd Shahan, Eagle County Schools’ chief technology officer. “We get a lot more control over the building.”
DEACTIVATING AN ACTIVE SHOOTER
Let’s begin with the worst-case scenario: A shooter is trying to get into your school building. The new security systems allows law enforcement, school staff and several others to watch what’s happening in real time. One button can lock down multiple buildings at the same time, Shahan said.
It’s not like it was in the extremely recent past, when someone had to have the correct key to lock a door.
“If you’re in an active-shooter situation, and you have to find the correct key, then find the door and secure it … that’s a big ask,” Shahan said. “We need the ability for them to slam the door, push a button to lock it and those outside cannot come in.”
Sure, some nut with a big gun might start shooting the wire mesh glass in the office doors, but the system provides staffers and students a few seconds to lock down the school, hide and call law enforcement, Shahan said.
Law enforcement has access to the security camera feed, when they need it.
“If they pull up to a building and have an active shooter, they don’t have to run through the entire school to know where he is and where he’s going. It gives them real-time information to get to the threat more quickly,” Shahan said.
Even at its quickest, SWAT teams have to move safely.
“They cannot run through a building like Rambo. They have to systematically work through a building, for their own safety and the safety of anyone in there,” Shahan said. “They’ll be quick about it, but they also have to be methodical.”
“If we can tell them, ‘He’s in this area,’ they can go there first and get to the threat quicker,” Shahan said.
LET YOUR FINGERS DO THE WATCHING
For demonstration purposes, Shahan sat in his Eagle office and let his fingers and computer mouse do some walking through Avon Elementary School. One door was propped open that probably should not have been. It wasn’t propped open long.
With the video surveillance cameras, they also can see who’s coming and going.
The UPS guy buzzed while we were watching. They let him in.
When you have to buzz and ask permission to enter, your first reaction might be frustration at the minor inconvenience. Get over it. Those few seconds are an investment in your children’s security. It’s not going to ruin your day. The UPS guy gets paid in part by the packages he delivers, and it didn’t ruin his.
It’s a level of security that’s not in your face. As a visitor, you might be inconvenienced for a few seconds.
Sometimes it’s bunglesome for the school staff to buzz you through a couple doors. They’re getting used to it, as are the people who have to be buzzed.
“Your convenience is not going to outweigh school safety,” Shahan said. “We want to make that as simple as we can, but we do want it to be secure.”
You’ve had to buzz into Eagle Valley Elementary School for years. All local schools have had lock-down buttons for years, Shahan said.
Sometimes, somehow, magic rocks find their way into door frames to prop the doors open.
The system tells the system manager that there’s a door propped open — magically or not.
ENCOURAGING COMMUNITY USE
“Many people other than the school district use these buildings. That’s great because it should be a resource for the community. But it’s very difficult when they want to be there at 3 o’clock Saturday and no one else wants to be,” Shahan said.
If you have a badge, then they can program that badge to work when it’s supposed to and to stop working when it isn’t.
There are also cameras everywhere, so they can see if the person who badged in was the person who was supposed to have the badge.
Then there’s the cost. Key cards cost less than $1 each. If someone loses a key, then it can cost more than $10,000 to re-key an entire building.
At the same time, they want people to feel welcome in the school buildings.
“All kinds of organizations use these facilities. The community is paying for them, and they should have the use of it,” Shahan said.
Yes, school security is expensive and may create a First World problem or two, but it’s worth it.
“I want to be able to stand in front of our community and say we are doing the best we possibly can,” Shahan said.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
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