Kingsport takes measures to boost school security

Rick Wagner • Apr 18, 2009 at 12:00 AM

Consultant recommends lockdown over evacuation

KINGSPORT — School officials continue to improve security at Kingsport City Schools’ 10 campuses.

And before Christmas, plans are to have the first tabletop security exercise for the John Adams Elementary School opening this fall, which will join the existing seven elementary schools, two middle schools and one high school.

Monday marks the 10th anniversary of the April 20, 1999, deaths of 15 students at Columbine High School, and Thursday marked the two-year anniversary of shootings at Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007, that left 32 dead.

Two high school students killed 13 at Columbine before killing themselves, while a college student killed 31 at Virginia Tech. All three committed suicide.

In the school system’s five-year capital projects plan, the 2008-09 budget has $200,000 being spent for security modifications for school entrances, with $300,000 budgeted for that purpose in 2009-10.

The Kingsport Board of Education Thursday voted to award a contract for renovation of the Sevier Middle School band room and construction of a new entrance and storage area to Trademark Construction of Virginia. The winning bid of $505,400 for a 150-day project completion was funded with that amount plus a $30,350 contingency of 6 percent. The entrance work is $49,600 of the project, which must now be approved by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.

In addition, the plan has an undetermined amount for “other security modifications” and $3 million for a new Central Office building or renovation at a site away from the current superintendent’s office on the Dobyns-Bennett High School campus.

Other administration and Central Office employees are scattered at different locations. Putting them all under one roof would be more efficient and open up the current space at D-B for possible use as a major entrance, Superintendent Richard Kitzmiller said, further enhancing security there.

Board members at an April 13 work session also discussed the need to put funding for security upgrades at Jefferson Elementary on the five-year plan, since it will require more work than the other elementary schools because of its configuration.

Larry Holloway, a retired Eastman Chemical Co. employee, began helping out the school system in the aftermath of Columbine.

Holloway and his wife, a retired school teacher, founded a consulting company, LGH Safety Services LLC, which works for the Kingsport school system as well as school systems in Ohio, Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina and Mississippi.

Holloway said BOE President Susan Lodal sought out help from Eastman through her husband, who oversaw plant protection.

“We’ve been doing this since the mid-’90s, before Columbine,” said Ed Abbott, director of federal projects and safety officer for the school system. “Columbine added some energy to that.”

One of the essentials of school security is tabletop exercises, where an intruder scenario is played out, Holloway said.

During the tabletop exercises, school administrators and officials, fire, emergency medical services and police gather in one room to go through scenarios.

“Kingsport is by far the most progressive one we’ve encountered,” Holloway said of school systems his company serves.

At all school systems that do the tabletop exercises, Holloway does some legwork a few days before the exercise.

“I’ll appear on campus, and I’ll check security and try to find an entry point,” Holloway said.

If he finds an unlocked door or unsecured window, that is used in the tabletop scenario, although sometimes the scenario will start with a forcible break-in instead.

After the initial tabletop scenarios, Holloway said the Kingsport schools that have undergone subsequent drills had only minor response issues, even when principals and others in the school change.

Dobyns-Bennett has had two exercises because of administration changes, and Roosevelt Elementary has had three exercises — the most recent last month — because of administrative changes.

In the next year or so, the remaining schools will undergo a tabletop exercise, Holloway said, in addition to one planned for Adams before Christmas.

Holloway said school entrance security is being driven by the Tennessee Schools Against Violence in Education (SAVE) Act of 2007, an “unfunded mandate” to, among other things, improve school entrance security.

Holloway said a prime example is Roosevelt Elementary, which used to have an unsecured entrance with the location of the office unclear.

Now the school has a buzzer and video camera system that forces visitors to buzz in and be let in by someone in the office.

However, Abbott said the new model planned for all schools is the come-in, check-in and buzz-in model in use at Lincoln Elementary.

“These aren’t prisons. They’re schools,” Abbott said of the new prototype slated for installation at Sevier Middle and possibly Kennedy Elementary this summer.

Abbott said the SAVE law’s largest impact on the KCS emergency and security plans comes in rewriting the emergency preparedness plan to reflect the federal National Incident Management System, specifically beefing up the prevention and recovery areas, including follow-up after an event.

He said entering a foyer area and then being buzzed in by someone behind a glass, rather than by someone watching a security camera, gives the gatekeeper a better view of the person seeking entry.

Holloway said perimeter security is by far the biggest change in school security. Abbott said the system has more than 550 security cameras, including ones in all buildings that house students, with images from the cameras stored electronically, and security alarms.

In addition, Abbott said the redesign and repaving of the D-B parking lot is indirectly a security measure, since it would slow access to that area.

“Dobyns-Bennett is so hard to secure because it has so many doors,” Holloway said, adding that students may block self-closing doors with water bottles or other objects. He said middle schools are inherently more secure and elementary schools the most secure since younger students have less inclination or ability to violate a school’s perimeter security measures.

Card access systems, improved lighting and locking perimeter entry doors are other measures in place, Abbott said.

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