Community Responds to Make School Safer
A Michigan-based Catholic school is providing a beacon of light amid the dark shadow that continues to loom over educational institutions a year after the Sandy Hook massacre. A unique video surveillance and lockdown solution has been introduced that directly alerts the local police command center for faster, potentially lifesaving response time.
Ironically, in many ways as security devices and systems become more advanced the role humans must play to ensure their effectiveness becomes even more critical. Minimizing human error does not necessitate removing people from the equation; it’s more about optimizing their capabilities so as to blend together the unique strengths of both man and machine in a way that achieves results superior to those that could be realized independent of one another. A true security solution is derived from the power of technology and manpower. This is borne out by the impressive outcomes that occur when installers, technicians and users are thoroughly trained, and also when everyone associated with the public safety mission collaborates to the full extent of their potential.
One of the most recent and strongest testaments to the latter can be found in Canton, Mich. There, stakeholders of All Saints Catholic School, the community it serves, local law enforcement and security providers have harnessed their collective abilities and cast aside all impediments in the name of best safeguarding children, teachers and staff. At a time when parents and school administrators nationwide are feverishly seeking to prevent incidents similar to the carnage that took place at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School a year ago this month, All Saints has stepped up with a solution that will likely serve as a model for others to emulate.
“What stands out about this project was the overall commitment of the school and law enforcement to look outside the box at options and technologies. There was a frank review of the security protocols the school had in place and a very open discussion with the police department saying, ‘This is what we need,’” says Mark Wellman, president of Detroit’s Camtronics, the security integrator on the All Saints project. “The commitment between the school, the administration, the teachers, everyone had one thing in mind: protecting lives.”
The system gives school staff access to 46 emergency pull stations, switches and duress buttons that instantly and directly alert the Canton Police Department — without losing precious, potentially critical seconds calling 911. Police dispatchers are then able to view the scene through 16 onsite video surveillance cameras as response gets underway. There are 70 audible alert devices within the school for local notifications, and an electronic access control system adds to the overall security measures.
The integrator, school principal and deputy police chief explain how this unique project came together, specifics about the technologies and practices entailed, the results, and what it means for similar institutions. It’s a story about being proactive and achieving better peace of mind now rather than risking the possibility of a very grim outcome.
Integrator Had Skin in the Game
All Saints Catholic School was founded in 1997, the first new Catholic school to be built in the Archdiocese of Detroit since 1964. It presently serves an enrollment of 540 students in grades preK-8. After operating for several years as a locked facility in which visitors had to be admitted via a buzzer system, management decided it was time to enhance logistics and security.
“Our office and administrative team is located in the center of the building. That’s proven to be something to work around for letting people in and having to go meet them in the hallway to make sure they’re not walking down the halls,” says Principal Kristen Strausbaugh, who has worked at the school for 10 of its 16 years. “It was also my biggest concern in an emergency situation — the time for the office to be notified of a situation and then the lag time to alert teachers through the PA system.”
Strausbaugh did not have to look too far for guidance as it so happened the father of two students who had graduated from All Saints was a school security specialist. Wellman and his company had already worked with the school on its existing entry and access control system, and had counseled All Saints administrators about safety precautions and procedures.
“We already had a relationship and the principal wanted to talk about how they could enhance their security,” says Wellman, whose company won the project after other providers’ quotes were also reviewed. “We discussed what it really takes to respond to these emergency situations. We focused on delay and response as the two primary factors in the design”
Founded in 1971 by Ed and Nancy Davis, Camtronics evolved from basic low-voltage security systems into a full-service integrator and consultant. Wellman came aboard in 1974 and purchased the business in 2000. Today, Camtronics serves more than 100 commercial and industrial clients, with particular emphasis on video and access solutions. Its competencies extend into several vertical markets, including educational institutions.
“Based on Mark’s expertise and experience, we were able to look at things he’d done with other companies and other places,” says Strausbaugh. “He installed a system similar to this at Eastern Michigan University and the lock or pull stations we have throughout the building, it’s something he’d done at another campus. Based on our concerns and what our building looked like, the logistics of making it work at an elementary school level, he developed that.”
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