Rural North Carolina Schools New Security System Serves As National Model

For years, administrators at Duplin County (N.C.) Schools felt confident about the safety of the students, faculty and staff in the K-12 district. Other than occasional thefts, vandalism and fighting, there has been little crime on rural Duplin County’s 16 campuses, which educate about 8,700 students within its 850-square-mile boundaries.

“We always thought that our schools were off limits to an armed gunman,” said Chuck Farrior, chairman of Duplin’s board of education.

But the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary school that left 26 people dead in December 2012 had school officials across the nation reassessing their potential vulnerabilities. At the suggestion by the county sheriff, the Duplin County school officials began working with an outside security consultant to see if there were ways to improve security while not breaking the budget.

The consultant began with thorough risk assessments of each campus. Each assessment began outside the school and worked its way into the classrooms. The review looked at landscaping, lighting, fencing and gates and signage, as well as policies and procedures for handing emergency situations. The district has already taken action on many of the issues that could be quickly and inexpensively fixed.

A lot of attention was focused on each campus’ main entry, which has historically been the way most shooters have entered a school. District officials and the consultant agreed to choose one school and create a pilot project that could be easily repeatable on other campuses in Duplin — and across the nation.

Wallace Elementary School was selected. It is located in Wallace, a township of nearly 4,000 people in the southern part of Duplin County.

The consultant used industry connections to gain contributions of services and equipment. The donations included a video intercom, visitor management system, surveillance cameras, door locks, security screens and integration services.

Contributing to the project were Tyco Integrated Security (integration services); Aiphone (video intercom); Harmony Security Products (security screens); Security Identification Systems Corporation (visitor management system); Axis Communications (cameras); and ASSA ABLOY Group brands; Corbin Russwin (door locks), Securitron (power supplies), HES (strikes), Rockwood (latch guard).

The pilot project was completed in late December, in time for students and staff returning from the holiday break. New signage now directs visitors to the main entry, which remains locked at all times. There, they are instructed to use the video intercom to announce their names and purpose of the visit. From the safety of her desk in the main office, the school receptionist can see and talk with a visitor before remotely unlocking the door. As an added precaution, the glass in the entry doors is protected with security screens that cannot be ripped or penetrated.

Entering the main office, visitors must show a photo ID card issued by a government agency. It is swiped through the visitor management system, which in seconds checks the person’s information against federal and state databases for registered sex offenders. Once cleared, visitors receive a temporary badge to wear at all times on campus. Only then is a second door unlocked to allow access to other parts of the campus.

Classrooms now have door hardware that automatically locks when closed. Additional cameras provide a more complete view of the campus, inside and out. Panic buttons are located throughout the campus. Once pressed, they provide an immediate connection with the local sheriff’s department. The department also employs a full-time school resource office on each of its campuses.

The initial reaction to the system has been very positive. Farrior said parents have told him the tighter security reassures them that their children are well protected. Faculty and staff are supportive as the new systems help protect them as well. The changes are largely transparent to the students.

“Our school board and administration have been behind this 100 percent,” Farrior said. “What we have is a repeatable model, one that can work no matter the age, size or style of construction.”

The district plans to soon fully review the pilot program before deciding whether to implement similar systems on its other school campuses.

These solutions have been proven in the field and are not prohibitively expensive. This is a plan that can be followed by schools anywhere. Ultimately, we have to make some decisions about how we protect our schools. Security has to be given a priority on the same level as academics. The reality is that gunmen can attack and other crime can — and does — happen in big cities, suburbs or rural areas.

(Patrick V. Fiel, Sr. is an independent security consultant, having served as public safety advisor for the world’s largest security integrator; executive director of security for the Washington, D.C. Public School System; and is retired from the U.S. Army Military Police Corps. He can be reached at 910/789-4265 or at [email protected])

About the Author

Patrick V. Fiel, Sr. is an independent security consultant assisting Aiphone Corp., a manufacturer of intercommunication and video entry systems for the K-12, higher education, industrial/commercial and residential markets.