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Trauma Bags And Armed Guards: Securing Schools Without Creating A Fortress

Feb 22, 2018
Originally published on February 21, 2018 6:45 pm

Tom Moore's head of school security recently came to him with a suggestion: trauma bags. These are tools the military often uses in battle and include clotting agents to stop massive wounds. Schools are now stocking up.

"That's not something you do lightly," said Moore, superintendent of schools in West Hartford, Conn., a leafy suburb outside the state's capital city. "I want people to understand this is the reality. This is what we have to do."

Moore said it's a sad state he finds himself in — buying items used by armed forces for teachers.

"We want to make sure that we're as prepared as we can possibly be," he said. "It's still stunning to me, as a superintendent, that I'm looking at these bags and ordering these and making sure we have them."

Since the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., schools across the country have been hardening their defenses. The idea is to make a school secure without turning it into a fortress. But school officials are increasingly recognizing that no place can be 100 percent safe.

In West Hartford, schools have added security guards and increased armed police presence. They built something called "mantraps," vestibules with locking doors on either side. They glazed their windows so they can't be smashed in. There are panic buttons linked to the police and 300 security cameras. And they made sure that classroom doors can be locked from the inside — they traditionally locked only from the outside.

"I do not want to give people the illusion that ... everybody's safe in the building," Moore said. "What we're trying to do is make sure it's as safe as it can possibly be and still be a school and not a maximum-security facility, prison, that kind of thing."

Security consultant and engineer Bob Ducibella agreed.

"There is no risk-free environment," he said. "It doesn't exist."

Ducibella has over four decades of experience, but in the past 15 years, his focus has shifted more to schools.

"So what we attempt to do is create environments that send a message to the aggressor that this could be a difficult location to compromise," Ducibella said, adding that if they do try to get inside, they'll be delayed.

"If they're delayed long enough, they'll never be effective, because they'll know law enforcement will arrive," he said.

Security professionals call this "crime prevention through environmental design." A lot of it you don't even see or notice. Things like hedges cut low to the ground to improve the line of sight from classroom windows. New schools are now building doors between rooms and labeling classroom doors on the outside so police and first responders know what's inside.

Of course, there is the question of money. America's schools are old, and it's costly to secure them. A 2013 study from the Center for Green Schools estimated that it would cost over $540 billion to modernize America's aging public schools.

After the Sandy Hook killings, Connecticut set up a grant program to help schools pay for security upgrades. It has provided about $54 million to help over 1,200 schools in the state. Scott Devico helps administer the program.

"It feels gratifying to be able to help kids, students, faculty, administrators, across the state, in feeling more safe and secure," Devico said.

Even though, statistically, schools are some of the safest places for kids to be, school shootings still make people think about securing the buildings even further. Superintendent Moore said that when it comes to schools, people just want children to be safe.

"Safety and security is the cornerstone to learning," he said. "You can't learn unless you feel at home."

And that is the crux of it all. Studies have shown that students do better when they feel safe, but there's a line. If a school is too secure, it can have the opposite effect. Especially for students of color. One report found that school cameras single out students of color for discipline problems, often making it harder to learn.

Copyright 2018 Connecticut Public Radio. To see more, visit Connecticut Public Radio.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Here's the situation public schools face after last week's high school shooting in Florida. Lawmakers are talking of gun measures, but they're largely working around the edges. Nobody expects the rate of gun ownership to go down that much or for rifles like the AR-15 to be banned. So schools across the country are trying to find ways to prepare for the possibility of an attack. David DesRoches of Connecticut Public Radio begins his report with this sobering detail.

DAVID DESROCHES, BYLINE: Trauma bags - these are tools the military often uses in battle. They include clotting agents to stop massive wounds. And schools are now stocking up.

TOM MOORE: That's not something you do lightly. But I want people to understand this is the reality. This is what we have to do.

DESROCHES: Tom Moore is superintendent of schools in West Hartford, Conn.

MOORE: We want to make sure that we're as prepared as we can possibly be. But it's still stunning to me, as a superintendent, that I'm looking at these bags and ordering these and making sure we have them.

DESROCHES: Since the murders at Sandy Hook school in 2012, schools across the country have been hardening their defenses. In West Hartford, they added security guards and increased police presence. They built something called mantraps, which are vestibules with locking doors on either side. They glaze their windows so they can't be smashed in. There are panic buttons linked to the police and security cameras. And they made sure that classroom doors could be locked from the inside.

MOORE: I do not want to give people the illusion that what we're doing is everybody's safe in the building. What we're trying to do is make sure it's as safe as it can possibly be and still be a school and not a maximum-security facility, prison, that kind of thing.

BOB DUCIBELLA: There is no risk-free environment. It just doesn't exist.

DESROCHES: That's Bob Ducibella. He's a security consultant an engineer with over four decades of experience. The last 15 years, though, his focus has shifted more to schools.

DUCIBELLA: So what we attempt to do is create environments that send a message to the aggressor that this could be a difficult location to compromise, No. 1. Two, if they do it, they'll be delayed. And three, if they're delayed long enough, they'll never be effective because they'll know law enforcement will arrive.

DESROCHES: Security professionals call this crime prevention through environmental design. A lot of it you don't even see or notice, things like hedges cut low to the ground or doors between rooms and special labels outside classroom doors so police know what's inside. Of course, there's the question of money. America's schools are old, and it's costly to secure them. After the Sandy Hook murders, Connecticut set up a grant program to help schools pay for security upgrades. It's provided about $54 million to help over 1,200 schools in the state. Scott Devico helps administer the program.

SCOTT DEVICO: It feels gratifying to be able to help kids, students, faculty, administrators across the state in feeling more safe and secure.

DESROCHES: Even though, statistically, schools are some of the safest places for kids to be, school shootings still make people think about securing the buildings even more. Superintendent Moore says, when it comes to schools, people just want children to be safe.

MOORE: Safety and security is the cornerstone to learning. You can't learn unless you feel at home.

DESROCHES: And that's the crux of it all. Studies have shown that students do better when they feel safe, but there's a line. If a school is too secure, it can have the opposite effect, especially for students of color. One report found that school cameras single out students of color for discipline problems, often making it harder to learn. For NPR News, I'm David DesRoches in Hartford. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.