Schools to use grants to bolster security

By LISA CAPOBIANCO
STAFF WRITER
With Bristol Public Schools back in session, the district has decided to apply for a state grant that would help tighten security and safety.
During a recent Operations Committee meeting, Bristol Superintendent of Schools Dr. Ellen Solek said the School Security Competitive Grant Program (SSCGP) is available to Connecticut public schools and now private schools for security and safety infrastructure. The reimbursement-only grant is due Sept. 15. Bristol has a reimbursement rate at about 67 percent, said Solek.
Under the grant, school safety projects eligible for funding include the installation of surveillance cameras, ballistic glass, double door access, entry door buzzer systems, and panic alarms or systems, most of which the school district already has in place, said Solek.
Solek said one change of the grant this year is that the state identified “priority” school districts, or schools with the most “need,” which does not include Bristol.
“Their first inclination for grant funding is going to be these priority schools, and…if there are monies left, there are monies left, they’ll take a look at those of us who also have applied,” said Solek.
Currently, there are classroom doors around the district that do not have inside locks on the doors, said Solek. Greg Boulanger, director of school safety and security, has been working with a consultant from the state, Detective Mike Grieder of the Critical Infrastructure Protection Unit. Boulanger has consulted with Grieder about the most recent safety equipment for the schools. The unit has conducted a variety of presentations on safety at the local, state and national level, and has visited nearly 200 schools. Grieder said the goal is to present schools with a “common-sense approach” to safety, advising them to focus on the entire process of staying safe in school, and to stay engaged.
“It is important to be situationally aware of what is happening,” said Grieder, adding that students and staff should be  on the look-out for suspicious activity once they step onto their school campus.
“School safety as we thought about it, has changed,” added Boulanger. “We need to make sure to stick to the processes in place.”
Boulanger said all schools in the district currently have panic buttons, and principals have emergency reaction plans. Any visitor who enters the schools must sign-in when they arrive and wear a badge at all times while walking in the building.
“Bristol is way ahead of where it was a year-and-a-half ago,” said Boulanger, adding that students also play a role in helping school safety when they report suspicious activity going on. “We have greatly enhanced our safety through audio and visual monitoring.”
Grieder said schools also should look out for various safety products that are advertised out there, including bulletproof whiteboards and products that barricade doors. He said those products may not only be a gimmick, but also may cause more safety concerns, especially if safety personnel try to access a classroom when the doors are locked from the inside.
“If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” said Grieder, adding the main goal is to lock the door and. “There is no one product that will make everyone safer.”
“There is no cookie-cutter design solution to all these problems,” added Boulanger.
Since the Newtown tragedy that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012, Grieder said he has seen many districts focus on specific parts of their schools to pay attention to, such as the front entryway. He has advised schools to stop focusing on the specific details of Newtown, but rather to start focusing on the entire security process itself.
“These things happen in any different manner,” said Grieder, adding that students and staff also should be aware of the kinds of messages being sent on social media websites.
During the meeting, Solek said the district has looked into the implementation of a mass notification system, which allows text messages and e-mails to be sent in the event of a crisis or unexpected intruder. The system would also connect to Bristol police and fire departments.
“It is the most efficient way to get the word out to them,” said Solek.
Solek added that the base price for a notification system in Bristol would start at about $26,000.
“The better able you are to notify everybody, the safer the general population is going to be,” said Grieder, calling the mass notification system “an incredibly important part of security.”
Detective Grieder also has advised schools to enhance their practice drills by adding small surprises to prevent students and staff from becoming accustomed to “mundane practices.” Whether inviting a fire official to create a blocked exit or starting a lockdown drill during a vulnerable time of the day (i.e. lunch), schools can find different ways to help students and staff think on the spot in the event of a real incident.
“You’re not trying to scare people,” said Grieder, adding that schools should not indicate whether a drill is a “practice” drill. “They just have to be prepared for non-mundane [practices].”
 “It keeps [students and teachers] on their toes and…forces you to think very quickly on your feet,” said Solek.
Comments? Email lcapobianco@BristolObserver.com.