State leaders consider ways to enhance school security

NEWPORT, Maine (NEWS CENTER) --- Months after 26 people were gunned down at an elementary school in Newtown Connecticut, school districts across Maine and the nation are still considering ways to keep their students safer.

Just weeks ago Maine lawmakers received two consultant reports evaluating school security across the Pine Tree state. On the whole they said while districts are fairing well there are many ways the system can improve.

The reports were put together at the request of the Maine Department of Education. They were drafted by Safe Havens International, which is a non-profit school safety center based in Georgia, as well as PDT Architects which is in Portland.

While school climate across Maine was found to be positive, the studies did indicate the need for some changes that will cost money. According to the department of education, there are some older schools in the state that currently do meet widely 'accepted standards' for security such as having locked doors during the school day and duress buttons. The consultants report also recommended improving doors locks themselves for many schools as well improving systems for screening visitors and creating better labeling for exit and escape plans.

"We're actually focused on looking at hundreds of things when we go into a building," said Michael Dorn, who is the executive director for Safe Haven, "we're looking at their plans..the training...they way they do their drills..the structure of the building...the design. We're looking at the connection between people in the place...through murals and artwork."

Dorn, who has decades of experience in law enforcement, added that there are also cost effective ways that schools in Maine can increase safety and efficiency. With the help of Safe Haven, state education directors released a 20 step plan that can help districts achieve those goals.

Dorn also encouraged more collaboration between school leaders and emergency agencies at all levels in developing comprehensive incident response plans.

"There's not a device you can buy or a gadget or a software program or a law that you can pass...that's just gonna address school safety," he said, "people ya know in this case.. particularly school staff and in many cases students are our most protective mechanisms too."

Currently each school district in Maine develops its own crisis plans using standards from the Maine Emergency Management Agency. RSU 19 in Newport is one district that has expanded its building security since the Newtown tragedy by adding a card system for doors, which are locked throughout the school day.

School administrators say they have also been collecting feedback and reviewing their response plans each year.

"Right now..let's face it...we don't have metal detectors when we walk into our schools," said Fred Umphrey, who is the Jr. ROTC director for Nokomis High School and a collaborator on the school's crisis plan, "Is that something we should do here in Newport? I don't think so at this point but who knows..down the road...maybe that might be something that has to happen."

The department of education is currently looking over the consultants' report with the help of Maine Emergency Management. The state says it is planning to build off its recommendations in the coming months. Because of its highly confidential contents on school security officials say the report could not be released in its entirety.

You can read the released report by clicking here.


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