Barnegat School District Tightens Security Measures With ‘Panic Button’

Feb 14, 2013

Should there be an emergency in a Barnegat Township public school, each building in the district will have a direct line to the police department, bypassing the standard 911 procedure. This information was included in a recent letter to parents from Barnegat Township School District Superintendent Karen Wood in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, which occured in December in Connecticut.

“Typically, 911 calls must go through the county dispatch, then to the municipality,” said Wood. “Each school has emergency response radios provided by the Barnegat Police Department to shorten response time in event of an emergency.”

Wood said local police would be committed to “walk-through” visits in the schools while on their patrols each day.

“Research shows that random visits usually deter criminal activity (more effectively) than scheduled visits,” said Wood. “The visibility provides the staff with the opportunity to keep the police department informed of any suspicious activity. This service is being provided at no additional costs to our taxpayers.”

Wood said the police would assess security drills, which are mandated by the state. These can include lock-down drills, where the doors are locked and the lights are turned off as if a shooting is actually occurring in the building. They also could include “shelter drills,” when the entrance and exit doors are locked.

“That could be a situation when maybe there is a robbery and police believe there is an armed suspect on the loose,” said Wood. “The person is not actually in the building, but we have to make sure he can’t get inside.

“Recommendations for improvement will provided, which the district would then incorporate,” she said. 

Wood said the schools will have magnets installed on claasroom doors in case they have to be locked in an emergency. Security cameras are undergoing a free assessment that would determine positioning and security options.

“This will allow school security and administrators to have increased visibility of school exteriors, egresses, high-traffic areas, hallways and doorways, as well as main entrances,” she wrote.

Wood said Barnegat High School will utilize a law enforcement unit comprised of administrators, substance abuse counselor, security coordinator, juvenile detective and school resource officer.

“The unit will meet periodically to discuss suspicious incidents, bullying activity and other acts which may be related to school violence,” she said..

Wood said all visitors will be asked for identification whenever they enter one of the schools.

“This district is also reaching out to the Office of School Preparedness and Emergency Planning through the state Department of Education and the New Jersey State Police to provide further instances in tightening our security practices. We will continue to fine-tune our existing policies and implement new ones to keep our children safe.” 

Township Committeewoman Elaine Taylor, a former school board member, noted that Assemblyman Ralph Caputo (D-Essex) has introduced legislation making direct access to police, or the “panic button,” mandatory in all pubic schools.

“Barnegat schools are already ahead of the curve on this,” she said.

“Essentially, this will eliminate the middle man, which in this case is the Ocean County Sheriff’s Department,” said Police Chief Art Drexler. “This will allow us to get to the school considerably faster, and we know that every minute counts. It is a sad commentary that it has come down to this, because I remember when school was one of the safest places you could be in. Unfortunately, so much has changed.” 

Lt. Keith Germain said that since the 1999 Columbine, Colo., school shooting incident, police have staged various drills and tactical scenario training programs.

“We do it in the buildings during the summer,” said Germain. “We use our officers and some volunteers to serve as role players. We replace our regular weapons with fake guns, which fire plastic, serrated projectiles. That serves as an incentive to make sure you don’t make a mistake because if you get hit with one of those projectiles, it will hurt it will leave a welt. You really have to act as if it is a real school shooting incident because these guns don’t fire blanks.”

— Eric Englund 

 ericenglund@thesandpaper.net

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