Mike Taylor, facilities manager for the Moffat County School District, stood in his office on Rose Street and pointed to a large, flat-screen computer screen.
On display, in neatly ordered columns and rows, were dozens of live, full-color, high-definition video images from a building across town.
“That’s the high school now,” Taylor said of the images. “I can see what’s going on in the gymnasium, I can see what’s going on in the parking lot, just by sitting here.
“I could watch the game, if I wanted to.”
From a single computer monitor, Taylor said he and his staff can peer through every camera in the school district.
The cameras are one facet of a two-year, district-wide security upgrade that includes new radios, phone systems, door security, fire alarms and instant background checks on school visitors.
The upgrades were funded by a portion of a $30 million facilities bond approved by Moffat County voters in 2008.
Taylor, who has worked for the district for 25 years, said the upgrades were necessary.
“It used to be we didn’t worry much about this,” Taylor said. “But, the times we’re living in mandate we take preventative measures.”
The camera system is state of the art, Taylor said.
“We implemented the camera systems throughout the district,” he said. “So now, we have top-of-the-line cameras that help us provide supervision throughout our buildings, grounds and property.”
With a few mouse clicks, Taylor and staff can view all camera feeds from any school as an array on the computer monitor. From the array, it’s possible to click a single video image and enlarge it full-screen.
As an example, Taylor selected Ridgeview Elementary School from a drop-down menu. In an instant, Ridgeview corridors, entrances and grounds appeared on the screen.
In one panel, two faculty members were talking in a hallway. Taylor clicked on that image and brought it up full-screen.
“You can even zoom in,” Taylor said.
With a few more clicks, Taylor was able to zoom in and digitally pan toward the teachers’ faces.
Despite some possible implications, Taylor said he would be surprised if anyone in the district or community took issue with the scope of surveillance within the schools.
“It’s about kids’ safety,” he said.
In the event of a crime occurring at a school, for instance, the cameras could record the event for evidence, and, more importantly, give the facilities department and law enforcement the exact, real-time position of an intruder.
“We geared the system such that the police department can pull up a website and look inside the schools from their cars,” Taylor said.
That wealth of information could allow law enforcement to respond more quickly and safely to situations.
Aside from emergency situations and monitoring the effectiveness of fire drills, Taylor said people shouldn’t worry about a lack of privacy.
“We don’t monitor it all the time. We just don’t have the manpower for it,” he said.
Phones and radios
Taylor said the upgrade of the district’s phone system includes two new safety features: notification of any 911 calls originating from within school buildings and the ability to commandeer all district phones for public-address purposes.
“Whenever someone calls 911 from one of the buildings, the call pops up on my telephone screen,” Taylor said. “And, there are 10 other phones in the district that receive the same notification.”
The notification informs district staff of the call’s origin — both the building and room number.
“We get the 911 notification the same time the call leaves the building,” Taylor said. “We have a protocol we follow that allows us to help with whatever crisis is developing.”
Taylor said phones throughout the district can be converted into a public-address system at the push of a button.
“From this phone, I can commandeer every phone in the district, and (superintendent) Joe Petrone can also do that from his office,” he said.
The phones could be used to coordinate a school- or district-wide response to an emergency.
The bond money also allowed the district to upgrade its handheld radio equipment by adding relay towers for improved reception.
“We had (a radio system) before, but we didn’t have it to this degree,” Taylor said. “We weren’t able to talk to the entire district.”
The security upgrades include a keyless entry system at every building.
“We don’t hand out keys anymore,” Taylor said.
Instead, the facilities office issues key cards to staff.
“We don’t have to worry about people losing keys or stealing keys anymore. If a card is lost or stolen, we can cancel it,” he said.
The keyless system includes some unique features, Taylor said.
“If someone is having trouble getting into a door, they can call us up and we can open the door from here.”
Additionally, in the event of an emergency, Taylor and individual school administrators can limit access to a particular school.
“In each building, we have a button that can lock down all exterior doors,” Taylor said.
Also, if a door is inadvertently left open, facilities staff will know about it, Taylor said.
A control panel monitors all doors throughout the district. If a door is left ajar or is intentionally propped open, a light will alert staff.
Naturally, during students’ arrival and departure times, school entrances are unlocked. Taylor said school staff members are posted at doors during these times.
“Once the kids are in the buildings, then the doors lock,” he said.
The security upgrades also include adoption of the Raptor system.
Taylor said all school visitors must present a driver’s license to the administrative staff.
“They run that through the Raptor system, which is a web-based, nationwide ID system that identifies sex offenders,” Taylor said. “If you happen to be on the list, it will alert the school.”
Taylor said the system has the potential to identify perpetrators of other crimes, including such minor offences such as traffic violations.
However, Taylor said the district isn’t interested in prying to that degree.
“No,” Taylor said. “When I bought the system we could have done that. We could have retrieved anything from the system that we wanted to. But, we don’t care about that stuff.
“I’m not saying we won’t eventually branch out, but at this particular time, we’re just screening sex offenders.”
Testing the system
Taylor said the school district performs regular drills, which include monthly fire drills, and code yellow and code red drills.
The drills, Taylor said, are meant to prepare students for a variety of incidents.
“Obviously, we can’t cover every type of emergency situation, but by practicing them we get better, we get more comfortable with it,” he said.
Fire drills are the most common.
“We do fire drills in every building once a month. That’s state mandate,” Taylor said.
Taylor said the new security tools have been incorporated into the drills.
For instance, when a school initiates a fire drill, someone from the administration dials 911, and that call pops up on Taylor’s phone.
Also, the camera system is used to observe the drill in progress.
“It’s really nice to have the visual piece while you’re doing one of these drills,” Taylor said. “We grade (each school’s) performance. We see how fast they got out of the building, we check and see if doors were locked or unlocked, we check to see if special needs students were properly evacuated.”
Code yellow drills simulate a situation that needs careful management, but isn’t necessarily a school-wide emergency, Taylor said.
“It’s really a very nice tool,” he said of code yellow lockdowns. “It allows us to have control of a situation without interrupting education.”
In a code yellow situation, teachers are instructed to lock their doors and continue teaching. Students are not allowed in the corridors.
Taylor said a code yellow lockdown is useful in a medical emergency, for example.
Emergency responders can maneuver without crowds, and the lockdown provides patient privacy.
“They’re in a safe position, they’re still teaching and learning,” Taylor said of students in code yellow lockdowns, “But, they’re also poised to go into a code red, if necessary.”
A code red lockdown is serious, Taylor said.
“There are very few times that we’d go into a code red,” he said.
Situations include intruders or shooters.
Citing the protection of students, Taylor declined to divulge details of code red drills. But, he stressed they’re necessary.
“More (students) die from school shootings than fires,” Taylor said. “Those are just the times we’re living in.”
Taylor said the improvements have been worthwhile.
“We felt really good about these security measures,” he said. “We put a lot a lot of thought into what we needed and what we could actually work with.
“We’re not going to stop everything, but this is a big step in the right direction.”
And, these drills aren’t meant to scare children. They’re meant to empower children, Taylor said.
“It is part of education,” he said. “It’s training our kids to protect themselves.”