Security measures increase in schools after 9/11

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Parish Episcopal/Dallas, Texas
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Kristie Wolfe, principal of Father Tolton Regional Catholic School, stands in the the yet-unfinished hallways. The school will join others across the country in instituting increased security measures in the post-9/11 age.
Photo by CHRISTOPHER PARKS/MUJW

Kristie Wolfe, principal of Father Tolton Regional Catholic School, stands in the the yet-unfinished hallways. The school will join others across the country in instituting increased security measures in the post-9/11 age.

COLUMBIA — The terrorist attack in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001, shook the world in a dramatic way. In the years following, people — particularly parents — no longer felt secure on American soil.

Parents soon began to fear for their most prized possessions: their children. It was now planted in their minds that an attack could occur at any possible moment, even in public schools.

Michelle Baumstark, the community relations coordinator for Columbia Public Schools, said that after the Columbine shooting in 1999, school districts across the country became more aware of safety precautions.

After 9/11, school officials across the country began to advance security measures tremendously.

In Columbia, communication between all of the public schools and local law enforcement grew stronger. Threat Assessment Teams, who investigate threats made from students or any suspicious behavior, were established. A school-safety conference takes place every year to improve safety strategies.

Julie Kammerich, a math teacher at Smithton Middle School, was teaching a class during the 9/11 attacks.

“An hour or two later, the principal announced the attack over the PA system, and the hubbub began among the students,” she said. “It was pretty much a lost day from that moment on.

“I think the emotions for me were first shock, followed by fear and then finally questioning and a desire for protection of my family and students,” Kammerich said. “For the students, I don’t think they were really old enough to understand the extent of the threat, but there was definitely an aura of panic that set in before we all began our thirst for more knowledge and understanding of the situation.”

After 9/11, the school district provided increased safety training and created a thorough communication system for the community.

“Our biggest change since 9/11 with security is in our way of communicating with parents and families,” Baumstark said.

Multiple innovations were created to promptly notify families. A CPS alert is a mass text message used to inform families about emergencies or breaking weather information. An E-alert is an e-mail blast that informs of cancellations and emergencies, and auto-dialing to surrounding homes provides more detailed information.

The staff training included active intruder hands-on training with the local sheriff’s and police departments. Teachers learned where to go, where to hide and how to keep students safe in an emergency, Baumstark said.

“Staff training was mandatory, and they had to pass a computerized test on emergency cases,” Baumstark said.

Kristie Wolfe, principal of Father Tolton Regional Catholic High School, said security is of utmost importance. The new building is currently under construction, with plans to open this fall. Security measures include many cameras. A key security feature to be installed is a card scanner, which will allow school officials to monitor who is in the building at all times.

A tighter access control system is important in today’s society, Wolfe said, because it prepares building staff for an intruder or attack.

Heightening security within K-12 schools was the focus of a 2003 conference at George Washington University. One of the main points made during the conference, titled “Schools: Prudent Preparation for a Catastrophic Terrorism Incident,” was that during times of crisis, schools must serve in the role of parent or physician to the children until families can be reunited.

A recommendation in a summary discussion at the conference stated supervisors and school support staff can reduce risks and be better prepared if given the necessary information, training, support and resources.

According to National School Safety and Security Services, an Ohio-based national consulting firm specializing in school security and school emergency/crisis preparedness, schools nationwide are taking action with prevention programs, security measures and emergency preparedness training to maintain safety in a catastrophic situation.

Shivingi Singh, a student at Rock Bridge High School, was in India on Sept. 11, 2001. She was too young too remember what actually happened on that day, but she recalls that the impact of the event distinctly hit her when she moved to America at the age of nine.

“I can remember being surprised by all the checking we had to go through at the airport,” she said. “To me, taking my shoes, bracelets, socks, phones and all that out seemed weird.”

Adam Shoelz, another Rock Bridge student, said he thinks everyone is less trustworthy, partially because of 9/11.

“The public mindset carries over into public policy,” he said. “Thus, security measures are tightened by the Transportation Security Administration, the Patriot Act is passed and we create entire new intelligence communities like the Department of Homeland Security.”

As the 9/11 anniversary approaches, Kammerich feels much more prepared for an emergency attack than she did five years ago.

“I don’t know if the precautions are necessary, but I think they are desirable,” she said, referring to the security measures at her school. “It’s always better to be prepared.”