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Editorial: All schools should take steps to increase security

Dec. 26, 2012 @ 10:10 PM

The tragic deaths at Sandy Hook Elementary School quickly revived the national debate about the sale of assault weapons and raised more questions about what we do for people suffering from mental illness.

But the Dec. 14 mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., also has school officials, parents and students thinking about how to make school buildings more secure.

Investigators still have not offered a possible motive for 20-year-old gunman Adam Lanza's rampage or why he targeted the elementary school. But one thing is clear, once he made that decision, he had little trouble getting into the building.

Although all the details have not been revealed, Lanza apparently shot through glass doors and gained quick access to the offices and classrooms of the school. The staff and students were defenseless, and in about 20 minutes, Lanza killed 20 students and six staff members. As police arrived, he turned a hand gun on himself.

The vulnerability of the school surprised many, especially considering the billions spent on school security in the wake of the 1999 Columbine High School incident and other school shootings in recent years.

Some, including the National Rifle Association, have suggested an armed presence at every school. Both locally and nationally, school officials have pointed out that would come with a large price tag -- $2 billion, according to one estimate.

Almost a third of schools already have armed security in form of police resource officers or other police security. So stepping up that presence with trained personnel is not out of the question, and frankly makes more sense than arming school staff or depending on armed volunteers, as some have recommended.

But what about the buildings themselves?

About 90 percent of schools are locked to the outside during the school day, requiring visitors to come through a single entrance and identify themselves. But some schools have made that a two-step process, where visitors first enter a secured area with surveillance, before they receive a second clearance to enter the hallways or office.

Parents and regular school visitors might have viewed that as an extra hassle before Sandy Hook, but it seems to be a reasonable step now. The use of bullet-proof glass or other stronger doors should also be considered. Teachers also have voiced a need for emergency telephone systems rather than the traditional intercom to provide better communication in a time of emergency.

If nothing else, schools should have a professional security assessment to identify weaknesses in access, monitoring and communication. The most lasting memorial to the tragedy at Sandy Hook would be safer schools across the country.

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