Local schools beef up security

BY MICHAEL WINTERMUTE

In an age where security concerns are a top priority, schools are constantly urged to reevaluate and revamp their security systems.

Generally speaking, schools in the area have chosen comfort over security in the past.

However, given what happened in Connecticut last December with a mass shooting of 20 elementary-aged children and six staff, changing times require a change in practices, and local school officials have stepped up to the plate.

In one of the more rigorous measures to be taken in the area, Lackawanna Trail is holding an active shooter drill on Tuesday, Aug. 27, at 8:30 a.m., the day before school begins.

The drill will consist of a hands-on experience for faculty, staff and law enforcement to demonstrate what it would be like to have to react to an emergency situation.

This includes the experience of dealing with blaring alarms and the possibility of having to run and hide – or fight.

Trail superintendent Matthew Rakauskas said security measures at Trail have always been the biggest priority for the district.

“We have always had locked doors and security cameras and have always done what we can to be sure students are safe from the outside and even each other,” Rakauskas said.

The school also reached a formalized agreement late last year with the Wyoming County Juvenile Court to supply a “Law Enforcement Liaison” who rotates between the schools in the districts three to four days a week.

The “liaison” is not meant to be considered a security guard, but instead maintains a presence for proactive measures, and according to Rakauskas, will likely be promoted from only part-time work.

The school also plans to experiment with different exit and evacuation strategies with more fire drills to familiarize students and faculty with the many different emergency scenarios that can arise.

“Above all, I want to say ‘Hats off’ to our principals, administrators and our director of maintenance – none of these measures would be possible without the hard work they do,” Rakauskas said.

Tunkhannock Area School District superintendent Michael Healey said the district also has taken security very seriously, particularly over the last year.

During that period, the district has added more internal and external cameras, revised the high school entry system, and provided an armed school resource officer.

In the future, those areas of improvement will all be strengthened, according to Healey.

The school also formed a committee that includes school board members to provide oversight to district security which can be contacted through the district’s website.

Any more information, Healey said, could be a security threat to the district.

“It is difficult to provide concrete information on district security, as
providing such information may jeopardize the safety of students, employees
and the public should this information be disclosed,” Healey said.

Elk Lake superintendent Dr. Bill Bush said a survey of students, staff and parents helped his district to determine which measures took priority in the community.

Over the last year, Elk Lake school district has finished replacing all exterior doors, named and numbered all windows, doors, stair cases, and roof top entrances, and conducted a safety audit from an outside safety company.

Additionally, an extra set of doors is being installed in the front entrance that requires visitors to be “buzzed” into the building and more security cameras were installed internally and externally.

“The beefed up security measures are a sign of the times,” Bush said. “Everywhere in society there is a heightened awareness regarding safety. Our schools are no different than any other public entity.”