Special Report - Securing our Schools

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - Bulletproof glass, metal detectors, even infrared cameras--school security is at an all-time high.

But while some administrations can afford to spare no expense, others are forced to find creative ways within their means to protect students and staff.

In a Newschannel 3 special report, we take a look at the cost-efficient, common-sense strategies, with an expert in the field.

It was the second deadliest shooting in U.S. history, and it left 26 people dead, including 20 first graders.

"We're all vulnerable," said Grand Rapids Christian Schools Superintendent Tom DeJonge. "Faced with a significant crisis, knowing what to do and what to do in a very quick, intuitive way can be challenging."

According to data compiled by Everytown for Gun Safety, there have been 88 school shootings since Sandy Hook.

Jason Russell, with Secure Education Consultants, knows a thing or two about security protocol, and he doesn't scare easily.

Russell is a former U.S. Secret Service special agent, who once protected the President.

"Show me your building, and I'll show you the best way that I think you can make it as safe as possible," he says.

In 2012, Russell co-founded Secure Education Consultants.

"What ways are they vulnerable that I would be able to exploit if I wanted to, and then I try to secure those up," he says about his technique. "We're looking at entryways, we're looking at glass, we're looking at walls, doors, systems, power, water, gas."

You may notice that his focus isn't on fancy surveillance systems.

"One of the things that we want to try to do is to create a common point of entrance so rather than freely allowing access to anybody in and out of the school, we want to make sure that they're funneled in to a common point," Russell said.

In the event an intruder does get in, Russell looks at lock-down components.

"Do I think that any door can be secured? Short of turning every school into a prison, the answer is no," he said.

But he can train staff to work with what they have.

A closed door might seem like an obvious line of defense, but even that can be tricky.

Contrary to what he recommends, one school Russell showed us as an example has all kinds of doors.

"In this case, the room has some vulnerabilities in terms of the glass on the doors," he said. "There's products that you can put on this glass that would prevent entry. You could actually shoot through the glass but you wouldn't be able to enter into the room. There's a protective film that goes over that. Or another option might be to evacuate."

But what if that's not an option?

A group may have to seek cover and find a safe place to hide.

"We actually revamp the floor plan to show them exactly in every classroom, this is where you should be. We diagram it on each so that a teacher just needs to look at it and say 'this is our safe area.'" Russell said.

"Where can I not be seen from the door?" Russell asked. "In some classes there isn't a good spot. In this class there does happen to be a thin area."

Door locks--while practical--can be problematic.

"In emergency situations, your body is experiencing physiological responses that you can't control. One of those is loss of fine motor skills," Russell said.

For that reason, he recommends this door remain locked and open, so it can close quickly without a key.

"I don't discourage cameras but what I do say is that cameras are good at recording what's already happened," Russel said, adding that he'd rather fewer cameras inside the building and more outside--in elementary schools, especially, because that's where a threat will most likely begin.

"What I also see is lockers without locks on them which could potentially be a place to hide something," Russell said, as he evaluated the school.

It's better the school provide students with locks, he says--with an assigned combination.

Russell's recommendations are custom to the location and infrastructure of each school.

Grand Rapids Christian High School, for example, sits near train tracks--which makes it more susceptible to a chemical spill.

Its football field, he says, is the best place to land a helicopter to med-evac someone out.

The ice arena--behind the track--is what Russell deems the most logical evacuation spot, given parking and proximity.

"The reality is, emergencies don't schedule themselves. They're going to happen in the most inopportune time," Russell said.

And perhaps, too often to the most vulnerable of victims.

"When parents send their kids to school every morning, they expect them to be cared for, nurtured and to be safe. And we take that very seriously," DeJonge said.

Russell's team not only provides site assessments and custom emergency plans, it also trains staff for crisis response.

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