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Front Page » October 12, 2006 » Local News » Security officers monitor schools to protect students
Published 3,285 days ago

Security officers monitor schools to protect students

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Kent Labrum monitors the Carbon High campus through a series of cameras. The security officer can also pick up images from Mont Harmon Junior High. Labrum indicates that the key to security on campus is communication between staff members and the students.

Kent Labrum sits behind a half dozen monitors in his office at Carbon High and watches what is happening on the campus.

Labrum can also tap into cameras at Mont Harmon Junior High. But in his job as security officer for Carbon district, he spends the majority of his time in the halls and public areas of the schools.

"It's important that I stay in contact with the kids," he says. "They need to see me and know that they can come to me and talk."

In recent weeks, Labrum's job has taken on more importance due to what happened in Pennsylvania, Colorado, Missouri and Wisconsin. It is his job, along with administrators and faculty to keep the schools in Carbon County safe.

Up until a week and a half ago, many people thought school violence occurred in other areas. But after the shooting of 10 girls at an Amish schoolhouse in Lancaster, Pa., people started realize violence can happen everywhere.

In the same week, another shooting and death occurred in Colorado and a principal was killed in Wisconsin at a small suburban school. Earlier this week, a boy in the mid-west brought an AK47 assault rifle to school. He fired the weapon into the ceiling of the building before rifle jammed and school personnel were able to wrestle it away from the boy.

Ever since the Columbine High shootings, school districts have become more concerned about security, even in small, seemingly quiet places like Price. Much has been written about he subject and how to resolve the problem. But when people ask administrators and other school personnel, it comes down to communication with the studentbody.

Unless the schools became like prisons with guards at all entrances, bars on the windows and wire surrounding the campus, no one can prevent an individual from attempting to injure students or staff.

But in the cases of violence with guns or bombs, someone other than the perpetrator knows about the plan and that is the key to security. Students need to be listened to and taken seriously when they report something they have heard.

School security is nothing new. As far back as the 1950s, some suburban schools began to hire security personnel, primarily to handle the integrity of buildings when they were not in use.

Since then, the role of security personnel has increased. In some places, county sheriffs or city police have officers in the schools.

In many larger districts along the Wasatch Front, small security forces that used to check for unlocked school doors have turned into full-fledged law enforcement agencies with certified officers, police cruisers and a myriad of weapons. At least one district has a detective working within the security organization.

"We have done a lot of things over the years in terms of action and planning to keep our students safe," said Superintendent David Armstrong on Tuesday. "Our main goal is education, but you can't do that if you don't have a safe environment in which to learn."

Armstrong indicated that he, Labrum and district maintenance supervisor Deon Kone have developed emergency plans and protocols for all the schools.

Even a celebratory crowd such as this one can pose problems for security on a school campus. Security personnel are present at most major athletic and school activities during the year, so that problems can be resolved as soon as possible.

Emergencies are more than a man with a gun and can include natural disasters or accidents such as hazardous materials spills near schools.

The district has also been meeting with local law enforcement agencies on all the plans.

"In Helper, we have schools near a major highway and between two sets of rail lines," said Armstrong. "The plan was always if there was problems at one school, students would be moved to the other school. But they are only a block apart and, if something like a spill happens, it will affect both campuses. We have worked on evacuation plans that are up to date for all the schools and continue to improve them."

Accidents are one thing, but intentional disasters are a different matter.

Labrum's main base is at Carbon High, but he visits all the schools. He often is doing training and communication with faculty and administrators in other buildings. Communication with authorities is important. He has a cell phone programmed with all emergency numbers and a radio with a direct line to county dispatch so he can call for backup.

"I also have a couple of part-time security personnel who work at night as well, patrolling the buildings and checking for problems," explained Labrum.

But daytime security is still a concern. Administrators and teachers across the district are trained to keep kids safe.

"We have been moving toward having only one entrance in a school where people can come in from the outside," pointed out Armstrong. "Tom Montoya (principal at Helper Junior High) has it set up so the only door people can enter during the day to get into the school is the front door. People can leave by the other doors, but the only unlocked entry is the front. In the new elementary school we are building in Sunnyside, none of the doors except the front will be for entry."

Recently, there has been talk around the country of arming teachers. But many people don't like the idea, including the superintendent.

"Having faculty armed in a school could be a problem should something go wrong," said Armstrong. "I don't think that is a very good idea."

One of the problems that arises during any kind of school crisis is often the crush of parents trying to get to their kids without having full information about what is going on. Armstrong says that the board of education is looking at a system that will solve some of that problem should a crisis arise.

"Next week, in school board meeting we will be discussing a system called Parent Link," he said. "I think that would be a good system for us to use not only for getting information to parents about some things going on in the district but also in an emergency situation."

Parent Link is a system that automatically informs all parents by phone, and possibly e-mails, about what is going on at a school. The district would call the company that operates the system and they would have a data bank of phone numbers to all the parents that have children in that school. A message from the district would be recorded about the situation and then all the parents would be called by the automated system. The call would let them know about the emergency, giving them information about the situation, and if and where they could pick their children up.

"It's a system that would stop some of that confusion in an emergency situation," said Armstrong.

As for school preparation, teachers run drills and work with kids on safety in the school concerning all kinds of situations.

"Remember, when we were kids we had earthquake and fire drills," said Armstrong. "Now we have those and other kinds of drills as well, such as lock down and evacuation drills. The first job of a teacher is to keep the kids in their care safe. And we continue to work toward doing that."

For Labrum, his job of security in the schools is not only important, but it is also a labor of love.

"This is a great job and I get to do a lot of interesting work," noted Labrum. "But most of what school security is about is knowing what's going on and having contact with the kids so that you can be sure you are on top of things. If we can prevent problems, it's a lot better than trying to solve them when they occur."

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