Intercom System Heading to Schools

Intercom System Heading to Schools

When visitors to Loudoun County Public Schools walk through the doors, they can expect to be greeted by a teacher or parent volunteer equipped with a pen and sign-in sheet and brightly colored identification badges. But that will soon change with the installation of video-intercom systems at all schools.

As of now, all the front doors of Loudoun County Public Schools remain unlocked through out the day. Visitors sign in at a desk manned by a volunteer and they are directed to the main office.

Deputy Superintendent Ned B. Waterhouse compared the intercoms to security measures found at most apartment building and offices. Next year, the front doors of schools will be locked at all times and visitors must ring a buzzer connected to either a front desk or the main office.

"Right now the doors are unlocked during the day. Anyone can enter the main part of the school," Waterhouse said. "This keeps everyone out until we know who they are, before they enter the building."

The video-intercom system, which cost $550,000, allows office staff to view someone at the door and speak with them via telephone. Once they are deemed "safe," office staff can buzz them in.

"These cameras will have the most profound impact on school security procedures to date," Waterhouse said.

Two weeks ago, the School Board cut $19 million from its budget by reducing salary increases and technology enhancements, but managed to fully fund increased security measures at all Loudoun County Public Schools.

Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick said the April 16 shootings at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., provided he and the staff perspective when making budget cuts.

IN ADDITION to the installation of telephone/camera units, the School Board also funded additional security cameras at all county elementary schools.

When originally coming up with a design layout for new schools in the county, staff hired a security consultant to help them make a few decisions about security measures.

The consultant recommended all schools have exterior and interior security cameras placed through out the schools. With that, the school system installed both sets of cameras through out all high schools and middle schools. At that time, not all elementary schools received both sets of cameras, so the School Board voted to fund the $94,570 project to install exterior security cameras at all elementary schools.

ALL COUNTY MIDDLE schools will receive security enhancements as well. School Board member Bob Ohneiser (Broad Run) made a motion last year to install panic buttons in all middle schools. Panic buttons are usually located under the secretary or administrator’s desk, that, when pressed, alerts local law enforcement of an emergency.

Waterhouse said a handful of schools in the county already have panic buttons under a few of school employees’ desks. The problem is, the panic buttons are not portable, Waterhouse said. Before staff spends the $23,000 allotted for the security measure, they are looking into other options.

"We’re looking into an alternative to the panic buttons," he said. "If you’re not at your desk, the panic button doesn’t do you any good."

So, staff is in the process of looking for portable panic buttons, "something you can physically hang around your neck," Waterhouse said.

If the staff is unable to find a portable panic button by summer, they will go with the fixed measure.

THE SCHOOL BOARD managed to trim the budget while keeping its goals in mind, Hatrick said at the last budget meeting.

During the budget reconciliation process, John Stevens (Potomac) made a motion to amend the budget by striking panic buttons and telephone/camera units in order to fully fund a technology initiative. Staff reduced the $12.2 million budget allotted for the refresh of instructional computers in 17 elementary schools, three middle school and five high schools, by $4 million.

Hatrick said the Monday, April 16, shootings at Virginia Tech provided he and the staff perspective when making budget cut recommendations to the FY '08 operating budget last week.

Stevens feared the enhanced security measures were a knee-jerk reaction to the recent tragedies and "the instinct to lock down schools was a "misguided one."

Stevens, a technology steering committee member, said he would like to see money that money go toward the refresh of computers at the middle-school level.

Stevens motion to amend the budget failed, and he voted in favor of the budget.

However, the School Board voted in favor of the budget 9-0, keeping security measures at the top o