School security: networked reporting

If NewAssignment.net were operational, I imagine its infrastructure of networked journalism could be used not only to undertake large reporting projects but also quick and vast stories.

For example: I would be eager to see hundreds of thousands of us contact our school districts today to find out the state of their security, in light of the latest rash of tragic murders in schools across the country. As I’ve discussed before, this act of reporting could also be an act of advocacy: The more we dog our school administrators, the more they know we are watching, the more diligent I hope they will be. This isn’t about scoops; it’s about being watchdogs.

Here are questions I just sent to the superintendent of our schools. I introduced myself as a parent and writer and then said:

I hope you don’t mind if I ask you a few questions on school security in light of recent events. (I’ve also read your letter to parents on the site about crises and school closures.)

* Are all doors at all schools locked at all times? If not, what are the exceptions? How are the doors monitored?

* Are there security cameras in the schools? If so, how many? And if so, where and by whom are the monitored?

* How often are staff, faculty, and students trained in emergency procedures?

* Is there onsite security in the schools?

* If, God forbid, there were a threat within a school, what should we as parents expect to happen?

When I get an answer, I will post it here tagged SCHOOLSECURITY.

If you do likewise, please post what you find and tag it. If more of us start posting on the topic, the results will show up under a Technorati tag here.

Even if that happens, of course, it’s only part of the story. With a working system for networked reporting, we’d want to have a means to format the information being gathered and then to put it into a system that allows analysis.

And then we’d want reporters to followup and give us more than data: expert advice on school security and what it will take to keep our children safe. . . . analysis of previous school tragedies to see what could have prevented them. . . interviews with school administrators to see what they are trying to do and what they need to get the jobs done. . . interviews with parents and children to see how safe they feel. . . interviews with government officials to see what resources they are willing to bring to the task. . . interviews with police to see what they think is needed. . . and so on.

Together, we could jump on this story and answer the questions: How safe are our children today? And how can we make them safer?

: UPDATE: Less than an hour after I sent my email, the superintendent of our schools sent back a very informative reply. Among her replies:

* “The doors at the elementary and middle schools are supposed to be locked at all times. The doors at the high school are not locked, and in fact, students use side and rear doors to move to different parts of the building for class. Teachers are stationed at those doors. The front entrance doors at the elementary and middle schools have buzzer systems, and a secretary has to ‘buzz in’ (unlock the door for) each visitor.”

* There are 16 cameras in our middle school and 32 in the high school with 16 more coming. I wish there were cameras in the elementary schools and that they were monitored. I emailed teh superintendent suggesting that webcams are cheap — as little as $10 retail — and since every classroom has internet-connected PCs, every classroom can have a cam that can be monitored by the administration.

* “We have district and individual school crisis management teams that meet monthly to review current plans and procedures, and work very closely with the emergency management officers in the township. ([The district’s] municipal and school plans have been used as models in the county). Each school practices 3 lockdown drills per year, in addition to 2 monthly fire drills.

* There is no security in the schools but there is an armed police officer in the high school to deal with student issues.

* “In the event of a threat within a school, we take our direction from the police. They advise whether they want us to go into lockdown mode or evacuate. Both the county and local police have run their own training drills in our schools over the past several years. ”

The superintendent adds that a nut with a gun can do most anything.

: By the way, that simple act of emailing the school, asking questions, and getting answers is an act of journalism. Anyone can do it.

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  • http://makemarketinghistory.blogspot.com John Dodds

    Viewing this situation from afar albeit the scene of one of the earliest school rampages (Dunblane), I wonder if you’re addressing your question to the right people? Do you want your children to be educated in armed fortresses or do you want to accept that the problem lies outside the school where the weapons and the mindsets originate? Although we don’t have the full information about yesterday’s horrors, it seems to me that a secure school would only have precipitated a relocation of the event to some other place where young girls were gathered.

    • Stephen Merkley

      John Dodd,

      Are you the John Dodd that wrote an article in 2004 about
      Kohie Minato, a Japanese inventor of a magnetic motor. If you are would you please email me and let me know where he is at the present time and how I might get in touch with him.

      Thank you very much, I am interested in a home generator just like the one you wrote about in your article.

      Stephen Merkley
      Salt Lake City, Utah
      801-755-3168

  • http://geekfun.com eas

    Administrators have a limited amount of time and attention they can apply every day, week & year. By pressuring them to focus on one issue, you are pressuring them to reduce the attention they give to other issues.

    These incidents are horrifying, but perhaps before forcing school administrators to dramatically shift their attentions, it’s worth considering things in perspective, rather than reacting (once again) out of fear.

    School safety is an issue, but I’d guess that internal threats (student on student violence) are a bigger issue than external threats. Even then, the overwhelming majority of kids in this country will go through their public school careers without major threat to life or limb.

    Those most likely to be threatened with violence are likely in environments that also compromise their educational opportunities.

    I’d rather administrators focus their attention on the pressing ongoing & everyday problems their schools and students face, rather than girding themselves against rare and random acts by madmen.

  • http://spaceygreview.blogspot.com/ Grayson

    As a writer/blogger/mom/occasional journalist, I immediately sent the above questions on to my child’s school’s principal. This is asking for basic, critical information, assuming the school sends a reply.

    When my child was in Pre-K and the Fulton County (GA) Courthouse shooter, Brian Nichols (later to hook-up out in the ‘burbs with, and be turned-in by, the infamous Ashley Smith) was on the loose in parts unknown around metro Atlanta, the school my kid attended at the time went into a “lockdown” mode.

    I called the school when the news broke about Atlanta area schools going into “lockdown mode” and asked, “What does ‘lockdown mode’ mean at this particular school?” The person answering the school phone said, “I don’t know. Wait a minute, because I’ll have to go ask someone.”

    Needless to say, as a parent, not a journalist, I want and need to know the answers.

  • Wise One

    school shooters are looking for a helpless flock in a slaughter pen. We should encourage some willing teachers to be trained with weapons and in self defense law.

    The possibility of school teachers “maybe” pulling iron will stop this plague.

  • Anthony

    : By the way, that simple act of emailing the school, asking questions, and getting answers is an act of journalism. Anyone can do it.

    When everyone’s a journalist, no one will be.

  • Wise One

    Explaining further. The training would be at a police academy. Demanding.
    Real hard work.

    A trained teacher would carry a concealed weapon in school and traveling to and from school only. This would be beyond the authority of namby pamby school officials who are cutsey poo about guns..

  • http://www.mediangler.com haydn

    Do you seriously think it’s an act of journalism though? Seems like you’re moving that definition in the direction of any critical inquiry or act.

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  • Uncle Fester

    In typical American fashion, we will respond with useless “feel good” actions that make no difference but create tremendous overhead. Schools are soft targets – there’s no getting around it.

    What good are cameras? So we know who the shooter is? Locking doors? That’s a 15 second obstacle.

    Teacher stationed at the door? Is she armed? Then she’s not an obstacle, is she?

    Crisis Management? That’s more feelgood stuff. It won’t stop the loons from shooting, but Mommy and Daddy will feel better.

    Then there’s the “unforeseen consequence”. You can see it coming already. Some harebrained school administrator will start locking exits, and then there will be a fire, and kids will die.

    You know what could help? Responsible journalism. There’s a certain copycat element here, so if future incidents got 15 seconds of airtime and a page 7 article, the crazies probably wouldn’t notice.

    Want to save schoolkids? Put them on schoolbuses rather than having them drive or walk. More kids die in car accidents on the way to/from school every week than these psychos kill in two years.

  • http://www.everythingyellow.wordpress.com everythingyellow

    I think asking questions is a great idea. Like anything most people think it won’t happen to them, and it is even a threat in small schools. My school of 700 people had two bomb threats in a year. Schools need to be aware that it is an issue and have a plan of action and preventative measures. The best way to ensure that this is happening is to hold them accountable and talk to the right people.

  • http://www.digitaldeliverance.com Vin Crosbie

    Bit ironic to use a tragedy within an Amish community as a departure point for an imaginary example of online citizen journalism.

  • adslfan

    just give every kid a gun. if they see a bad guy. shoot.

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  • http://ladow.net Bob

    Some districts post their policies and regulations.

  • tim

    Haydn said, “Do you seriously think it’s an act of journalism though? Seems like you’re moving that definition in the direction of any critical inquiry or act.”

    Let’s try this out: Journalism has two parts — critical inquiry is one part, as long as you define the term in a way that embraces an ethic of verification. The other part? Publishing the results of your inquiry in a public forum.

    So I guess I don’t see why Jeff’s exercise is not journalism.

  • mb

    ah yes the knee jerk response:

    lock the children in jail. it’s for their own good.

    the school i went to (private rich school in a semi-bad neighborhood) had minimal security and no security cameras. and has no plans to install them even today, years later.

    then again, the riskiest area to me was walking to school every day through worse parts of the neighborhood. then again, seems most people now drive their kids to school because of FEAR. BOOGEY MAN. BOO.

    yes, it’s a tragedy and worth asking schools how they might respond. but it’s rare. you may want to ask how they respond to a metorite.

    (oh, and the classic in a rural PA town a friend grew up in was for kids to call in bomb threats. sometimes even partly go through with them. but mostly to get a day off of school.)

  • http://woip.blogspot.com Patrizia Broghammer

    I live in Italy where we have millions of problems, but thanks God not this.
    Nevertheless I do not think it is the right approach. Or at least not all.
    It is like when somebody has a fever you would just cure him with Aspirine.
    The fever would go down, but the problem of the infection would even get worse.

    Did anybody ask himself why suddendly we see so many armed people shooting and doing crazy things?

    May be I am beginning to be too old, but I say, as the old people usually say, at my times children were safe at school and the managers could concentrate on something more educative than security…
    And with it I do not mean it is not necessary, it was never so necessary…

    Patrizia

  • http://www.beginningwithi.com/ Living in Italy

    Amen to what John Dodds wrote – something that’s also been on my mind recently (http://www.beginningwithi.com/oped/americanviolence.html).

    I, too, live in Italy, where there is almost NO violence of any kind in schools – not even kids beating each other up in the playground. What the hell is wrong with American society that schools need White House-level security and kids have to be afraid every minute of the day? Though American by passport, I am SO thankful I don’t have to raise my daughter in the US.

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  • kristen

    “But today, we do not trust institutions.” — Jeff Jarvis.

    And its not just the media we distrust, but all institutions with a snotty, we-know-what-is-good-for-you voice, including public and other typical schools.

    Join the two-percent of us who have truly jettisoned the institutional voice and hire human-voiced tutors for your kids.

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  • http://jonathanpotts.blogspot.com Jonathan Potts

    One of the things that the media does not do well in covering cataclysmic events is to put them in perspective. What you propose is no doubt being done by reporters all across the country. Believe me, I know–I was an education writer in the 1990s. But it will only serve to pressure school districts and other policy makers to take steps that may be unnecessary and quite possibly counterproductive, which is what I discuss here.

  • http://spaceygreview.blogspot.com/ Grayson

    The Atlanta Public School system hasn’t exactly been treating my request to answer the above questions like it’s Barbara Walters calling. Still, I’ve been bugging them with emails and a follow-up call to respond to me, as a parent and as a blogger, and as part of a citizen journalism effort. However they respond, or not, should be interesting. But one must assume they’ll have to have a LOT of meetings before they are allowed to get back to me with their official talking points. Heck, it wouldn’t surprise me if the APS Communications Dept. has to have a series of meetings to get permission to access the Internet.

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  • http://www.hoosierworkshop.com/forums/members/StaffordCountyPublicSchoolsInformation71.aspx Inzaghi

    Administrators have a limited amount of time and attention they can apply every day, week & year. By pressuring them to focus on one issue, you are pressuring them to reduce the attention they give to other issues.

    These incidents are horrifying, but perhaps before forcing school administrators to dramatically shift their attentions, it’s worth considering things in perspective, rather than reacting (once again) out of fear.

    School safety is an issue, but I’d guess that internal threats (student on student violence) are a bigger issue than external threats. Even then, the overwhelming majority of kids in this country will go through their public school careers without major threat to life or limb.

    Those most likely to be threatened with violence are likely in environments that also compromise their educational opportunities.

    I’d rather administrators focus their attention on the pressing ongoing & everyday problems their schools and students face, rather than girding themselves against rare and random acts by madmen.