School security: networked reporting

If 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.