Making school buildings safe for students, employees and visitors is a constantly evolving effort, according to Chris Delmain, Meramec Valley R-III School District building services director.
The more safety experts examine the kinds of emergencies that can occur on a school campus, he said, the more ways they find to protect the building and its occupants.
The district has just completed a $700,000 door replacement program in every building — rekeying all doors so teachers and staff need only one key to lock any door from the inside. Officials also will soon begin to review the use of cameras in schools.
Now the district is color-coding school halls with a map and placard system that enables first responders to identify hall colors from outside the building so they can quickly get to any problem spot.
Delmain meets monthly with a 25-person safety committee that includes Franklin County sheriff’s deputies, other school district safety committees, Meramec Valley’s school resource officer, two representatives from each building, administrators, county emergency management professionals and two school board members.
“Everybody who has a stake in school safety is on the committee,” Delmain said.
The types of emergencies that the safety committee looks at are active shooting incidents, fire, natural disaster, gas leak, railroad chemical spill, earthquake or an unknown person inside the building.
The committee looks at the structural need, as well as the practice that employees would need to follow for each type of emergency.
It was Kevin Anderson, Union School District school resource officer, who brought the color-coded hallways project to Meramec Valley, helped the committee craft the elements of the program and adapt it to the district’s 10 school buildings.
“Kevin really walked us through it and showed us how the whole thing worked,” Delmain said. “It’s a great tool for people called to one of our schools for any emergency. It cuts the time it takes them to reach the right spot inside the building.”
School safety as an ongoing project dates back to the 1999 high school shooting in Colorado, he said.
“School safety for us at Meramec Valley really became a reality after Columbine,” said Kevin Dean, veteran building services staffer. “That’s when we first installed the entry system.”
The familiar door buzzers at every school building, that were installed more than 15 years ago, recently received a companion sign that provides a step-by-step guide on how the buzzers work, asks visitors to look at the camera in the buzzer and reminds them to stop at the front office and sign in. The locked doors are not taken for granted.
“We have the staff check all the outside doors every month,” Delmain said.
The new color coding hallway project is simple appearing, but really an intricate program to assist ambulance, fire or police who are called to the building to locate the site of any problem from the outside and proceed quickly to the trouble spot.
Signs on outside doors identify which color halls can be reached through that door.
Maps that show all of the halls, showing their color and entry doors, will be posted near the inside entrances of each building and will eventually be uploaded to the laptop computer inside police patrol cars.
Once inside the hallway, beside every door, a small sign, in that hallway’s color, will display the room number and teacher’s name if the room is a classroom. Other rooms will be identified as janitor’s closet, teachers lounge, etc.
“A first responder can look down the hallway and see that spot of color next to every door,” Dean said. “No matter what other colors are on display in the hallway, the door plaques are easy to see.”
Work on this project began in August 2013, at the beginning of the school year.
The first school to be outfitted with the hall maps and door placards was Truman Elementary. Marian Meinhardt, Truman principal, was all smiles as Delmain, Dean and Officer Steve Zapolski explained the system.
“It’s another form of peace of mind,” Meinhardt said.
There is more to school safety than building access and directions for emergency crews. The district has fire drills that bring the building services department to the building.
“All of the building occupants are outside, but we (the building department) are inside,” Dean said. “In a fire, we’d direct the fire department to electrical power and water shut-offs, and we want to make sure all of the lights are working so firefighters could find their way around the building.”
The police department also conducts active shooter training in local schools.
“Administrators let us know when this will take place so we can attend,” Delmain said. “Our job is not to take part in the incident except to make sure that everything in the building is working. They have to be able to get in and out.
“In a full-blown shooting incident with a swat team where someone could get hurt, our job is to have maps on hand that give officers the locations to shut off water and electric,” Delmain said. “We need to be there to answer any questions for the incident commander.”
Once a year Delmain and Superintendent Randy George attend the Missouri Safe Schools Awareness drills at the School of the Ozarks.
Beginning next week, Coleman Elementary School will be used as a pilot program for installing safety security film on the front of the school. The film keeps glass from shattering.
“It’s amazing how it works,” Zapolski said. “When would-be burglars threw a brick through the window of a gun store, trying to break in, there was a hole the size of the brick, but the glass didn’t break.”
Outside safety also is a concern. The district is exploring a program to enclose all playgrounds with chainlink fences and are studying dark areas at night to see where added lights might be needed.
“School safety is a work in progress,” Delmain said. “We think Meramec Valley schools are really safe, but our safety committee continues to talk to the emergency professionals and other school districts to see if there is more that we can do.”