Wichita ramps up school security, starting with doors that lock from the inside

What happens during a school lockdown?

A school lockdown is a precautionary measure issued in response to a direct or nearby threat. It requires staff and students to respond quickly and comply with rules. Here’s how it often works.
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A school lockdown is a precautionary measure issued in response to a direct or nearby threat. It requires staff and students to respond quickly and comply with rules. Here’s how it often works.

The Wichita school district plans to ramp up security measures this year — upgrading classroom door locks, adding cameras, and buying more metal detectors and defibrillator devices.

Schools also will hold crisis drills at least once a month to meet a new state requirement.

The improvements will be financed in part by a state grant earmarked for school security, said Terri Moses, Wichita’s director of safety services. The district received $922,600 from the grant.

“We were very happy when we heard that the state of Kansas was going to allocate additional funds for safety measures,” Moses said.

The move follows a mass shooting that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in February. Research from that incident and others prompted the district to focus its grant money on four areas, Moses said:

  • Installing locking mechanisms on classroom doors that can be locked from inside.

  • Upgrading security cameras at school entrances and other areas.

  • Placing an automated external defibrillator (AED) device in every district building.

  • Buying eight new metal detectors, which primarily are used at football and basketball games and other events. The district owns 25 metal detectors, Moses said, but many are out-of-date and no longer usable.

The project should be complete by the end of the school year, Moses said.

Beginning this fall, Kansas schools will be required to conduct nine crisis drills each year — about one a month — to practice scenarios such as armed intruders, gas leaks, building damage, missing students or police activity in the area, Moses said. Previously, schools were required to conduct a fire drill once a month; that has been reduced to four per year.

The plan continues a decade-long series of improvements intended to enhance school security in Wichita, the state’s largest district.

Five years ago, the Wichita district spent about $3 million to beef up school security by installing new high-definition cameras, keyless-entry doors and a revamped dispatch center. Since then, it has contracted with a new security system that checks visitors against a database of sex offenders and adopted the “Run, Hide, Fight” response plan for dealing with an armed intruder.

School security measures evolve as experts learn from mass shootings and other emergencies, Moses said. New door locks are a priority in Wichita because most of the district’s 4,000-plus classrooms can be locked only from the outside.

“One of the things we point out is that when you hide, you need to secure yourself,” she said.

“In order to do that now, a teacher would have to go outside, lock the door and pull the door shut. That’s not necessarily timely, and it’s also not very convenient in that stressful situation.”

The district intends to buy eight new metal detectors. But so far there’s no plan to place them permanently at any building or to search students regularly as they enter school, Moses said.

“We have high schools that have in excess of 100 doors,” she said. “Metal detectors work great if you have the staffing to make sure that building is secure all the way around. With schools, we do not have the staffing to do that.”

Terri Moses, executive director of safety services for Wichita schools, explained how the district is responding to threats involving "creepy clown" accounts and why officials opted to proceed with classes as usual Monday. (Oct. 3, 2016)