Wichita school-security upgrades go beyond locks and cameras

It’s a disturbing but necessary sign of the times:

Wichita school officials will welcome students back to class this week with more security measures designed to better protect them in case of active shooters or other emergencies.

For the second straight year, a grant from the Kansas Department of Education will finance new cameras, door locks and other improvements, said Terri Moses, Wichita’s director of safety services. The district received $921,000 from the grant.

“All the things we try to do in regards to security are done with an all-hazards approach,” Moses said.

Some of this year’s upgrades are high-tech and costly, and will be phased in over time, Moses said — things like digital security cameras, classroom locks and buzz-in doors that before- and after-school program staff can access from portable tablets.

Others are low-tech and common sense — numbering and labeling doors from inside and out, making sure first responders have detailed maps for each building, and using clearer language during school lockdowns.

“Up until this last year, we did what was called a Level 1 or Level 2 lockdown,” Moses said. “I could . . . ask people, ‘What’s the difference between a Level 1 and Level 2?’ And you’d get these confused looks, because it’s code terminology.”

Now the terms are “lockout” and “lockdown.”

Police activity around a school, Moses said, might prompt a lockout, during which no one is allowed in, but students can still move from classroom to classroom. Suspicious activity inside a school would prompt a lockdown, during which teachers are directed to lock classroom doors and shelter in place until given an all-clear.

“It’s a move to make it just a little bit more logical, rather than confuse people,” Moses said.

That kind of clarity is crucial, particularly in times of crisis. If someone inside a school calls 911 and needs to give his location — whether that’s because of a violent intruder or a medical emergency — it helps to see door numbers clearly.

The state’s largest district, which is charged with protecting about 50,000 students every school day, should be commended for building upon previous upgrades. And state lawmakers are wise to point more funding toward school security.

No one likes to start a school year envisioning the worst. But it’s smart to prepare for it and do all we can to prevent it.