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March 26, 2014

City schools upping security in wake of nat’l school shootings

CULLMAN — With the new high school currently under construction, Cullman City School officials are taking advantage of the situation to add some new security features that should be in place once the facility opens later this year.

The new, $22 million high school campus will feature security cameras, as well as new features that will allow emergency escape routes if students need to exit in case of an active shooter situation.

Ground-level classrooms will feature at least one window that can be removed from the inside to serve as an emergency exit, and the Cullman Police Department is working with the system to provide additional safety training for teachers and students.

Principal Dr. Elton Bouldin noted the layout of the new high school will also make it much easier to control access to the campus and lock down the school, if needed. The new, main entrance will also lead past a security desk.

“A big part of this was closing off entry points and controlling the flow around campus,” he said.

School security has become a hot topic nationally in recent years, spurred by the tragic school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut in December of 2012. In the wake of that event, Cullman Police sergeant Jason Mickel sought out some new training techniques to implement locally in case a shooting ever does happen in Cullman.

“We started by taking our tactical unit out to take another look at all the schools and do walk throughs, and everyone had questions, so we started looking for better answers,” he said. “Now, we’re trying to empower those students and teachers by focusing on survivability, and doing whatever you can to survive an event.”

Mickel said the new approach is more nuanced than the old procedure which almost always called for a lockdown. Now, students could be asked to evacuate to safety if teachers are sure the threat is not nearby.

The average response time for Cullman Police to reach any city school is approximately two minutes, while the typical school shooting lasts 7-8 minutes. But, Mickel noted it could take an additional five minutes for officers to mobilize and start sweeping the school, so new training is necessary to give students and teachers a better chance during those crucial moments.

“Depending on the situation, a lockdown might not be the best option,” he said. “If something does happen, you want to look at if you can safely evacuate, or find better ways to lock down that room. The idea is to give teachers and students the best options to survive.”

Superintendent Dr. Doreen Griffeth said administrators have also asked teachers to make themselves more aware of their classrooms as part of the training, in case they need to escape or fight back against an attacker.

“We got each teacher to take a close look around their classrooms, to see things like how to best secure doors,” she said.

* Trent Moore can be reached by e-mail at trentm@cullmantimes.com, or by telephone at 734-2131, ext. 134.

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