Emergency agency grants school $25 million for safety projects

Emergency agency grants school $25 million for safety projects

Todd Pence hopes no school district ever has to deal with an incident like the Columbine, Sandy Hook or Virginia Tech school shootings.

But starting next year, the St. Joseph schools chief and his staff plan to be armed with a new tool to rapidly alert each other and law enforcement in case of an emergency situation — all from the palm of their hand.

The district is one of at least two in East Central Illinois that will test an emergency alert mobile application system. St. Joseph will pilot the SchoolGuard app for a year, while Georgetown-Ridge Farm staff will try out SchoolGuard or the CrisisGo app.

"It gives us a panic button to notify teachers and staff and the police if there's an incident, and it will tell them exactly where the incident is," Pence explained. "Research shows that communication is really the key in these types of incidents. This ties in with our plan to get the word out as quickly as possible."

Both districts are purchasing the cutting-edge technology through the Illinois School and Campus Safety grant program.

The Illinois Emergency Management Agency will disburse $25 million in funding to boost safety for students, staff and visitors at 448 public school districts, community colleges and universities, state officials announced last week. The money will be used for 1,212 projects — from installing shatter-proof glass to upgrading video surveillance systems to helping schools establish baseline security systems.

Those types of enhancements can buy valuable time for schools to implement emergency response plans, IEMA Director Jonathon Monken said.

Here is the statewide list of grants.

Georgetown-Ridge Farm officials, who are still reviewing mobile app systems, said they like the idea that staff will be able to download the app to their cellphone or computer tablet. In an emergency, they'd be able to have those devices on them, whether they're outside, in a hallway or in a remote area of their building where a phone or computer is out of reach.

"If a student is injured on the playground, a teacher can notify the principal," said Mary Miller Junior High School Principal Lisa Gocken, who wrote her district's grant application with high school Principal Brad Russell.

"It could be used for everything, from a teacher sees broken glass in the parking lot to there's an intruder on school grounds," she continued. "You hit your app, and it goes out to all of your staff. They can put the building on lockdown or get out, depending on what the situation is. It also notifies police and fire. CrisisGo even works with the state police."

Gocken was thrilled that her district was awarded $28,714, which was more than it requested. The funding will also be used to update and add video cameras at the high school, junior high and Pinecrest Elementary School; improve exterior lighting; purchase two-way radios; and add a keypad system to doors at the high school and junior high.

Pence's district will use the bulk of its $22,650 grant to install shatter-proof glass at the grade and middle schools.

Here's how some other districts and the University of Illinois are using their funding:

— The UI was awarded a total of $687,581. Of that, $381,581 will fund two projects on the Champaign-Urbana campus, and the remainder will pay for three projects in Chicago.

Sgt. Joan Fiesta of the UI Police Department said local officials are looking at making physical upgrades, including installing additional security cameras and improving the access system at Foellinger Auditorium and Lincoln Hall. Both house hundreds of sections of classes each semester and feature large, open classrooms with theater-type seating.

"This will help us build our infrastructure on the campus," Fiesta said.

She added the projects are a top priority and are set to be completed by April 1, 2015.

— Champaign schools' $231,510 will be used to install state-of-the-art video cameras and support technology at Booker T. Washington Elementary School; Edison, Franklin and Jefferson middle schools; and Centennial High School, according to Unit 4 spokeswoman Stephanie Stuart. She said the campuses were identified based on enrollment; the complexity of the buildings' physical design, layout and size; and other factors.

"The new systems include real-time video and back-up coverage of the primary entrance, other key external and internal locations that allow for high-quality full coverage" of the building, Stuart said. She added the current systems are at the end of their life span and difficult to maintain.

"Not only will the new systems help support a safe and secure environment for our students and staff ... they will also equip the schools with the ability to communicate and coordinate with other local emergency agencies if a crisis situation occurs," Stuart said.

— Heritage, which was awarded $12,720, will upgrade and expand interior and exterior security cameras at the junior high and elementary schools in Homer and the high school in Broadlands.

"These cameras include DVR systems to record and store activities to review if there is an issue, and motion-activated cameras for both the interior hallways and gymnasiums, including coverage of our additions at both schools," which were not previously covered, Superintendent Tom Davis said. "We are also expanding our exterior camera coverage for parking lots and gas tanks, which is a good addition as we plan on adding four propane school buses next year."

The second project calls for installing interior security doors at the high school, Davis said. The district installed the same type of doors at the elementary and junior high last summer.

— Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley will use its $24,192 to finish installing operable windows in first-grade classrooms, schools Chief Anthony Galindo said. An egress window will be put in each room to allow for exiting in case of an emergency, he added.

— St. Joseph-Ogden High School will install security film on the glass of the two main entrances on the south end of the building. That would prevent someone from gaining entrance by breaking out the glass in or around the doors, Superintendent Jim Acklin said.

— Superintendent Vic Zimmerman said Monticello schools will also install shatter-proof glass at all entries of its buildings. The district already paid for and installed door buzzers with cameras, panic buttons, classroom and door numbering systems and classroom door locks in order to meet baseline needs, he said.