Charleston Co. Schools to try out new technology to screen for weapons

Published: Jun. 15, 2022 at 4:19 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 15, 2022 at 6:34 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - After the shooting in Uvalde that left 19 elementary school students and two teachers dead, the Charleston County School District is redoubling its efforts to make sure all of its facilities are as secure as possible.

“Anytime a situation like that happens around the country, we always take a look the facts coming out of that situation and compare those to our emergency plans to determine if there are any enhancements we can make,” Michael Reidenbach, executive director of security and emergency management, said. “The unfortunate thing is that this is not the first school shooting that we have seen in our country, and our school safety program in Charleston County has been built over many, many years after learning many lessons from school tragedies.”

Reidenbach says they already have over 5,500 cameras in the district to keep an eye on the entrances of schools, along with a roaming team that performs random security checks at random facilities. That team checks to make sure physical security measures - like door locks – are functioning properly. They also perform random security screenings of students as well.

However, at a meeting on Monday, school board members were quick to point out that the district continues to confiscate guns every year, and in May, a man walked into a school uninhibited and assaulted students.

“We had a door that suffered a mechanical failure,” Reidenbach said. “The door was locked, and it was closed, but when somebody walked out of the door it, unfortunately, did not latch back behind them after they exited the door.”

With a budget of $7.9 million, Reidenbach says they will continue to add new security measures. This year, for example, Reidenbach says they added a new tip line that should help identify threats before they start.

The security team evaluated the cost and benefits of metal detectors but found they are too expensive and require each student to be searched when they enter a building – a process that would take too long to do every day. However, Reidenbach says they are now experimenting with a new device, similar to a metal detector, specifically designed to identify weapons.

“When we look at the metal detector space there’s been a lot of technological advancements,” Reidenbach said. “So, there are now devices out there that are focused on detecting firearms opposed to just metal. You may have been to certain events where you may have walked through and may not have realized what was happening. I have seen them used in theme parks, football stadiums, Broadway theatres and places like that.”

The device is called Opengate, manufactured by CEIA USA based in Ohio. It does not require students to remove anything from their bags or bodies, like watches or belts. Reidenbach says it will be incorporated into their random search teams next year instead of being placed at a single school permanently.

The number of firearms confiscated has gone down in recent years, however, the data is inconclusive given the disruption of the pandemic and virtual learning. Here is the data for the number of incidents involving a gun or explosive in the last five years.

  • 2017-2018: 10
  • 2018-2019: 9
  • 2019-2020: 5
  • 2020-2021: 6

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