Charleston Co. school staff analyzes cost of potential security upgrades

Published: Aug. 8, 2022 at 5:28 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 8, 2022 at 10:10 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - An analysis of potential security improvements at the Charleston County School District would cost $59.2 million upfront with another $4.8 million in annual costs.

District staff presented a “wish list” Monday of 10 items that would tighten security and shore up any potential gaps.

Many of the items are things the community has brought to the school board in the wake of national tragedies like the school shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary, Stoneman Douglas High School and, most recently, Uvalde, Texas. Those items include things like placing weapon detectors at high school entrances and installing bulletproof doors.

Board members also entertained a pitch from R2P Innovations during their meeting. Owner Tony Deering says his company has designed a door that is heavy enough to stop bullets but light enough to be opened or closed by a child.

“We have a solution. A solution that can save lives, the lives of students. The lives of faculty members in that critical 10 minutes when the metal detectors, when the camera systems, the data analytics have all fallen by the wayside and people are actually dying,” Deering said. “I would ask that the board seriously consider adopting these doors in the schools and give our children and our faculty the best chance for survival.”

The doors each cost $6,000 and only protect the area directly behind the door – not the windows or walls. Staffers say it would cost $35 million to install them in classrooms around the county. Parent Nadine Viljoen questions if that’s worth the cost.

“If I don’t look at cost then I would say yes,” Viljoen said. “But thinking of spending $35 million on doors when 50% of students can’t read on the right level, that prioritizing thing becomes an issue.”

District Executive Director of Security and Emergency Management Michael Reidenbach says one of the biggest things they’re looking to address is the school resource officer situation. He says Mount Pleasant and the unincorporated county is pretty well covered, but there are still vacancies in North Charleston and Charleston.

“In the City of Charleston only about half of elementary schools have a full-time SROs while the other half is served by that school’s security response team,” Reidenbach said.

His team proposed using the money for vacant SRO positions to hire trained and armed private security until uniformed officers can be assigned to schools. He says they would look for candidates with law enforcement or military backgrounds and they would still be required to go through state-mandated training.

Reidenbach says the focus is really on prevention.

“We do that by having anonymous reporting systems, having toll-free hotlines,” Reidenbach said. “We utilize an automated system that monitors student network activity that looks for threatening words and messages and images of guns and those sorts of things that will allow us to get a sense of something maybe happening and intervene quickly.”

The district staff analyzed 10 proposals:

Library Door Security:

These funds will provide for the installation of electronic access controls on every library door that would allow each Librarian to immediately lock/unlock the door when dictated by an emergency.

Cost: $750,000 one-time costs, $0 recurring costs

Public Safety Radio Enhancement:

Description: An analysis of district buildings has revealed that many of them lack sufficient indoor public safety radio reception. This has the potential to hinder the ability of police, fire, and EMS personnel to adequately communicate with each other or to other responders during an in-building emergency. This system is now required by code for new construction and renovations.

Cost: $2,500,000 one-time costs, $57,600 recurring costs

School Security Staffing:

Description: While the district primarily relies upon local law enforcement agencies to provide an armed security presence at schools through the School Resource Officer program, there are schools currently without an SRO because if police staffing constraints. These funds would be used to supplement SRO coverage in schools currently lacking a full-time SRO with a private security officer.

Cost: $0 one-time costs, $772,000 recurring costs

Threat Assessment Support Team:

Description: Early and sustained interventions can play a significant role in disrupting a student’s desire or plan to commit violence. The district employs a comprehensive threat assessment program that is implemented by mental health staff at the school level. These funds would create a district team dedicated to supporting schools in the threat assessment process.

Cost: $0 one-time costs, $446,460 recurring costs

Storeroom Function Locks:

Description: In new construction and renovation projects, door hardware is being installed on classroom doors that do not have the capability of unlocking. While a key can be used to open the door to grant entry, the handle set remains in the locked position at all times. These funds would allow for the upgrade of classroom door locks throughout the district to this new type of lock.

Cost: $6,370,000 one-time costs, $0 recurring costs

Full-Time Weapons Screening in High Schools:

Description: Under this scenario, weapons detection systems would be utilized at all high school entrances to screen students and visitors entering the building during the school day.

Cost: $1,014,104 one-time costs, $2,913,051 recurring costs

Electronic Access Control Improvements:

Description: This funding would allow for the wholesale upgrade of existing access control hardware that is no longer manufactured or does not support the latest available features. In addition to providing a more stable system, the new equipment would provide an opportunity to install door position switches on exterior doors. Staff could then be notified when a door is propped open.

Cost: $4,160,000 one-time costs, $0 recurring costs

Bus Cameras with Remote Accessibility:

Description: This funding would allow for the replacement of analog video systems on school buses with upgraded, digital video systems to provide enhanced functionality and resolution. These systems will also allow CCSD Security and Emergency Management officials, transportation leaders, and potentially public safety agencies to remotely access live video feeds from buses.

Cost: $4,900,000 one-time costs, $150,000 recurring costs

Ballistic-Rated Doors:

Description: A response option available to students and staff during a Lockdown is to shelter within a classroom behind a closed, locked door. The installation of a ballistic-rated door on the room would further fortify the classroom and increase the likelihood of survival for those within the room during an active shooter incident inside the school.

Cost: $35,000,000 one-time costs, $345,000 recurring costs

Emergency Notification/Panic System:

Description: An emergency notification system can expand the reach of emergency messaging beyond the public address system. Alerts can be triggered from computers, buttons, and/or cellular phones throughout the facility, and notifications can be communicated to multiple devices (e.g., radios, computers, intercom).

Cost: $4,500,000 one-time costs, $75,000 recurring costs

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