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Safety committees expand and add technology to protect schools across Green Country

Posted at 5:07 PM, Aug 30, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-30 18:17:04-04

TULSA, Okla. -- The state of Oklahoma requires every campus to have a Safe Schools Committee.

These groups of teachers, parents, and even students are on the front lines coming up with ideas on how to keep classes safe.

A new entryway is the latest edition to Hamilton Elementary School. Now all parents are buzzed in, and speak with staff before going through a second set of doors.

It was a project pitched by the Safe Schools Committee on campus last year, to make sure intruders couldn't freely roam the halls.

"We pushed for door changes because we need to make sure that our kids are safe at all times and our teachers at all times. We had doors that were already a secure entrance but with newer technology, high def cameras and things like that, we're keeping up with the changes of that," assistant principal Carrie Melton said.

Melton heads Hamilton's committee. She walks the playground and classrooms looking for hazards, is increasing the amount of drills, and is always thinking ahead to new technology.

The assistant principal said they're adding meetings. Now, they get together once a month at a minimum, which is much more frequent than even a few years ago.

"We would meet maybe once or twice a year to just kind of walk the building and see what's going on hazard-wise, building-wide. Now we're thinking about the safety of maybe the entrance of the building," Melton said.

Tulsa Public Schools also adds district task forces as needed. Last spring Hamilton's principal worked with campus police to find the latest technology in security cameras, with the goal of increasing alerts and communication.

"Meeting with the people who are innovative around the entire nation. TPS looks at programming and opportunities that other schools possibly haven't even gotten to see yet. Then they share that with our district principals so we know where we're going," Hamilton principal Tera Carr said.

As the safety committee adds intruder drills, staff feel prepared for a worst case scenario.

"I truly don't think it will ever happen here. I believe in the safety of our community and I really think our parents would form a barrier to anything that would try to hurt our students before they even entered our building," Carr said. 

Staff at Bixby Public Schools said seeing tragedies like the Parkland shooting inspired them to create an additional group. Now, along with district and campus safety committees, Bixby is allowing parents to voice their own ideas this year.

"This rallied students and families in a way that others have not. So those people contacted me and said "we're willing to do whatever it takes." We want to join with the school to get our schools as safe as possible," assistant superintendent Lydia Wilson said.

The district committee decided last year to also launch a tip line as the semester begins called Sandy Hook Promise. This was created after the school shooting, to give students a way to report anonymously.

"I think it will give our kids and our families an additional crisis response that is not available otherwise, they have 24/7, 365 days a year with crisis response coordinators on the other end of the line to take tips," Wilson said.

Coordinators separate the threats into "life threatening and "non-life threatening." Then, they work with schools and police to address concerns.

"We as a nation have had to respond more to physical safety issues. I think in part, if you're proactive enough with your social and emotional issues, you reduce the risk of the physical safety issue and the physical safety threat," Wilson said.

Those serving these groups hope collaboration will help schools stay ahead of the curve.

"Being one step ahead in an ever-changing world can be a little bit difficult. But as we see things play out in the world we look at it as to, how does that affect our school, what are the things we can put into place to make sure that doesn't come into our community," Melton said. 

Safety committees are also looking at new intruder trainings to bring in, as they tell us the recommended way to respond to these emergencies is always changing.

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