Friday, April 30, 2010

KARE-TV School Security News Story

Here is an exerpt from a KARE-TV (Minneapolis, MN) School Security news story I was involved in recently:

"HASTINGS, Minn. -- When a student with a handgun broke into three classrooms at the Hastings Middle School the day after Easter this year, not everyone made the connection to the school shootings at Red Lake High School five years earlier. Missy Dodds could think of nothing else. "I was angry," said the former Red Lake teacher, who witnessed the murders of a co-worker and five of her students. "I just couldn't believe it would happen again like that." Dodds yelled to her husband to come to the television when she heard the reports from Hastings while at her home in Bemidji. A security failure at her school had now become a failure at another. She wondered when someone would come to the same conclusion she'd reached years ago: a lockdown does no good when an armed intruder can simply break a window at the classroom door.
At one time nearly all interior school windows were made of plate glass. It was cheap, but when shattered, broke into shards that could cut students. Eventually states, including Minnesota, altered their building codes for new schools to require tempered in student traffic areas. Smash it, and tempered glass breaks into tiny blunt pieces that won't cut anyone - much better for school safety, but still lacking for security.

"My bottom line is this, I don't like tempered glass," said Paul Timm, a school security consultant with RETA Security in Lemont, Illinois. "I don't like tempered glass because if you hit it hard enough it's going to be able to break and then I'm going to be in."

Instead, Timm believes impact resistant laminated glass -- similar to the glass used in car windshields -- should be required by building codes for use in and near classroom doors. Laminated glass will still crack when struck hard with a baseball bat or crowbar, but unlike plate or tempered glass, laminated glass will maintain its integrity through multiple blows.

Another option for existing windows is impact resistant film applied on the outside of glass. Like laminated glass, the film, made by 3M among other companies, keeps windows in one piece even when the glass underneath shatters. Hastings school officials needed no convincing after their brush with tragedy at the middle school. Last Friday they began the replacement of plate glass in 35 classroom doors with laminated glass. Total cost of the project: $2100, or roughly $60 per door. That price was virtually the same as replacing the windows with tempered glass, according to Jim Johnson, the owner of Midwest Glass, the company doing the work at Hastings. If the same set of circumstance were to reoccur in Hastings, Johnson expressed confidence, "he wouldn't be able to punch through." In fact Hastings got a firsthand look at what happens with more impact resistant glass. In addition to the three classroom he broke into, the armed student tried to gain entry into two classroom with wire mesh in the glass. In both cases, the glass cracked but stayed in place because of the wire. The student moved on. Wire mesh is no longer recommended by safety officials because students can suffer serious cuts during accidental breaks. None of this means laminated glass is bullet proof. It does, however, tend to remain in its frame as bullets pass though, again denying access to an intruder.

Timm said Minnesota, of all places, should be taking a lead on impact resistant glass. "For it to happen once in this state is too much. for it to happen twice I start to say, when are we going to take action?"

But Timm's call for code changes is a recommendation not shared by the Minnesota School Safety Center, a joint project of the state departments of public safety and education. For her part, Missy Dodds can't figure out why the state would allow any new school to be built with plate or tempered glass in the doors. "My classroom was brand new. First year in use. Brand new building." Having witnessed the deaths of a co-worker, five of her students and the shooter by his own gun, Dodds remains in therapy."

What are your thoughts?

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