The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

January 13, 2013

Windber updates security plans

David Hurst

WINDBER — Students might be sitting down with lunch trays or running in gym class the next time an emergency drill kicks off at Windber Area High School.

It might be a surprise for faculty too, Superintendent Rick Huffman said.

“We’re all required to have our annual drills. But many times you see schools scheduling them when its nice and sunny outside, or a day when it’s really convenient for everyone,” Huffman said. “Emergencies don’t happen on our schedule. Fires don’t check the weather forecast.”

“Comfort,” he added, “is the enemy of security. We have to keep changing things up.”

Unexpected fire and lockdown drills are likely just one change the district’s students, faculty and staff will see from what Huffman described as a multiphase process to enhance safety and security in Windber schools.

The board has continued updating it yearly since the Columbine school shooting in 1999. The massacre last month at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.,  serves as a stark reminder that school security measures must be ever-changing, he added.

“A lot of what we’re doing is fine-tuning what we’ve done in the past,” he said, saying entry “buzzer” system and other measures will likely be reviewed.

Access to the building may be limited even further, the superintendent added.

District administration have been meeting weekly with area emergency officials, including Paint Township police Chief Rick Skiles.

Skiles is volunteering his time.

“He’s been a big help,” Huffman said, noting Skiles suggested nationally-recommended tips for modifying lockdowns.

 A local police officer, similar to the school resource officer utilized years ago at Windber, may return, district officials said.

The position was funded by the Drug Free Schools program but the money dried up about three years ago, Huffman added.

It will be up to the board to decide whether to create a new position – and if so, how to best use the officer, he noted.

“A lot of this won’t happen overnight,” he said. Some changes could be coupled with upcoming necessary school renovations.

Additional cameras are possible, too, Huffman said.

“We know that there’s no such thing as the perfect secure environment,” he said. “But we’re going to do our best to make sure we are prepared for whatever could come our way.”

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