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Tallmadge City Schools continue with security upgrades

Each school building has emergency radio, middle school surveillance cameras upgraded

by Holly Schoenstein | reporter Published: August 3, 2014 12:00 AM
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Tallmadge ­-- The Tallmadge City School District continues to upgrade security features at its school buildings.

The school district landed a $28,000 School Security Grant from the state that's administered by the Ohio Schools Facilities Commission. The money is being used to upgrade and enhance security at each school building in the district.

The district has already used $8,000 of the grant to buy and install four radios, one in each school building, that seek to improve emergency services response times during an imminent threat through more efficient communication with police.

"It's kind of like a CB [citizens band] radio that sits in the main office, said Steve Wood, the district's business director.

"There's an emergency button on the radio so if there was an emergency event that occurred, our staff members would hit that button and instantly any squad cars in the area would be alerted and automatically would start driving toward that building." After the button on a radio is pushed, a microphone on the device activates so the user can inform police of the emergency, request immediate help and provide a description of the situation. The user's voice is broadcast inside the squad cars via the radio frequency the police use.

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All squad cars in Summit County are notified when a call is made through the radio system so that other officers who are available could respond to the emergency if necessary, said Police Chief Donald Zesiger.

Wood said this more direct form of communication between school staff and police saves time compared with the traditional way of calling for help that requires someone at a school building to call 911 to speak with a dispatcher, who then gathers information about the emergency and sends out appropriate personnel.

He said the time savings could probably be measured in minutes when considering all the police departments countywide are also informed of the emergency.

"It's a great tool for us to use to enhance the safety of our students and all the staff that's in the schools," Zesiger said.

The radios won't be a replacement for more routine requests for police and fire that will still go through the 911 dispatch system. Wood said the traditional system will still be used for most situations, such as physical altercations between students and medical emergencies.

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According to Zesiger, the idea for the radio system came from discussions between the police and fire departments throughout the county.

No additional security improvements are being made to Dunbar Primary and Munroe Elementary school at this time, but the district is being reimbursed $10,000 of the estimated $285,000 it paid to add secure vestibules to the front entrances of the buildings last summer and for the re-arrangement of the floor plans at both schools that enable staff to better monitor visitors.

The district also will receive a reimbursement of $10,000 from the grant after it upgrades the surveillance camera systems at Tallmadge Middle School and High School, with most of the improvements at the middle school.

"We have a pretty archaic system there presently," Wood said about the surveillance system at the middle school, adding the new system is a "significant upgrade."

The project entails installing additional cameras around the front office area to enhance the cameras that are already there and installing cameras across the building where none exist.

Wall-mounted, flat-screen TVs will be installed in the front offices of the middle school and high school so that secretaries can monitor activity in different parts of the buildings.

The district hasn't decided how it will spend the rest of the high school's share of the $10,000, Wood said.

"We recognize the importance of being able to monitor activities in our buildings," Zesiger said. "And these grants -- without them, we'd have a hard time affording it and justifying it so we're happy that the state had this program and we're able to take advantage of it."

Last year, the school district spent $2,500 from its permanent improvement fund to convert the middle school's camera surveillance system from one that records footage to tapes to a digital video recorder, which provides more recording capacity. The DVR-based system is connected to the school district's computer network and allows authorized school staff, including principals, to log in remotely 24 hours a day to view the footage when necessary.

Wood said the school district is working on allowing the police department to also have the ability to log in to the system to view the footage.

Contact this reporter at 330-541-9428 or hschoenstein@recordpub.com

Facebook: Holly Schoenstein, Record Publishing Co.

Twitter: @SchoensteinH

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