Buzzword: School Safety

Schools add extra safety measure with buzzer system
Jan. 13, 2013 @ 11:53 PM

In another effort to make Sevier County Schools safer, school officials have begun installing a new "video intercom system" at every school, which means all doors will be locked at all times and visitors will have to show identification before entering.

"This is just a safety measure to assure the staff and community that we are trying to take as many steps as we can to make sure the kids and staff are in a safe environment," Director of Schools Jack Parton said. "It's going to be another barrier to protect the children, faculty and staff."

Visitors can press a button on the intercom system, then someone in the front office will respond by asking the visitor to show identification and state why they came. Both parties will be able to communicate through the system.

Parton described the two-way communication system as "a buzzer system with video and audio capacity," and he said school officials will disseminate information to parents containing simple instructions on how to use the intercom.

"It's very simplistic," Parton said. "There's a video camera, and the secretary will ask for identification and they will either open the door or a School Resource Officer (SRO) or school official will let them in."

Parton believes the system, which he said cost a total of approximately $35,000 to install in all the schools, will be useful if any issues arise with visitors.

"We can hear if there's a distraught parent or something, and if we saw there was an issue, that's when we would have the SRO meet that person," he said.

Parton said the idea for the intercom system originated from the results of a survey he administered to principals across the school system following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn.

"We surveyed them and asked them about some things that maybe we could do differently to make the school a safer environment, and overwhelmingly (the intercom system) was what quite a few of the principals thought that we could do," Parton said.

Sevierville Primary School Principal Harriet Berrier agreed that "the majority of the principals mentioned something like that."

"It's just something we felt would make the schools a little safer," Berrier said. "We can keep everything locked during the day and don't have to keep the SRO at the door. It helps us identify who comes in and out."

At Sevierville Primary, SRO Leia Loveday's desk has moved from the front doors to the front office, so she can observe the cameras and respond to the buzzer.

"She's the main one who answers that during the day," Berrier said.

Parton said Tuesday that the entire school system should have the intercoms completely installed within the next week.

"We should be up to 100 percent in the next seven days," he said.

rhargett@themountainpress.com