Better security too expensive for many schools

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by ERIC WILKINSON / KING 5 News

KING5.com

Posted on June 11, 2014 at 5:22 PM

At the Seattle University security headquarters, officers keep constant vigil over their campus.

"We're just always looking for anything out of the ordinary," says officer John Irby.

Irby monitors dozens of surveillance screens, while the images of two school shootings in less than a week replay over and over in his head. "It’s the last thing you ever want to see happen, but the first thing you think about in this job," he says.

Cameras on campuses are now as common as textbooks. Texting and electronic notification systems are becoming quite common, as well. A new generation of school security is now allowing police to lock inside and outside doors remotely if a shooter is spotted on or near campus. The military uses “gunshot detectors” that hear gun fire and can track where the bullets are coming from. Few schools, however, can afford such expensive technology.

"This is something every police, fire and public safety person thinks about all the time," says Seattle University's Executive Director of Public Safety, Tim Marron.

Experts point out that everything that could’ve possibly gone right at last week's deadly shooting at Seattle Pacific University did go right. But even a rapid police response, immediate lockdown and a heroic student security staffer couldn’t save everyone, and that’s troubling.

"Most campuses in this state are not prepared to the level that SPU is," says school security expert Erick Slabaugh.

Slabaugh's company, Absco Solutions, outfits schools with security systems. He says SPU is one of the safest schools he’s ever seen, but most others still lag behind because of the cost. 

"A lot of these buildings are 30 or 40 years old. It can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to retrofit them." 

Something as seemingly simple as an upgraded locking system on campus doors is still 3 to 5 years away for many schools.

"I don’t think you’re going to see a school district or a university go in and retrofit all of their buildings this summer as a result of any of the news reports we’re receiving. It’s just cost prohibitive," says Slabaugh.

At Seattle U, the budget will soon afford the campus several additional police officers, as they prepare for a day they hope never comes.

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