Technology can help keep schools safe, but there are limits

by: Graham Johnson Updated:

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SEATTLE —

Quick Facts

- Expert says metal detectors only work if every entrance is covered all day

- Cost can be $500,000 - $1 million per school per year

- Seattle has handheld metal detectors - no plans for wider use

 

After the school shooting at Reynolds High in Troutdale, Oregon, students told reporters the campus did not have metal detectors.

We checked, and could not find any Western Washington districts that routinely screen people as they come into school.

A national leader on school safety says metal detectors only work if every school entrance is covered for the whole day.

"It costs a school about half a million to a million dollars a year to run an effective metal detection," said Sonayia Shepherd of Safe Havens International.

In 2013, a 14-year-old student was shot and wounded at an Atlanta school that had metal detectors, but they were not actually working.

In 2005, a shooter in Minnesota went on a rampage at a school with metal detectors, after first shooting and killing an unarmed guard.

Seattle school superintendent Jose Banda is not advocating for metal detectors or panic buttons.

"We don't want to create any kind of prison atmosphere," Banda said.

The district says all Seattle high schools and three middle schools have security cameras.

Seattle Schools recently received a grant to improve communications with police and the district is working on ways to share emergency information between schools.

The district is also limiting public entrances to schools.

"We've gone from being open and wanting the community to have access to our campuses to saying we need one entry point, or a main entry point," Banda said.

A law passed by Washington's legislature requires districts to develop school safety plans.

The state recently awarded nearly $7 million to 80 districts to help them develop emergency response systems.

Banda said the greatest asset for school security is a trusting relationship between staff and students, who will then report warning signs they notice with classmates.

"If you can build that trust, build those relationships, students are as concerned about safety as anyone else," Banda said.

Shepherd said that training staff members to recognize the signs that a student is carrying a concealed weapon is probably most effective.

"I love good technology, I'm a gadget person," she said. "However, I'd take a good person over good technology any day."