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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — School shootings have become a reality of American life.
From the massacre at Columbine High School 20-years ago this April, to the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School a year ago this week.
But what are local school districts doing to keep children safe?
KDKA surveyed 100 school districts in Southwestern Pennsylvania to find out where they stand on school safety.
“We’ve got to be vigilant. We’ve got to be aware of our surroundings at all times.”
In-service training at the Hempfield Area School District, where these teachers are being told to expect the once unthinkable — how to react if an active shooter attacks.
They’ve been trained to gather their students and run as fast and far as possible — but when that’s not possible to duck and cover — and throw anything they can at the shooter — terrifying even to imagine but sadly a sign of the times.
“If it were to happen here we are prepared and we’ll be able to minimize the impact as much as possible,” Wolicki says.
For school districts the debate has already been settled, it’s no longer a question of whether to be prepared — only a matter of just how much security and training is needed to best prevent a mass shooting or minimize the loss of life.
So, we asked the question: what is your school district doing to keep your child safe?
We sent a survey to 100 local school districts and about half responded, and of those, nearly every one has dedicated additional resources to school safety and security in anticipation of an attack.
Almost all — 95 percent — of the school districts who responded have conducted active shooter drills with their staffs — preparing them on what do in the event of an attack.
And more than half of the districts have hired additional security in recent years. Like Hempfield, we found 46-percent of the districts now have their own police force to provide security at their buildings and events.
Another ten-percent have at least one school resource officer — a fully-armed, trained law enforcement officer who has undergone a minimum of 40-hours of training.
And while some districts chose not to disclose their other safety measures. 78-percent of those who responded say they have a security camera system and actively monitor their buildings for irregular activity.
WATCH: HOW THE SAFE2SAY MOBILE APP WORKS:
The Safe2Say mobile app launch isn’t the only anonymous tips option. Some districts also have phone numbers. Here are some of them:
Most school districts — 63-percent — now have what’s called Raptor — a system which scans the driver’s license of each outside visitor, and quickly checks criminal records, Megan’s Law violations and custody disputes.
Today, 65-percent of the districts now have doors that lock from the inside and 30-percent of the responding school districts now have metal detectors. All of these measures come at a considerable cost to the school districts.
“That’s a cost that can never be too high. Being prepared is just so important,” Wolicki said.
Hempfield is at the high end, and has spent the money to have almost all of these security measures, installing 700 security cameras at $400 dollars a piece and spending thousands more on the Raptor system.
But their biggest expense — $465 thousand dollars a year — is for a full-time police force of twelve officers who patrol the halls, secure buildings and conduct active shooter training for staff, but the school district says it isn’t done yet.
“Everything evolves,” said Len Lander, security chief. “Police work with the school district, it’s evolving all the time.”
What is true in each is true in all, the districts are constantly revamping their security programs — evaluating and adding new devices — as well as learning from the after-action reports from school shootings around the country.
The shape of the world has changed, and school districts are changing along with it.
Though the chances of a school shooting remain remote — it appears that few are will to take the chance of not being prepared.
Take Plum Borough School District for example. When the TSA offered them the opportunity to be the first-in-the-nation to participate in a bus safety audit and exercise, they didn’t hesitate.