Alton Central School (ACS), NH: Post-Connecticut, ‘Enhanced Security’ Meeting Last Night.

Anura Guruge, laughing, picture November 16, 2011.

…. Anura Guruge

The very exposed ACS from the sky, thanks to Google Earth.

The very exposed ACS from the sky, thanks to Google Earth.

A key-less entry system, whether it is a ‘fob’ or ‘card’, can only provide limited security unless a 2nd factor, typically a PIN, is added — because the physical ‘credential’, e.g., ‘fob’ can be stolen or forcibly taken. Yes, if cost is not a factor you can add face or voice recognition technology, but at that point you might as well just go with a good retina scanner.

A retina (or Iris) scanner. Much better than a ‘fob’. Harder to steal or borrow!

This was an emergency ‘add-on’ to the scheduled School Board meeting of December 17, 2012, following the tragic events in Connecticut on Friday. We attended, and were glad we did. There was probably about 40 people there, many of whom I recognized. I did not take a count, and Deanna says it was less. But, it was the most I had seen at a non-Bingo ACS meeting in a long time, and I was pleased. Yes, we should have had 400 people packed into the gym, but I appreciate delicate logistics with working parents. As it was Deanna requested that they provide ‘baby sitting’ — which was provided and much welcome. That many of those present also spoke was good.

Given the location, layout, configuration and the aged ‘condition’ of ACS, security is an issue and a major concern. The ‘modulars‘, as was to be expected, was the perennial concern. Yes, they have already taken some measures to mitigate matters. There will now be an adult supervisor that monitors the kids leaving the modulars to enter the main building (and going back). There are also perimeter cameras, but these are not ‘manned’. I heard folks around us talking about somehow moving the 8 classrooms now in the modulars into the main buildings re-purposing the libraries and the gym — but these ideas were not publicly put forward. Yet again the hope is that the tax payers, in March, will approve a warrant article to do away with the modulars.

Bear Spray

The often unchallenged access to the school, at least until last Friday, was another oft raised concern. This had always bothered me. No locks. No supervision. No inquiry. You can just saunter into the school and go walks abouts. I gather that this is no longer the case, but I fear that in a few weeks we will drift back to the good ol’ days. I liked the idea, that was proposed by an ex-alumni, now a very successful local builder, that the staff should be provided with ‘Bear Spray‘ to confront all potential ‘threats’ seen entering the building, or walking the corridors. Since I lead a ultra-sheltered life, I had never heard of ‘Bear Spray’, which I gather is an enhanced version of ‘Pepper Spray‘. [Given my dark coloring I now worry that I will get bear sprayed whenever I go anywhere close to ACS. Plus, given that they are really not that dangerous, and yes, I have encountered them in the ‘wild’, not sure why anybody on the East Coast would even know of Bear Spray.] But, that is a good idea. I also heard folks mention Tasers, but again in private, rather than speaking out. The only problem with any of these preventives, is the kids getting their hands on them. How often do you hear of folks being able to get hold of the gun of a police officer trying to detain or arrest them? Now we are talking about teachers and kids. I can just see. A kid yanking the Bear Spray from a teacher’s belt and having a ball! The mind boggles with Tasers. A 12 year old running wild with a Taser, though I think they only have one shot per charge. I am going to look into broad-range, outdoor magnetometers akin to what is used on space probes to planets and asteroids. You must be able to use them to detect the presence of metal, i.e., guns.

The proposed new ‘Key-less Security System‘, with some level of video recording of entry/exit activity, that is going out to bid now, is the most concrete step that is being taken ‘short-term’. No question, a key-less security system is a great, first step. It is not a total preventive, but a useful deterrent. So, I am all in favor of it. I was using such key-less entry systems, at IBM, in 1974. IBM, even then, due to trade secrets, was big into security. We used to, even in the 1970s, have regular meetings about how to beef up security. So last night’s meeting, to me, was a kind of Déjà vu (all over again) and a realization as to how little technology has changed in those 38 years. There are some problems that are so inherent that they really cannot be realistically overcome: tail-gating for one and the forced procurement of the entry card/fob (or whatever). That is why retina scanner systems are much better! I was always against ‘palm scanners’ because you could just ‘detach’ the palm and bring it along — unless the system could also detect minute drops in temperature or the absence of a pulse!

I was concerned as to what would happen in the event of a power failure — given how often we lose power in Alton. They told me that the ‘Request for Proposal‘ (RFP) included the need for an uninterruptible power supply (UPS). It is, of course, doable — but will not be easy, because power is required not just for the computerized security system but also to lock/unlock the 15 or 16 doors that are going to be protected. I think some of the doors themselves will have to be replaced. I was looking at the doors to the classrooms. They don’t look very substantial. The scary thing is that none of the measures talked about last night would have prevented the horror of Friday. He just shot through the main door. In his case, if the school did have a keyless system, he could have just taken his mother’s fob [i.e., credentials]. That is what scares me. As somebody said, a sentiment much stated after 9/11, there really is not much you can do to stop an armed person who is ready to die. So, I am all in favor of the key-less system as long as folks appreciate that it is not the total panacea. Maybe they should look at a ‘2-factor‘ entry system: you need a fob (or card) and also a PIN. [ATMs are a ‘2-factor’ authentication system. You need a physical token, i.e., the card, and a second token, the PIN. This would stop somebody just stealing the ‘fob’.]

There is so much glass in that school. I am sure it is not bullet proof. I could be wrong.

There was also much concern about safety and security of the kids outside the buildings. More supervision is the only realistic answer to that.

As for the modulars, and the kids going in and out, we probably could do something with an RFID (Radio Frequency Identification). The kids pickup an RFID badge to leave the modular. They can then be continually tracked. You can set up alarms.

All told, this was a decent meeting. A first baby step. So much more needs to be done. Not sure that they really have talked to genuine building security experts. Large U.S. corporations, the likes of IBM, Google, Cisco and Apple, have been through all of this and much more before. Yes, there is a huge difference in budgets too. But, it might be good to get find out how Google secures some of its outlying buildings.

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