Press-Republican

March 10, 2013

Editorial: School video practical, smart


Press-Republican

---- — Several Franklin County school districts now have an edge if the unthinkable — a deranged and armed person — were to target one of them.

A computer at the county’s 911 center is dedicated to video feed from those schools, so dispatchers can take a remote, live look in the buildings and responders can be directed exactly where they need to be.

The initiative, which District Attorney Derek Champagne hopes will soon include all districts in the county, is a practical, productive step to take in the face of the recent tragedy in Connecticut and past shootings.

As soon as news broke of the Sandy Hook massacre, school districts around the North County began reassessing their safety plans.

“We revamped our safety plan to more articulate those intrusions on five different levels,” Tupper Lake Central School District Superintendent Seth McGowan said as one example of that effort, “from (how to respond to) somebody who is agitated at the door to coming in with a weapon and shades between, too.”

Even as that was happening, Champagne was thinking along the same lines, both as a dad of two school-age daughters and from a law-enforcement perspective. His office, coordinating with the school districts, County Emergency Services Director Ricky Provost and County Sheriff Kevin Mulverhill, launched an effort that includes evaluation of district plans, review of camera systems and building layout, facility walk-throughs, response training for staff and evaluation of the best first-responders for each.

The schools, he said, have been right on board with the effort.

Linkup of school cameras to 911 was quick and free, he said, and a number of districts came aboard within a week. 

Some school’s systems don’t have that capability, but Champagne hopes those districts will be able to find the dollars to upgrade. He said he’d go to bat for them if they put up voter propositions to fund Internet-based cameras and other changes that would make buildings safer.

Bill Ritchie, an investigator in the DA’s Office, has been investing about 20 hours a week to continue the safe-schools initiative.

People felt frantic after the Newtown tragedy that government take immediate steps to make the schools safe, to prevent future attacks. But absolute prevention is impossible — a person determined to cause mayhem can find ways to succeed.

So it’s important that emergency response be swift and efficient. Champagne’s thoughtful, measured video-feed plan could truly make a difference if a violent incident were to unfold in a local school.

It’s a tool with undeniable usefulness that could, in fact, prove lifesaving.