Can I Come In?
New access-control devices are an important addition to the sophisticated
work that one Texas school district is doing to protect its students.
TWENTY MILES NORTH of
Houston, Alan Bragg keeps watch over
the Spring Independent School District.
"Spring ISD began its own police
force 18 years ago," says Bragg, who
has served as the district's chief of
police since the force's inception. "We
are sworn law officers who work for the
school district doing full-time policing.
We're a 24/7/365 department that
constantly studies ways to improve the
safety of staff and students."
It's a big job, one that has become far
more challenging in recent years as a
result of the district's explosive growth.
In this decade alone, enrollment has
about doubled in Spring ISD, from
16,000 to more than 32,000 students,
25,000 of whom are bused to their
respective schools. To ensure that the
right students get on the right
bus, about five years ago the district
implemented the use of radio frequency
identification (RFID) tags. Students
would enter the bus and pass by a card
reader, which picked up the information
on their tags and transmitted it via a
GPS-enabled cell phone device to a district
server, where any school could then pull
up the data to see the bus' location, who
was on it, and which students got off it in
what neighborhood. Bragg says the program
was successful for a few years, but
the cost of the hardware and keeping up
with updates prohibited the district from
using the system over the long run.
The past year and a half has been
spent developing what Bragg calls "the
R F I D,"
ISD is piloting this fall
in three of its schools and
on about 40 buses. It's a more far-reaching
effort at student monitoring, employing
a combination GPS/RFID card that can
track a student for up to 300 feet from
each of several modules installed
throughout a school.
The card was developed by the San
Antonio-based Wade-Garcia & Associates, with input from
the district. "We told them what we wanted
it to do," Bragg says, explaining that the
district needed a card that could monitor
students' comings and goings not only on
and off buses, but in and around campus
as well. The multipurpose card, which displays
the user's image, is being used for
access control, bus riding, cafeteria purchases,
and checking out library books.
"We took it to the next level," Bragg says.
An important benefit of the card is better
record keeping. Bragg explains that
students can be wrongly marked absent
if not in their classrooms when roll is
called. This new RFID card can verify that
they were on another part of the campus
at the time so districts don't miss out
on state and federal funding that is
tied to attendance levels.
Bragg says that being able to
pinpoint students' location inside
the school can be crucial in a
crisis. "If there's a fire or an
explosion in a corridor, or
there is an intruder," he
says, "we know if there
are students trapped
in that corridor." The
individual ID numbers
embedded in each card are viewable
by Bragg's staff.
"RFID would tell us who is at risk and
also which students are safe in other
parts of the building," Bragg explains,
"so we could have law enforcement and
first responders get those persons to the closest evacuation route or door. To me
that's a huge, critical thing."
"There are parents who come to school to have
lunch with their child and are convicted sex
offenders, but they know that we know who they
are. They know we're keeping an eye on them."
As the district hardens against outside
influences, its effort to eliminate or at
least reduce potential external threats
has led to the placement of nearly 1,700
cameras in Spring schools; by January
there will be as many as 2,000. Sony and Dedicated Micros cameras snap
the images, which are captured on Dedicated
In addition, the district has implemented
a visitor tracking system from Raptor
V-soft that essentially acts as a digital
gatekeeper. Every visitor to a Spring
school-- whether parent, volunteer, or
vendor-- must check in at the front desk,
surrendering his driver's license to a secretary,
who checks it against a national
database of sex offenders. The visitor
waits inside a secure glass vestibule
until cleared to enter.
"There are parents who come to
school to have lunch with their child and
are convicted sex offenders, but they
know that we know who they are," Bragg
says. "They know we're keeping an eye
on them. We've gotten hits while checking,
and we keep an eye on that person.
"If somebody's really determined to
get into a school and they have a highenough-
caliber weapon, they're going to
get in. The ID checks serve as a huge
deterrent to most would-be criminals."
"People need to realize that the day of
the open campus is changing," says Allan
Measom, CEO of Raptor Technologies.
The system works swiftly and effectively.
When a school official scans a visitor's
driver's license, the information is transmitted
to Raptor. If the data matches
someone on the company's sex offender
registry, the arrest photo is e-mailed to
the school, lining it up next to the driver's
license image. An onscreen prompt
asks: Is this the person registering?
If the school official clicks yes, local
police get an e-mail or text message. In
many cases, it may be a parent who is a
registered sex offender and is then given
restricted access. "Many offenders have
been stopped from working or volunteering
at schools," Measom says. "In a few
cases, police have tracked down offenders
and arrested them."
Measom says that V-soft is in operation
at about 5,000 schools across 39
states, with another 1,000 schools
ready for installation. In the 2007-2008
school year, according to Measom, the
system identified 1,100 registered sex
offenders nationwide. "Of those," he
says, "10 percent were absconded from
other states." The significance of that is,
though that 10 percent of sex offenders
may not provide their names to their new
state's sex offender registry, as is
required by law, they will remain in Raptor's
database and thus will be flagged if trying
to enter a K-12 school.
The Next Phase
Bragg says that Spring ISD is always making
upgrades to its security system. This
year will see the implementation of a mass
notification system: Connect-Ed from Blackboard Connect. The system interfaces
seamlessly with a school's database of
parent names and contact information.
Within 25 minutes, a message can be
delivered to more than 60,000 parents by
their preferred choice of delivery, including
phone, text, page, or cell phone.
This fall, the district's police department
will add more applications to its Enhanced
911 package. With the use of E911 and
IP-addressable telephones in each classroom,
the emergency services unit is
already able to locate the geographic
position of any 911 caller. The new E9111
software, Braggs says, will allow the district
to monitor the audio of an emergency call
as it is happening at the 911 call center
in downtown Houston.
Another level of security is provided by
two portable metal detectors that Spring
keeps at each of its secondary schools
and are wheeled out to randomly selected
classrooms throughout the week. A school
administrator and a police officer watch as
each student in the class files out of the
room and passes through the device.
Similar security efforts are being undertaken
throughout Texas, where Bragg says
about 175 or so of the approximately
1,050 school districts now have their own
police departments. Districts and law
enforcement in the state are under a
strict mandate, as spelled out in the
Texas Education Code, to keep schools
safe and secure, and are urged to work
hand-in-hand as they analyze vulnerability
to violence, theft, and vandalism, as well
as suggest technologies that can address
the problems in an effective manner. Topics
of interest include security concepts
and operational issues, video surveillance,
weapons detection devices (metal
detectors, X-ray baggage scanners), entry
controls, and duress alarms.
"We get a lot of visitors every year
previewing our security system and
emergency preparedness policy," Bragg
says. "It's working well, but we all know
it only takes one incident to hurt students
or staff. We try to stay ever vigilant
Ralph C. Jensen is the associate publisher/
editor of Security Products.
This article originally appeared in the 10/01/2008 issue of THE Journal.