September 17, 2019
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How an Indiana school protects against mass shootings as the 'safest school in America'


President Donald Trump says he’s considering backing proposals to promote concealed carrying of weapons by trained school employees to respond to campus shootings. (Feb. 21) AP

INDIANAPOLIS — Cameras with a direct feed to the county sheriff office. Teachers who wear panic buttons. Smoke cannons in hallways.

These pieces of equipment are a big reason Southwestern High School in Shelbyville, Ind., has been referred to as “the safest school in America” since the airing of a segment on NBC’s Today in 2015 (the network recently revisited the school). Shelbyville is about 27 miles southeast of Indianapolis.

The system was implemented in 2015 after the Indiana Sheriff’s Association chose the school district for the first-of-its-kind security program. The school declined an interview about the program Wednesday, but an administrator previously discussed that school shootings can happen anywhere.

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“I think that Newtown, Sandy Hook, really made people understand, made us all understand this could happen to us,” Dr. Paula Maurer, superintendent of Southwestern Consolidated Schools, told WXIN-TV in Indianapolis when the program was revealed in 2014. “Now is the time to do something about it. We have some answers. We have the technology. We have ways to make our kids safer, and we have to do it.”

The school and law enforcement tout the real-time capabilities of the system to communicate with police and to track a suspect at the school. Here’s how the safety program works:

• In the event of an active shooter, a teacher can press his or her emergency fob, which sets off a school-wide alarm and notifies local law enforcement. Students then barricade themselves in a corner out of view of a potential shooter looking through the window of a locked, bullet-proof door.

• Another device in each classroom allows for a teacher to tell law enforcement their classroom is safe, signal they need medical aid or ask for help if they’ve seen the suspect.

• With a live view of hallways, the county can see the shooter’s movements and if necessary, launch what they call “hot zones.” Dispatchers can shoot smoke out of cannons to distract and limit the visibility of the suspect in hallways.

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The system, dubbed the Safe School Flagship and “Best Practice Solution” by the Indiana Sheriffs’ Association, was created with the hope of becoming the new standard in school safety nationwide.

In a statement released after its unveiling, Sheriffs’ Association Executive Director Steve Luce called it a “paradigm change in public safety.”

“Your children deserve to be safe, you as parents deserve to have your kids come home safely to you after school, your teachers deserve to be teachers and not bodyguards, your communities deserve to move to a higher standard of safety in all your educational environments,” Luce said in a statement. “You deserve to be protected by the Best Practice Solution.”

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The entire system was reported to cost $400,000, Today reported in 2015. Net Talon, the Virginia security company behind the design, funded a large portion of the installation, with the rest coming from grants.

But funding for such programs is limited. When introduced under then-governor Mike Pence in 2013, the Indiana Secured School Grant Fund had a budget of $20 million. Today, it’s half of that.

Districts who apply for the grant can be awarded up to $50,000 if they have more than 1,000 students, $35,000 if their enrollment is less than that. 

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Follow Nate Chute and Justin L. Mack on Twitter: @nchute and @justinlmack

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