County Commission Chairman Stan Bateman led the discussion as the Commission, local law enforcement, school officials and other county organizations look for ways to improve upon initiatives already in place.
“This is not just something we woke up and thought about in this county or any other counties just because of what happened in Connecticut,” Bateman said during the school security and safety meeting held in the commission chamber at the St. Clair County Courthouse. “There have been efforts in our school systems all over the county to do certain things directed toward school safety since I was in school.”
The focused measure brought to the table involved using resources already in place through the Virtual Alabama project.
According to the project’s official website, https://virtual.alabama.gov, the Alabama Department of Homeland Security established the initiative in October 2005 to provide detailed imaging and visualization vital to first responders’ efforts to aid citizens in crisis situations.
Since the project’s inception, Bateman estimates the costs for cameras, components and construction needed to support the project total nearly $1 million. Of that amount, ALDHS allocated $328,000 for use on the project.
Due to a surge in technological advances, compatibility concerns exist between components within the system.
“When we started diverting this money, we found out the school systems didn’t even have the connectivity hardware,” Bateman said. “They had problems with things that needed repair and the recording systems didn’t match up with today’s technology.”
Once the incompatibilities surfaced, the St. Clair County Commission diverted more funds to ensure all county schools received fully-functioning cameras for security purposes.
Russ Stewart, technology director for the St. Clair County School Board and county government, confirmed a renewed interest in the project’s applications and revealed some upgrades to help modernize the system.
“We’ve started putting in Honeywell DVRs and we’ve also finished the wireless network infrastructure in all the schools,” Stewart said. “Honeywell has come out with an application that we’re about to start testing that will work with the DVRs purchased with the Homeland money. We’ve continued to purchase the same equipment so it will be uniform throughout the schools.”
Choosing the option of technology versus manpower remains the primary solution in the eyes of the St. Clair County Commission chairman.
The project serves as an alternative to putting armed law enforcement officers in the schools or arming the faculty members, a measure Alabama legislators are considering and Pell City schools Superintendent Bobby Hathcock strongly opposes.
“The answer is not more guns in the schools, it’s less,” Hathcock said. “I can’t see my teachers and principals walking around packing heat.”
In addition to the current technology initiatives in play, all schools in the county have adopted security measures where people must be buzzed in and allowed entry.
“We’ve taken a comprehensive look at all of our schools to make sure we’re trying to secure them as best we can,” Hathcock said.