Security

I attended a small high school, with less than 200 students. Security consisted of a janitor who unlocked the doors in the morning and locked them when he went home for the night. If there were students and teachers in the building when he went home, we could get out of the building because the doors all had crash bars. If someone needed to get back in, they would have a friend stand by the door to open it from the inside. I’m not sure how evening activities, such as basketball games worked, but I suppose that the principal and perhaps the teachers as well had keys to the building. There was a rifle range in the basement of the gym and students were allowed to bring rifles to the range to sight in scopes and similar activities. Many students had rife racks in the back window of their pickups, which were rarely locked. It was a small town. A stolen item would be easily recognized and have to be returned.

Our children went to a much larger high school, one of the largest in our state at nearly 2,000 students. During the time our son was a student, the school instituted a policy of issuing id cards to students and requiring them to wear them, on school-issued lanyards, whenever they were in the building. This was before 9-11. One day I was asked if I would loan my hospital ID. I said, “No,” but then asked why. The answer was that the students had already tried swapping ids and school officials didn’t seem to notice. As long as a student had an id around their neck it didn’t seem to mater whose name or picture was on the id. Then some students were trying ids from other institutions. Their theory was that no one was looking at the ids at all. They may have been right. This was in a school that had had a hostage incident prior to our children being students there. I would go into the building for a conference or another activity and I always took care to follow the rules and check in at the office, but it was obvious that there were many parents who ignored those signs and just went about the building with whatever business they had to do.

The Columbine High School massacre in the spring of 1999 brought increased security to the high school. In the aftermath of that event, the school was evacuated several times following reports of threats received by school officials. By this point, our daughter was in the school and the fear of attacks was heightened by school precautions. I think at this point that high school id began to have meaning and that school officials began to pay attention to them.

Then the attacks on the World Trade Towers and Pentagon occurred on 9-11-2001 and lots of places became more security conscious. We had to go through metal detectors at more venues and we learned about security lines at airports and the presence of TSA.

I don’t go to the high schools as often as I once did. Although there re metal detectors in some schools, I don’t think that they have been needed in the Rapid City Area Schools to date. Probably the most important part of school security is for teachers to get to know their students and to pay attention to what is occurring in the hallways between classes. I’m well aware that we are continually piling more and more duties upon classroom teachers, but they are and have always been the core of the school operation. As schools become more complex, so does the job of teaching.

Churches haven’t escaped the push for increased security. Although mass shootings are extremely rare, a few high profile shootings have taken place in church buildings and we have had to respond by being aware of risks and learning to manage those risks in a reasonable manner. We have adopted the ALICE training program for church volunteers and have become more aware of risk management. Because it is the same training program used by the schools in our area it can be more efficiently coordinated with local law enforcement.

After a couple of incidents of petty theft and an inebriated person who wandered around our church building one day during the week, we installed security cameras and a system for talking to people at the door and buzzing them into the building when the door is locked. We use the system when one of our administrative assistants needs to be alone in the building. Our offices are at the back of the building and someone entering through the front doors has access to a lot of building before getting to the offices. I don’t think there is much risk and tend to unlock the building when I am there, but it does make some of our folks seem more secure.

I can remember the conversations in my home church over whether or not to install locks on the building at all. The church had always been unlocked. Then someone discovered that someone had slept in the building. It was likely a transient hitch hiking through town. I don’t think there was any damage, just enough of an incident that made some folks feel afraid. When we were students at Chicago Theological Seminary in the 1970’s, the Thorndyke-Hilton Chapel was open to the public 24 hours a day. The furniture was all secured to the floor and the candlesticks were bolted to the communion table, but there were hymnals and bibles in the pews that were not attached. Apparently the loss of books was small enough for the seminary to feel that it was worth it to keep the doors unlocked. We used the chapel for daily prayer and other more formal services and rarely found anyone who wasn’t associated with the seminary in the space.

Although I have ids and key cards for several places in our community and have door codes that grant access to some secure areas, I’m not a big fan of installing too many locks. While they can be a good deterrent to crime, there is no substitute for getting to know your neighborhood and its residents. I guess I’m just a small town kid at heart.

So if you find the doors to the church locked, it may be that I’m not in the building. You can ring the doorbell and someone will let you in. If, on the other hand, you find the doors unlocked, come in and wander around. I’m probably in there somewhere.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!