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Montgomery Schools to Get Security Upgrade - Cameras & Visitor Management System

By Barbara A. Preston | March 10, 2022

Montgomery School District Safety Officer Thomas Wain recently informed the school board and public about new initiatives to keep Montgomery students and staff safe in the event of an active-shooter incident or other emergency.

Montgomery High School

Wain first emphasized the importance of “facilitating a climate where kids feel comfortable approaching a trusted adult with a safety or security concern.” “Research shows that 80 percent of school violence perpetrators had either told someone, or people saw obvious signs that they [the perpetrator] were about to snap,” Wain said. “But the students didn’t tell anybody.”

In addition to building a culture of trust, the Montgomery School District plans to use a $267,839 state grant for “infrastructure” to ensure kids are safe.

The money will be used in three areas:

▪ Visitor management system. Security kiosks will be installed in each school vestibule/ entryway. The system requires all who enter a school building to show photo ID by interfacing with a computer screen. Visitors will instantly be screened against sex offender and criminal databases. Entrance would be denied if necessary, and the appropriate authority would be notified. School officials planned to meet in closed session to discuss options should a school visitor trigger a safety flag in a data base. This dilemma sparked questions as the January 25 school board meeting.

▪ Share911. This is an emergency broadcast system that uses mobile phones to share time-critical information. This is already in use in the Montgomery schools. The system quietly alerts first responders, and communicates emergency information to targeted audiences. For example, teachers and staff could be instantly notified of a lock-down, or a shelter-in-place directive. About a third of the grant would be used for Share911.

The Share911 app on a mobile phone screen.

▪ Indoor and outdoor security cameras. Cameras are already installed at the high school. The grant will be used to install cameras at the Upper Middle School, and eventually at all five of the district’s schools.

Panic Alarms

Montgomery schools are enacting security measures because NJ state law now requires all public elementary and secondary school buildings to be equipped with at least one panic alarm or approved alternative that can alert first responders in the event of an emergency. The NJ law, signed by Gov Murphy in 2019, are in response to the Feb. 14, 2018, shooting massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. The “Alyssa’s Law” is in memory of Alyssa Alhadeff, a 14-year-old New Jersey native who was among the 17 people killed at the Florida school.

A related state law, signed in January, is designed to help school districts pay for the mandated school security infrastructure by appropriating $5 million from the state’s “Securing Our Children’s Future Fund.” Schools may apply for these grants to help pay for the mandatory school security requirements. The new law does not specify the exact type of panic- alarm system that is required. (The law was sponsored by Montgomery’s LD-16 Assemblyman Roy Freiman.)

Monty’s First Director of School Security & Safety

The Montgomery School district hired Thomas Wain as the district’s first ever director of safety and security. After 26 years with the Montgomery Township Police Force, Wain had retired as a captain and director of the police (equivalent to police chief) in December 2019. “I was incredibly fortunate to be hired here in the district as the first ever director of safety and security,” Wain said. “It’s a role I really enjoy.”

Thomas Wain, school district director of safety and security.

A month after he started his position in February of 2020, the COVID pandemic caused the schools to close. “So, I was charged with keeping schools with nobody in them safe and secure,” he said. In addition to securing the schools, he was suddenly swamped with helping the school navigate COVID masking requirements and other issues associated with the pandemic. Wain specifically found himself in charge of a type of detective work he never thought he would do — contact tracing. Any staff member who gets COVID has had to call or email him to report it. To conduct a contact trace investigation, Wain said he has had to document the case, then follow up with potential close contacts. “So, when I call people, it has been a tentative sheepish, oh, no ... why are you calling me?”

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Wain has been working closely with the health department, school nurses, the district physician, and the top administrative team. Wain also administers the school district’s weekly testing program of the school staff. Gov Murphy mandated that folks who chose not be vaccinated had to, by law, submit to weekly testing. Wain worked human resources administrators to run the staff testing program. Interesting to note: the new visitor management system to be installed at Montgomery school entrance ways can also screen for COVID. The security kiosks hardware, which includes a camera, driver’s license scanner, barcode scanner, and visitor badge printer, will also have a touchscreen. Screening questions can be programmed to ask questions related to COVID. For example: Do you have a fever? Have you been in contact with a person who has COVID? Etc.

Current Security

All Montgomery schools currently have locked doors, and intercom systems at front entrances. A school administrator must admit visitors. The new system will require visitors must pass muster to enter the schools, the system would allow for pre-approved folks — teachers, students, volunteers, contractors, suppliers, and other authorized people to enter quickly and easily. Lists can be school-wide or location-specific.

Building Trust

“We’re going to keep kids safe,” Director Wain said. “Yes, with infrastructure. But I believe relationships, trusting relationships are going to keep kids safe.” Wain makes himself available — eats in the school lunch room, lectures in classrooms, and even teaches drivers ed on occasion. He meets regularly with principals, attends faculty meetings, and takes the time to know all members of the community — from the superintendent to the bus drivers, custodians, and kitchen workers. It is the caring members of the community, working together, who will protect us all, Wain said.


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