Robert Hellmuth, director of school safety and security for Montgomery County (Md.) Public Schools (MCPS), understands the importance of securing more than 200 schools and facilities. “We believe that for students to learn and staff to be effective, they have to believe they are in a safe learning and working environment,” he says. “We must assure parents that we can take care of their children, and if there was ever a major incident, that we are prepared to take care of the situation.”
Hellmuth’s security philosophy is a driving force for what has become the Montgomery County Public Schools’ Comprehensive Security Program. From conception through the ongoing six-year roll-out, MCPS’ Department of School Safety and Security has been on an exciting, often challenging ride as it auditioned and then partnered with multiple players including the MCPS Office of Information and Organizational Systems (IT); Netcom Technologies, the integrator; Jim Gompers, the security consultant; and a host of technology and service providers.
The MCPS Comprehensive Security Program
The video surveillance, access control, visitor management and alarm systems that MCPS is installing at its elementary, middle and high schools are enhancements to the existing MCPS comprehensive security program.
The MCPS Department of School Safety and Security oversees more than 200 security staff members deployed in its schools and after-hours security program. The MCPS comprehensive security program includes emergency/crisis plans in place for each school and facility. The plans are reviewed annually and approved by staff from the Department of School Safety and Security. Schools are required to conduct a number of scenario-based emergency drills each school year and those are monitored by department staff and public safety personnel. MCPS also has partnered with the Montgomery County Police to assign uniformed officers to each high school and some of the middle schools with a future plan to expand the program to the remaining MCPS secondary schools. The department provides training to all MCPS employees on emergency preparedness and other security-related topics on an ongoing basis.
A Vision to Meet a Growing Challenge
With more than 200 schools and facilities, 138,000 students and more than 21,000 employees, security is a critically important undertaking for MCPS. It maintains its own alarm control center — monitoring perimeters, boilers, water flow, refrigeration, breakage of windows and more — that receives more than 36,000 separate alarms throughout the year.
Following the Sept. 11 attacks, the Montgomery County Council provided Hellmuth with funds to purchase security cameras for the high schools. “We put 16 to 32 cameras in each school along with a VCR,” he says. “We were surprised at how short the equipment shelf life was — the VCRs kept breaking down. Then we went to DVRs, but we knew we could do better.
“My vision was to have an integrated security system where we could do visitor management, access control, alarm monitoring and video surveillance and tie it onto a common platform,” he continues. “We talked about this for a long time, the question was, how do we get there?”