New Jersey Schools Ready for Major Security Upgrade

WEST PATERSON, N.J. (AP) - "Smart" cameras that can recognize who belongs in a school building - and who doesn't - are at the heart of an ambitious school safety program unveiled Tuesday by acting Gov. Richard J. Codey.

The plan, announced at an elementary school here, also would employ unique identification cards for all teachers and other school workers; one official said the cards would probably employ facial recognition technology. Codey said he hopes the project, which should be in place by the time the next school year begins in September, eventually can be used statewide.

"For me and my administration, there is no greater priority than the safety of our children," Codey said at a ceremony at the Beatrice Gilmore School. Repeatedly invoking last year's slaughter at a Russian elementary school, Codey said students and educators have to be wary of terrorists.

"They identify a target, they analyze its weaknesses and look for unexpected ways to attack it," Codey said. "They seek ways to attack that the good guys themselves may not even expect. That's what we saw in Russia, when they used a construction project as cover to hide weapons and explosives in a school."

More than 330 people, about half of them children, were killed in the Sept. 3 conclusion of the terrorist raid on a school in Beslan in the Russian republic of North Ossetia.

Codey's plan, to be funded with $100,000 from the federal Homeland Security Department, also would require law enforcement agents to inspect every school construction site.

It also calls for the creation of a comprehensive school security checklist of things such as securing doors and escorting visitors; conducting security audits of each public and private school in the state; giving security training courses to school workers; and a statewide school security summit at Rutgers University this spring.

The program was developed with New Jersey Institute of Technology's Homeland Security Technology Systems Center. Donald Sebastian, the center's director, said the technology used with the ID cards would be easier to implement in a controlled environment like a school, where known people have access, than in malls or airports.

He said the security cameras will be connected to computer software that can be programmed to key on certain things while ignoring others.

On a basic level, the software can be taught the difference between a person, a dog and a chair. It also can be calibrated to recognize and "approve" of people's faces once they are entered into a database, he said.

"It can say, 'I know Johnny and Susie are OK,' but an outsider adult could trigger an alarm," Sebastian said.

The system would not have to be constantly monitored by a person sitting in front of a bank of video terminals, he said. The computer alarm might emit a beep that would alert an administrator or assistant who was otherwise occupied nearby, he said.

State Attorney General Peter Harvey said the system could help even if intruders managed to get into a school. It could show police or other first responders how many hostage-takers are already inside a building, and where injured people are located. It also could enable police to seal off certain areas of a school that are known to be empty, he said.

In a situation such as the student massacre at Columbine High School, such a system might have helped authorities prevent or lessen the attack, Harvey said.

"You might have seen these young men come, in the parking lot when they got out of their cars with rifles and shotguns," he said.

Codey mentioned the school safety plan in his State of the State speech last month, but Tuesday was the first time details of the plan were revealed. Sebastian said it could take between six to nine months to have the system in place at the Gilmore school, which would be just in time for the start of the fall semester.

Codey said he would like to see the program expanded statewide, including non-public schools, but acknowledged funding for such an expansion is uncertain.