In Southfield, Mich., Cameras Help Secure Middle School Doors

More than 50 doors at Birney Middle School in Southfield lead inside.

They're all locked during school hours, except for the main entrance, which is down a hallway and out of sight of the main office. Doors are checked every hour to make sure they're properly shut, but that doesn't mean someone couldn't slip in unnoticed.

The solution: Birney is getting security cameras.

Though people wandering the halls are usually just parents dropping things off or grandparents picking children up, school officials want to make sure Birney is better secured from unwanted visitors, said principal Sterling Russell.

So, when the city offered $20,000 from its 2004 Homeland Security grant, school officials couldn't pass it up and decided to purchase surveillance equipment for the school.

The Southfield City Council approved the project Aug. 8, and although they don't have a date, school and city officials say the cameras should be installed soon.

"The biggest problem school administrators have in Southfield -- and virtually everywhere -- are intruders," said Deputy Superintendent Ken Siver. "People that just walk in."

Spiritech, based in Warren, will install the cameras at Birney's doors and in the hallways. Receiving TV monitors will be put in the main office. The $23,585 project will be funded by the grant and money from the district's budget, Siver said. The number of cameras has not yet been determined.

For Betty Robinson, whose 13-year-old son Carlton goes to Birney, the cameras are long overdue.

Robinson -- vice president of Birney's Parent Teacher Association and president of the Southfield Area Council PTA -- said there was an incident a few months back when a teenager from Southfield-Lathrup High School came into the middle school unnoticed, didn't check in with the office and started wandering the halls.

After that, she said, she suggested to Siver that the school increase its security.

"Even though you're supposed to go to the front desk to get a pass, you could easily avoid that," Robinson said. "I'd rather be at work knowing my kid is safe in a safe environment, and secure.

"Anybody can walk in during the day," she added. "Any deranged person could walk around the hallways and hide in the bathrooms."

The city has already used about 60% of the Homeland Security grant, which was $453,877, said Frank Coutts, director of Southfield's emergency management services division. Most of the money is designated for police and fire.

Coutts said Birney is a good candidate for Homeland Security dollars for three reasons:

- Being the third-largest school in the district, it houses more than 1,000 people, including 900 students, during school hours.

- It's large enough to be a public shelter during an emergency.

- It's close to I-696 -- creating an easy, fast getaway for terrorists in the event of an attack.

And schools could be vulnerable targets, he said.

"The problem with terrorism is it's an across-the-board issue," Coutts said. Each of the district's middle schools, including Birney, staffs one security guard during the year.

District-wide, Southfield High School and Southfield-Lathrup High School each have camera surveillance systems, four security guards and a liaison officer from the Southfield Police Department. The Southfield Regional Academic Campus has security cameras and two security guards.

All of the schools in the district have lunchroom monitors.

Siver said there have never been any threats on Birney and it's likely not a target for terrorism, but that it's better to be prepared.

Last year, school officials used a $37,400 Homeland Security grant from the Michigan State Police to do a risk assessment, update the district's crisis plan and do training in case of chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive attacks.

Russell said the assessment made her realize the need to monitor the entire school, especially since the goal is to improve overall security every day, not just in the event of an attack.

Her main concern is of the large blind spot the office has with regards to the main entrance, located on the west side of the building. With the cameras, the office staff will be able to see who is entering the school, regardless of whether they go to the office to check in.

"Nobody wants to live like that, but you can't leave the front doors on your houses open anymore," she said. "We don't want to leave our front doors open here either."

(c) 2005 Associated Press