Assessment Team Helps Test Security at Pennsylvania Facilities

Aug. 27--State police went to Norwin High School last year to interview teachers and staff members and to monitor activities. But they weren't investigating a crime.

Instead, members of the State Police Risk and Vulnerability Assessment Team were there to inspect the school and offer recommendations on how to make it safer.

"We are very proactive in school safety, and it was a good opportunity for us to be evaluated by an outside source. And the Pennsylvania State Police -- who else would be better?" said Joseph Shigle, assistant principal.

Established in 2003, the team travels across the state, evaluating public and private entities to identify potential security threats and offer suggestions to address problems. So far, the team has made more than 75 assessments.

"We have done everything from government office buildings to water treatment facilities to large public venues such as large public arenas and stadiums," said Trooper Chris Bayzick, one of the four members of the team based in Harrisburg. "You name it, we've been there -- small, large and everything in between."

They've been to nuclear power plants, pharmaceutical companies, bridges, tunnels, courthouses and historic sites.

The team's initial mission was to protect key infrastructure in the state from potential terrorist attacks, but the members analyze overall security as well.

"What we do is a comprehensive risk analysis and provide recommendations to mitigate the threats and the risks that we have found," Bayzick said.

Team members meet with key personnel from the site and review procedures such as emergency evacuation plans. They also go to the site for several days or even weeks.

All the information is compiled into a written report with final recommendations to improve security.

"We're looking at people's access to the building as well as access to the property, vehicle access, search procedures and physical security for the assets inside," Bayzick said.

"There's a lot of companies and groups that do these kinds of assessments that say, 'Your evacuation is no good,' but they don't tell you how to change it," Bayzick said. "We tell you, 'Your evacuation plan needs changed. You should do this.'"

The team is working with the Pennsylvania Department of Education on rules regarding school security. It is working with the state System of Higher Education to make sure their plans and policies are in order in light of the Virginia Tech shootings earlier this year.

Shigle said Norwin officials were pleased with their assessment. Shigle said some of the recommendations have been implemented while others are being considered.

Copyright (c) 2007, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.


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