Exclusive: A Q&A with Former D.C. Schools Security Chief Patrick Fiel

Fiel shares insights into funding, Columbine's effect, creating crisis plans

SecurityInfoWatch.com recently spoke with Patrick V. Fiel Sr., the former security chief of the Washington, D.C., public schools, to get his thoughts on some of the most pressing topics in school security today.

Fiel is a veteran of a tough, inner-city school district that was plagued by crime areas that bordered its campuses, and he faced the common challenge of finding funding, plus issues of gang violence and drugs. Fiel took a collaborative approach with community leaders to enhance security at the D.C. school facilities (all 163 of them), and he made a point to use some of the latest technology to assist in the process. Fiel, who is now the public safety advisor with ADT, shares some thoughts on school security in this exclusive Q&A. He will be part of a Thursday, June 23, 2005, webinar on school security that you can sign up to watch by clicking here.

SIW: What is happening with school security funding these days?

Fiel: What I’m seeing with school security is that schools today are looking to new places to find funding for security improvements. They’re not just relying on grants; instead schools are going to their communities to fund security improvements. They’re finding not only grants, but bond money and capital improvement funding. Schools have always needed security, but traditionally schools have had no money to make these changes. Today, however, schools are starting to find the funds that they need.

How did the Columbine incident change school security? Was there a sense of complacency before that tragedy?

I would not say that there was complacency, but I would say that there was not as strong of an interest as now. Before Columbine, schools in urban areas already had developed some response plans and programs, but after the Columbine incident, we saw laws and mandates and Congressional bills to develop security and disaster plans for all schools. They have put in emergency plans and made their plans curriculum-based. They’re getting in touch with their peace officers and local authorities now.

What is changing in terms of sharing security event information and video data, and how are schools enabling communications between school authorities and law enforcement?

Here in Virginia, Fairfax has put in place an excellent crisis management program. Their director, Fred Ellis, has worked with all local authorities to create the response plan and is leading a steering and planning committee with the key players to determine responses before a tragedy occurs. In today’s world, we have to know who is talking to whom, and police need to know what the total situation is when they respond. We’re seeing police tying in with the school camera systems, for example, but it varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

When I was with the D.C. schools, I was able to access the video information remotely. From my house, I could access info on all 163 of Washington, D.C.’s school campuses. Making the video accessible is also a great opportunity for verification of alarms and for after-hours situations at the school facilities. When you go back and look, Columbine had internal cameras. But times have changed. Police need that capability to view the video feeds.

What were some of the lessons you learned while running the security program for Washington, D.C.’s public schools?

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