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Texas School District Pours $36M into Student Surveillance, Security

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A North Texas school district announced plans to pour $36 million into high-tech surveillance and overhaul existing security systems to thwart potential active shooters and other campus threats.

The Garland Independent School District held its second of three informal security meetings on Wednesday evening where officials briefed parents on existing practices including regular emergency drills and Standard Response Protocol, a “lockout, lockdown, evacuate, and shelter” approach that many schools employ as part of their emergency preparedness practices. The school district serves families in the Dallas suburbs of Garland, Rowlett, and Sachse. Officials will again meet with families on April 19.

Garland ISD spokeswoman Mida Milligan told Breitbart Texas the $36 million in technical security enhancements are part of a three phase roll out allocated from a $455.5 million bond package taxpayers approved in 2014. She emphasized these changes were not in response to February’s tragic shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, but preceded it.

“The planning for new systems started in 2012 as part of future system migration planning to meet long term goals,” said Milligan, noting the district’s community meetings intend to “create awareness.”

Still, the day after the Parkland massacre, school resource officers discovered a small, unloaded handgun and marijuana in the backpack of a South Garland High School student when stopped by authorities over a stolen cell phone. The bag search yielded no ammunition. Less than two weeks later, police arrested a teen parked in a vacant lot outside a Rowlett High School sporting event with a 9mm semi-automatic rifle and 100 rounds.

Milligan described Garland ISD’s main priority for the pricey high-definition (HD) security system as “support to first responders during emergencies that happen during the school day.” Secondly, it will serve as “asset protection” in the event of a burglary. She called “campus management” a third priority where administrators will use surveillance “for student discipline or other issues at the campus.”

The school district currently secures its 72 campuses with 2,967 analog color cameras installed more than a decade ago, according to the spokeswoman. They also rely on controlled building access, a visitor registry system, and a district police force. When this phase of the project is completed in 2019, they will have a total of 3,500 megapixel IP cameras. Although the number of cameras per school vary based on size and campus configuration, Milligan indicated “the average will be 25 to 31 per elementary, 70 to 80 per middle school, and 115 to 135 per high school.”

Additionally, Garland ISD will modernize its telephone systems with voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), upgrade Wi-Fi, and network the public address (PA) system so that it can broadcast messages to any district building from a 24-hour remote dispatcher during an emergency.

“When seconds count, the ability to communicate quickly and effectively with staff, students, and first responders can make all the difference,” said Milligan.

The spokeswoman said they will tend to aging facilities, update fire sprinklers, and add campus “intrusion sensors.” Other improvements include upgrading building entryway safety measures with security vestibules to screen visitors at main entrances, improving interior door locks, and utilizing “door contacts,” which are individuals who notify district officials when a door is propped open.

Garland ISD is not alone in pumping substantial funds into school surveillance. Campus Safety Magazine reported Mission Consolidated ISD transformed an analog video system into a state-of-the-art command center manned by two certified technicians. The digital system can capture images with far more clarity and higher resolution. Mission CISD is located in Hidalgo County along the U.S.-Mexico Border.

Last year, Mansfield ISD passed a $275 million bond, siphoning off more than $10 million for safety and security. McKinney ISD recently installed more than 1,500 HD cameras in all of its schools, according to The Dallas Morning News. School district officials said the decision to dedicate $6.5 million to these upgrades happened long before Parkland, coming from a $220 million bond voters passed in 2016.

Follow Merrill Hope, a member of the original Breitbart Texas team, on Twitter.

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