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Pasco schools update security priorities

Added campus fencing tops this year’s list.
Pasco County schools have increased their level of security since 2018.
Pasco County schools have increased their level of security since 2018. [ JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK | Times ]
Published Oct. 20, 2020

Ever since the 2018 Parkland school shooting, Pasco County schools have taken several steps to increase safety precautions for students, staff and visitors.

It has employed school guards, added surveillance cameras and protective window film, and provided students with programs to reduce bullying, among other initiatives. Many of the efforts came after hearing student concerns, in addition to listening to the law enforcement experts.

As part of its annual safety audit, as required by the Legislature, the district is poised to take further steps aimed at keeping everyone as safe as possible and deterring potential violent incidents. The latest priorities include more security fencing, improved communication and better signage, while continuing to update previous steps such as the cameras.

The School Board is scheduled to have a closed-door session to hear specifics at 4 p.m. today, with a public overview set for later in the evening. You can see the administration’s public presentation here.

“We just want to make sure our schools are secure,” said Michael Baumeister, the district’s new chief of security and emergency operations.

Baumeister, who came to the district from the Tampa Police Department, stressed that the initiatives are not designed as feel-good measures that might create a false sense of security. Rather, he said, they are based on the need to give school officials the tools they need to maintain safety and, if something should occur, keep everyone on campus as protected as possible while waiting for law enforcement to arrive.

“All of our campuses are in a pretty good spot,” he said. “Now we’re looking at schools that need a little bit extra.”

To avoid giving away specific details that could compromise the effort, Baumeister would not discuss individual school needs.

He did note, though, that a few schools remain somewhat open to access from different directions. For those campuses, the district plans to install more chain link fencing.

“We want to make sure people aren’t supposed to be on campuses aren’t on campuses,” he said.

If someone gets through, the schools have added video doorbell system on many entrances and are continuing to put those in place, he said. At the same time, the new priorities related to signage and communication come into play.

Signs might not seem like a big deal to most people. They’re not really aimed at the general public, Baumeister noted.

Rather, new ones clearly marking which building is which for law enforcement officers to easily follow directions for finding trespassers. Most buildings already have numbers assigned, and those show up on blueprints that police have access to.

The schools plan to make those more clear.

Related to that is improving communication. Teams visited every campus to determine dead zones for radio transmission, and the new plan calls for equipment to improve the frequency strength.

The district also has taken steps to improve its use of Fortify Florida, the state’s anonymous threat reporting system that superintendent Kurt Browning had complained was causing problems. Districts could not get added information because they didn’t know who was calling, he observed, and that sometimes led to high level responses for “bogus” tips.

Baumeister said the schools have done a better job about educating students how to use the system, so they don’t waste everyone’s time. The district has also created a tiered response system to better evaluate each call, he added.

Overall, he said, after being on the job for a few months, he’s seen that the district appears to have solid plans for security. When state reviewers come in, he added, they haven’t identified any problems and instead have offered positive comments.

“I look at that as a great sign,” he said.