Enhanced security a sign of times in South Hills municipal governments

| Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

Signs now hang throughout Whitehall Council chambers alerting residents that the room is under video and audio surveillance.

The addition of two video cameras in the room is just the start of planned security upgrades at the municipal building, meant to bolster safety for employees and residents, borough manager James Leventry said.

“A lot of municipalities and a lot of public buildings are doing increased security measures, and we had really done none,” Leventry said. “So we thought it would be a good time to take a look at it.”

A shooting at a public council meeting in eastern Pennsylvania in August prompted officials in a variety of communities, including Whitehall, to look at increased security at their buildings, Leventry said.

In August, a resident began attending Whitehall council meetings and created repeated disturbances. He attended for several months.

His presence “certainly factored into the decision to take a closer look” at what security measures were in place in the municipal building, Leventry said.

In the last several months, borough officials had a security consultant tour the municipal building to suggest security improvements, Leventry said.

The consultant offered a wide array of options for safety improvements that would total about $120,000, if borough leaders opted to make all of the changes, Leventry said. The consultant's fee likely will be based on how much work is done.

Members of council's administrative-services committee were to meet Wednesday night to discuss the options.

One option recommended was to add an additional door to council chambers to provide more than one entrance and exit, Leventry said.

Another option that council members discussed was the possibility of moving council chambers to the multipurpose room. That would give officials the chance to remodel council chambers, Councilman Phil Lahr said.

“This is 1945 vintage where we sit,” Lahr said. “We're antiquated here.”

The plans prepared by the consultant, though, were based on the council chambers remaining in the current location, Councilman Robert McKown said. If council members were to decide to move council chambers, then another review of the building would be required.

A concern about moving council chambers to the multipurpose room is that the room often is used by borough groups because of its larger size. Moving council chambers there could restrict that, council President Glenn Nagy said.

The ultimate goal with the planned changes in the building, which will include the upstairs floor where the library and community room are located, is to improve safety, Leventry said.

The only security upgrade made to the building since Leventry started 14 years ago was the addition of a buzzer that allows employees to keep people from entering a second set of glass doors at the front of the municipal building until they are given the OK, he said. That feature typically isn't used, though, during normal business hours, Leventry said.

Brentwood Borough officials added additional security features to the municipal building in August, including bullet-proof glass and doors at the secretaries' desks and entry ways to keep visitors from simply walking into the building.

Officials in Baldwin Borough in the last few years have improved security by adding a vestibule and doors to keep people from walking into office areas in the municipal building.

The borough received a grant to improve energy efficiency in the municipal building and with those funds added doors, windows and other features that added additional security to the building, officials have said.

Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or shacke@tribweb.com.

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