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Western Pennsylvania schools await state police security checks

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Sunday, Sept. 22, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
 

A backlog of schools awaiting Pennsylvania State Police security assessments grew during summer vacation.

The number of public facilities seeking free security checks from the state police Risk and Vulnerability Assessment Team went from about 250 in June to 382 in September, Trooper Adam Reed said. Many on the waiting list are schools, but others include power plants, courthouses and bridges.

The team specializes in assessing structural design and the potential effects of explosions, according to its website.

Police inspected no schools during summer months because they want to observe how students, teachers and other staffers move around.

“A lot is learned from seeing how the building's security measures work with a full complement of students,” Reed said.

Requests from schools seeking security assessments spiked as a result of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. Gunman Adam Lanza, 20, fatally shot 20 children and six adults before killing himself on Dec. 14.

Several school districts in Western Pennsylvania have requested help from state police, who cautioned the wait could be months or years.

During an assessment, troopers recommend methods to enhance security, such as installing cameras and security doors. The team submits a confidential report to the district.

Deer Lakes School District requested an assessment six months before the Sandy Hook shootings and is waiting, Superintendent Janet Ciramella said. The district worked with West Deer police to conduct lockdown drills and install security measures.

Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Luzerne County, questioned state police Commissioner Frank Noonan about the backlog during a February budget hearing before the Senate Appropriations Committee. Noonan told the panel that the agency would assign more staff to perform the assessments.

Reed said the state police's “first priority is to ensure that we have enough troopers out on patrol.”

The agency is developing a security guide for schools that will be posted on its website, similar to one it developed for colleges and universities after the 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va. In that attack, senior Seung-Hui Cho shot and killed 32 people and wounded 17 others before committing suicide.

State police officials plan to address school security at the Law Enforcement Officer and Community Safety Awareness Conference on Oct. 3 at Robert Morris University.

Aaron Aupperlee is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7986 or aaupperlee@tribweb.com.

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