Damien Nichols

Damien Nichols, IT director for Kyrene School District, told the school board last month why a safety and security coordinator was needed.

Kyrene School District is taking new measures to enhance safety and security at its 25 schools.

Officials are hiring a coordinator for the district’s alarm systems and planning to install equipment that will give first responders a more complete view of any building during an emergency – making Kyrene the first district in the state with such a system.

The school board last month unanimously approved hiring a safety and security coordinator whose approximate $50,000 annual salary, at least for now, would be covered by bond money that funded the installation of an elaborate network of security cameras and other safeguards at all Kyrene schools.

And by spring, the district hopes to have installed a system that will provide a far more complete view of every school’s interior and exterior so that first responders in an emergency will have a clearer picture of the layout of any room or corridor.

The system will equip police from Tempe, Chandler and Phoenix with far more information about a building than they have for any school in their jurisdiction.

At a school security summit that city Councilman Sal DiCiccio held in June, Phoenix Police said they were currently collecting blueprints of schools in the city so they could have some knowledge of the interior layout in the event of an emergency

“We’ll be way past that,” Kyrene IT Director Damien Nichols told AFN, explaining that the new system will provide aerial views as well three-dimensional images of every room and corridor so that first responders will be able to immediately identify where exits, closets and any potential obstacle might exist within a building.

Currently a district safety committee is evaluating two systems and will have a recommendation for the school board either later this month or early next, he added.

The coordinator would ensure all schools follow emergency plans and safety policies, act as a liaison between the district and first responders from both the law enforcement and emergency medical communities, track and maintain all safety and security equipment and monitor bond spending for safety devices.

The position would be a low-cost but efficient alternative to school resource officers, who are police from whatever city a particular school is located in.

Currently, only the Kyrene middle schools in Chandler and Tempe have SROs but their salaries are covered by state grants that the Arizona Department of Education. The funding for those grants is so limited that not many are awarded.

Without those grants, a district would be forced to reimburse a police department for the full salary and benefits of an SRO – which generally total well over the $50,000 cost of the safety coordinator’s position.

“As we know, SROs are extremely expensive and are employed by the police departments, not by the school districts,” Nichols told the board Nov. 13. “This is a position that we are intending to use in support of schools, but that would help manage and monitor the systems that the district controls around safety and security.”

He said the district hopes to find applicants with a law enforcement background, “taking pressure off the schools to review, evaluate and help them redevelop their emergency response plans, which has everything from fire alarms down to an active shooter event and everything in between and make sure that they’re following the correct procedures.”

Among that coordinator’s responsibilities would be ensuring that the district’s vast network of security cameras is working.

That network is extensive, giving officials from a centralized office a view of virtually every external area of all 25 Kyrene schools.

Nichols told the board that the safety coordinator will ensure uniformity among all the schools when it comes to maintaining safety plans.

“We don’t manage the day-to-day policies of the district, so schools are left on their own to develop school safety plans from a manual that’s literally the size of two phone books to try and come up with a safety plan that’s adequate,” he said.

He said that he and an assistant have “walked campuses, we’ve helped improve policies and procedures” but that “it’s something we’re doing on the side.”

Another duty of the coordinator would be making sure the district security system is current on the data that feeds the monitoring systems, particularly the more advanced program now being implemented in the district.

With that program, Nichols said, first responders are “able to see maps of the school, what classrooms currently have kids. They can click on the map, see pictures of the classroom, how it’s laid out. They can access live cameras, they can access security systems.”

But the data that feeds that system is constantly changing.

“So, Mrs. Smith happens to be in Room 4 today, but for some reason we moved her down the hall to room 8 next week and we turned room into something else,” he explained. “And that happens a lot as you know, so somebody has to be managing these systems. Otherwise the data is stale and should we have an event …we need to make sure that data’s up to date.”

Maintaining equipment and data is only one need the coordinator would fill, Nichols added.

“The other big part of this role is to ensure that we’re actually following state mandated policies,” he said.

Each school has a safety team, he explained, but its composition is “different from campus to campus” and  “some principals and some administrators are better than others at staying up to date on those policies.”

“I mean, let’s face it, they have a lot of other things to do on that campus. This role, this person would help ensure that those policies are being followed.”

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