SHADY COVE — The Jackson County Sheriff's Department hopes that a new security system unveiled Wednesday at Shady Cove Middle School will catch on across the country.
Each classroom and hallway inside the school is equipped with cameras and panic buttons that, when triggered, feed real-time information to law enforcement about possible emergencies, such as a school shooter or a medical situation.
"This is going to change the way schools and law enforcement react to crises," said Allen Barber, director of human resources and secondary schools for Jackson County School District 9.
The system is a response to problems that sometimes occur when schools come under attack from gunmen.
Lag times have been reported between law enforcement's arrival on the scene of a shooting and when officers enter the school to deal with the threat, Jackson County Sheriff Mike Winters said.
"Before, SWAT teams would spend sometimes 40 minutes outside a school formulating a plan before entering the school," Winters said. "We want to avoid that wasted time."
The system in Shady Cove Middle School can be activated by a teacher who presses a panic button, which switches on the cameras and sends images to a dispatch center inside the sheriff's office.
From there, law enforcement personnel can view what is happening inside the school in real-time.
"So when we have an active shooter, we will know exactly where he's located within the school," Winters said. "This will give us a huge advantage when responding to these threats."
Sheriff's personnel can also use the system to lock down the school from the dispatch center.
"We can lock any door we want at any time," Winters said. "We could lock the doors to keep the kids safe, or we could lock the shooter inside a room, which could buy us precious time as we respond. Anything we can do to trip him up or delay him is critical."
Winters said he used drug-seizure money to fund the $120,000 project. Precision Electric and Adroit Construction donated time and work crews to install the system over Memorial Day weekend.
Winters said the system is not intended as a spy network to monitor teacher and student behavior.
"The system will remain dark until the emergency button is pressed by a teacher," Winters said. "It will only be used during real emergencies. We have no way to turn it on unless a teacher presses the panic button."
The system can be used for more than school shootings, including other types of violence, medical emergencies and natural disasters.
"If an earthquake hits, we can see inside each classroom and know where kids might be trapped and what condition they are in before emergency services arrives on scene," Winters said.
The system was endorsed by District 9 Superintendent Cynda Rickert and the school administration.
Barber said the district will look to expand the system into other schools in the next few years.
"Of course, money is tight right now, but I'd certainly like to see us budget this for one school per year going forward," Barber said.
Future Concepts, based in California, developed the system. It is used in various ports and law enforcement centers in that state.
Winters said he doesn't know of any other school in the country using the technology.
"I hope this becomes the way business is done across the nation," Winters said. "We can't put a police officer in every classroom. There's just not enough money to do that. We think this is a cost-effective way to keep kids safe."
Barber said he expects the district to begin training teachers and staff to use the system before school begins in the fall.
Winters said 13 sheriff's employees have been trained to use the technology, and he plans to increase the training in the coming months.
Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or firstname.lastname@example.org.