April 20, 2013

Funding is hard to find for school security systems

School districts that prioritize safety must divert their own funds to make up for inadequate state funding.

By Matt Byrne mbyrne@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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A three-year, $250,000 federal grant has allowed Penobscot County Sheriff Glenn Ross to distribute digitized versions of school response plans -- including aerial and interior photos of schools, building entrance information, and floor layouts -- to police and first responders in Penobscot, Oxford, and Kennebec counties. Now, Ross said, dispatchers have the information they require to literally walk a police officer through an unfamiliar school building in the case of an active shooter.

"Police departments from two towns over might be the ones coming through the doors," Ross said.

But because of federal budget cutbacks, there is keen competition for the grants that exist. Yarmouth was among 94 districts in Maine that applied for $400,000 in federal grants administered by the state's homeland security division of the Maine Emergency Management Agency. Applicants were limited to using the money for remote-entry buzzer systems, panic buttons, and special boxes that store building keys in secure boxes for police to use in the event of an emergency.

When the application deadline expired April 12, the schools had requested $2.03 million, said Bill DeLong, the former director of the homeland security division. Only 52 received funding, according to documents DeLong provided. DeLong said, his office struggled with finding an equitable way to distribute the cash.

"The volume of responses is tied back to Sandy Hook," DeLong said. "I think you've got a lot of school administrators realizing there are things they wish they were doing to make their schools and districts feel more secure." 

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:

mbyrne@mainetoday.com

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