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In wake of Sandy Hook, Anchorage schools get safety improvements

By Alexis Fernandez Photojournalist: John Thain - 7:50 PM July 28, 2014

It’s been nearly two years since a gunman walked into an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, and killed 26 people, including 20 children.

It was a wake-up call for school districts across the country.

In a couple of weeks, Anchorage students will be heading back to school. This year, there will be an added layer of security.

“We can see every entrance, and every other problem areas like playgrounds,” said Chris Woodward, principal at Mountain View Elementary.

Woodward will have a new set of eyes thanks to an upgraded surveillance system.

“You have to be able to observe things in order to control them,” he said.

It’s one of dozens of Anchorage schools getting safety improvements.

“It makes it easier for me to do the most important part of my job, which is working with kids and teachers,” Woodward said.

Along with active monitoring and 500 additional radios, all schools will have a duress alarm, known as a panic button. The alarm connects directly to the Anchorage Police Department.

“One of the needs that we identified based on the experience in Newtown and other experiences is a way to contact the authorities without using a phone,” said Mike Abbott, chief operating officer with the Anchorage School District.

“It’s designed to be in a place where a number of staff people can get to it, maybe if they’re sort of in a hurry, as you can see you just sort of lift that, hit the red button and away you go,” said Woodward, demonstrating how to use the alarm.

However, it’ll only be used as a last resort.

All elementary schools will also have electronic front door locks. Abbott says high schools will not be getting locked doors because data shows threats in secondary schools typically come from within the school. For elementary schools, however, the threat comes from outside of the school.

Woodward says although this is sadly the new norm, it’s the only way to prevent another Sandy Hook tragedy from happening in our city.

The improvements were paid for by a $6.4 million grant from the state. All improvements will be completed over the next several months.

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