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'Access Control' System Part of Santa Rosa's New School Security Measures

Daniel Hahn / Santa Rosa County School District

It’s been one year since 17 people were killed in a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The tragic incident prompted quick passage of an extensive school safety law, known as the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Act.

This week, WUWF checked on the Santa Rosa County School District’s efforts to comply with the new law and some of its newer security measures.

Thanks to recommendations from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission, which the law established, campuses are directed to have single points of ingress and egress.  

With that in mind, one of the most visible and utilized safety enhancements is a new feature called “access control,” a monitoring system that is now being installed at the main entrance to every school in the Santa Rosa School district.

“Currently, we probably have it at 27 or 28 of our schools, active, with only a handful of schools left to go,” said Daniel Hahn, safety director for the district.

“It was something that we felt was important to put into our schools immediately, to show the community, parents especially, that you know we’re taking action.”

Hahn explains that visitors coming to schools will find every external door locked, “You have to come through the front door. You have to be buzzed in. You have to have a reason to be there.”

Once inside, visitors still have to present identification for a quick background check and official name badge. 

Credit Daniel Hahn / Santa Rosa County School District
Santa Rosa County School District
This is an example of the new 'access control' monitoring system that's now being installed at all schools in Santa Rosa County.

Earlier this week, at Sims Middle School in Pace, Hahn demonstrates how the security system works. After just a few minutes, a couple of people come to the door, including parent Sarah Rhoades.

She rings the doorbell.

“Can I help you,” asks a member of the school’s office staff.

“Yes, I’m here to check out a student,” replies Rhoades, who is then directed to put her driver’s license up to the camera.

Within a few short seconds, a chime sounds and the door opens.

On this day, Rhoades is picking up her son, who’s in the 8th grade. She applauds the extra layer of security that the new “access control” system provides.

“I like it; I think that it makes sure that you have a reason to be on campus at the school before you come in,” Rhoades declared. “We’ve never really felt unsafe in the district, but these extra measures do help in case something comes up.”

The video control system has been in operation at Sims Middle for about two months. According to Principal Emily Donaldson, it’s been working well. Echoing Rhoades, she says parents at the school have been very receptive to it and have told her it makes them feel a little more secure.

“We’ve had a lot who’ve moved to this area, a lot of people and families who’ve moved to this area and so many have said ‘we had this at our old school, we’re so glad you have it here.’”

Further, Donaldson says even parents who’ve forgotten their ID’s have been thankful that they’ve been held accountable.

At the same time, the Sims’ principal points out that the security system has empowered her staff to be able to deny entry to visitors when necessary.

Overall, Donaldson says the system has been easy to use, and it’s been helpful in educating students about safety.

“You know, we teach the kids, ‘you see something, say something.’ And, for middle school kids, they’re the ones that need to be proactive,” she explained. “So many times, kids let someone else into the building. Our kids now know, ‘I don’t do that; I go find an adult.’”

The access control system soon will be installed and operational at each of the 32 schools in the Santa Rosa district.

Hahn explains that the cost is determined by the design and size of the front door.

“If it’s only a two-door system, it’s gonna be cheaper than a four-door system,” Hahn said. “For example, the door you came through has four doors across the front, so it can be anywhere from, and I’m giving you a rough estimate, between $5,000 and $10,000 per front door, depending on the school.”

Hahn says the district is thankful the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Act is providing $400 million statewide to assist with implementation. But, he notes it doesn’t cover all of their safety improvements, including the requirement to have a resource officer in every school.

“We’ve got law enforcement, sworn law enforcement, in every single school,” Hahn said proudly, explaining that the school district pays for that, with some money from the general fund as a supplement. “We already had money budgeted for some of these items to include access control and new camera systems and other security features. So, the state supplements or sometimes replaces what we were already in the process of doing.”

Hahn has been on the job as the district’s safety director since last summer; his hiring as a safety specialist was one of the requirements of the new school safety law. In that time, he’s helped the district with compliance.

Based on collaboration with his safety colleagues around the state, he believes Santa Rosa is heading in the right direction.

“Would I like to do everything at once and get everything on my wish list done in one year, absolutely,” Hahn declared. Of course, he adds that’s not realistic.

“So, we’re approaching this incrementally, step by step, utilizing the commission’s best practices first, because that’s what we will be judged on. But, there’s a lot more I’d like to do.”

Installation of the new access control monitoring system will happen in the very near future. Otherwise, some of the items on Hahn’s wish list include more fencing and better outdoor lighting.

Sandra Averhart has been News Director at WUWF since 1996. Her first job in broadcasting was with (then) Pensacola radio station WOWW107-FM, where she worked 11 years. Sandra, who is a native of Pensacola, earned her B.S. in Communication from Florida State University.