Doug Bedell — November 7, 2007, 11:54 am

Agonizing Campus Questions

Here’s a scary story on security at a Chicago-area high school that highlights the troubling questions that need to be considered when incidents – however vague – occur at schools, and possibly other facilities. passes along this report from The Chicago Tribune: “A student using a bathroom at Morton West High School thought he saw another student in a stall drop a gun, so he told two other students, and word soon spread across campus at the Berwyn school.”

Police were called and the three students were questioned in the principal’s office. The original student repeated his story of what looked like a gun. The police suggested locking down the school But Superintendent Ben Nowakowski dedicded against it, the Tribune reports, because he thought “the student’s account was unreliable because he was enrolled in a program for emotionally disturbed students.”

“As it turned out,” the story continues, “a student brought a real gun to school that day. And unbeknownst to police or school officials at the time, he was one of the three being questioned in the principal’s office.”

What a frightful situation, but not one in which it’s easy to assess blame. The superintendent felt that the story was sketchy and the details kept changing, but the police felt that, regardless, a cautionary lockdown was best. Yet the superintendent felt that might have riled any gun-bearing student. Yet the police felt a lockdown would have at least contained the student and that officials should err on the side of caution. Yet the officials weren’t sure what caution actually was in this situation.

This sort of potentially high-stakes dilemma is new territory for all of us. But, sadly, it must be entered. It requires the clearest possible thinking beforehand in cooperation with local police and security officials. “What would we do if…”

We at PRO Barrier Engineering would welcome the opportunity to discuss perimeter control aspects of school security with any officials who might call us, at 717-566-9347.

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