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How to Better Initiate a Lockdown

Located in Long Island, New York, Jericho Union Free School District is known for its academic prowess and a history of fostering students to achieve national recognition. In spring 2020, while students and staff worked from home to slow the spread of the coronavirus, a team of students from Jericho High School won first place in the Lexus Eco Challenge.

The team, dubbed Finding Nano, created its own sustainable ultrafiltration membrane system—and an app—to help residents monitor water quality after they discovered that 61 percent of New York waterways are contaminated with unregulated, potentially carcinogenic contaminants.

“They reached out to water authorities and demonstrated how current wastewater-treatment processes are inadequate and encouraged using nanocellulose-based filtration systems,” according to the competition’s website. “Finding Nano then formed an international network of Finding Nano Ambassadors to encourage high school environmentalists to express their local concerns, learn sustainable practices from each other, and educate their communities. They also collaborated with UN delegates to maximize sustainable efforts.”

And while the district’s 3,200 students and 1,000 employees spent the last part of the 2020 spring semester learning and teaching from home, Director of Facilities Mike Hahn was hard at work to ensure that when students and staff do return to campus, they can safely continue their pursuit of excellence.

Hahn started working at the district eight years ago, and he is responsible for capital improvements, maintenance, and security at one middle school and high school facility, three elementary schools, and one leased facility. When he took over his role, the district had no real security system or procedures in place. Since then, Hahn has introduced an access control system, ID tags for employees, security vestibules, and a visitor check-in process.

Once the perimeter security was enhanced, however, Hahn knew that the next step was to create the ability to initiate a lockdown within the district’s facilities to respond to an emergency situation, such as an active shooter.

In 2018, the district began looking at various products at security showcases. Hahn says school officials were specifically looking for a system that would work with the district’s existing master key system.

“We did not want to have to rekey the entire district, or recore the locks in the district,” Hahn explains. “We were looking for something that could accommodate taking the core out of the existing locks and putting it in the new product, and that could operate with my ID cards.”

Adopting such a solution would allow the district to phase out issuing keys for the doors and create a system where teacher and staff ID cards were programmed to provide access to the doors they needed to be able to open at their specific facility.

The district also wanted a lock solution that had a lever handle so the doors would be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. After a review of products, the district chose dormakaba’s E-Plex 7900 wireless locks with Aurora Advanced Lockdown software licenses.

The software system allows the district to program teacher and staff ID cards to provide access based on their needs—for instance an elementary school teacher could use her ID card to open doors only in her building instead of the entire district.

“We program teachers’ cards, so they start at 6:30 a.m. and shut off at night at 6:00 p.m.—there’s no access to the building whenever you want it,” Hahn adds.

After the lock was selected in early 2018, Hahn led a districtwide project to remove the existing door locks from approximately 800 doors, take out the cores, and install the new dormakaba lock cores.

“We figured if we’re going to do it, we’re doing it districtwide,” Hahn says. “We can’t present this to the public as a security issue and then decide we’re only going to do one school. We can’t tell the public the kids in this school are more important than somewhere else.”

The introduction of the security procedures and the dormakaba system required a culture change in the district, Hahn says.

“Parents used to come into the building as they wanted,” he says. “When you’re used to doing that, it’s a bit of a culture shock, but most people—with all of the shootings that have happened—realized how lax things were and that something needed to be done.”

The project was initially supposed to be finalized before the beginning of the fall 2018 semester, but there were some snafus in the process.

While removing the cores from the old locks, the installation team did not label which core went to which door. This resulted in a very time-consuming process to match the cores to the appropriate door and new lock, Hahn says.

Once the locks were installed, the district also worked with its integrator—Intralogic—to address some programming challenges related to the software and antennas the locks rely on.

There was an initial miscalculation, Hahn says, about how many antennas would be needed for each facility in the district to allow the locks to communicate wirelessly.

“The locks were sending out signals—almost like roaming,” Hahn says, adding that this caused the locks’ batteries to die sooner than anticipated. The district has since added additional antennas and the integrator replaced the batteries.

One programming challenge the district had to work through was related to the specialized lockdown software—Aurora Advanced Lockdown—it purchased to run on the system. Using strategically placed panic buttons throughout facilities, the software allows an individual who pushes that button to issue a prerecorded message announcing a lockdown over the loudspeaker system while also locking all the doors in the building. This method was preferable to the previous one, which Hahn says required a principal to login and initiate a lockdown.

“It’s a much better situation to have a panic button so trustworthy people—administrators, staff members—can feel empowered to initiate it,” Hahn says.

The software functioned perfectly to initiate a lockdown, but there were some bugs that prevented the district from lifting the lockdown after an all-clear message was issued. Intralogic came in and was able to address the issue, Hahn says, so now the lockdown can be lifted.

The original installation was for approximately 800 doors, but it did not include the bathrooms at any of the buildings. These have traditionally always been unlocked, but with the rise of school shootings, Hahn says the district decided these rooms should also be lockable to allow students and staff to shelter in place should an incident occur.

The district planned to install this new wave of locks during the summer of 2020 with the help of funding from the New York Governor’s Office. But with the coronavirus pandemic, those plans have been put on hold.

“Right now, there’s a lack of state aid that the governor was talking about sending back to the schools—we can no longer count on that coming from the state, and our priorities have shifted to looking at what we need in place to safely reopen,” Hahn says. Funding may instead go towards sneeze guards and other personal protective equipment that schools may be required to provide upon reopening.

Additionally, Hahn says there are plans to work with Intralogic and dormakaba to offer a training session on locksmithing with district facilities staff, to allow them to address common maintenance issues in-house. That will have to wait, however, until the pandemic subsides and it’s safe for the training to be conducted in person.

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