Milford, Amherst schools beef up security

When schools open next week, teachers and students will enter local school buildings that have more security features than ever before.

Over the past two decades, beginning with the school shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999 and especially after the massacre in Parkland, Fla. last Febrary, schools have put an increased focus on safety.

The Milford district recently spent about $200,000 on security upgrades, said school board Chairman Ron Carvell, with more than 150 interior and exterior cameras installed throughout the five schools.

There is also a district-wide system that will enable police, or dispatchers at MACC-Base, the area communications system, to view live feeds from inside the schools.

Thirty-five classroom doors can now be locked from the inside and there is security film on outside doors so that students in the hallways can’t be seen.

In June, Milford police conducted an active shooter training drill at the Heron Pond elementary school, with a 911 call, a lockdown and a hidden intruder firing blanks.

After the Feb. 14 shootings in Parkland, Fla. that killed 17 students and staff members and injuring 17 more, the Milford district expanded an administrative security committee into a security council, adding police, communications personnel, EMTs, firefighters and two school board members.

“We are in better shape than a lot of districts,” said Carvell, whose job is in physical security assessment and says he has reviewed the school assessment reports of the Department of Homeland Security.

Carvell said school officials are also keeping an eye on federal and state funding that might be coming available.

“We are looking at everything constantly. We are not shy about making sure the kids are safe.”

Cameras at Souhegan

There have been interior cameras at the Amherst Middle School for years. In contrast, security at Souhegan High School had been a longstanding issue until last May when the Souhegan Cooperative School Board voted to spend up to $250,000 on surveillance cameras and other security devices, based on the recommendations of Superintendent Adam Steel.

“We are in the process of many security upgrades,” Steel said in an email, “most of which I will not discuss publicly, including the timing and location of camera installations. There will be a small number of cameras installed inside and outside of the school prior to the opening of the school year.”

Larry Ballard is a music teacher at Amherst Middle School and the head of the Amherst School District teachers’ union,

“I feel really safe,” he said, calling the level of security at the middle school “probably one of the best in New Hampshire,” because of the attention to detail by school resource officer Michael Knox. “We’ve had (security) measures for so long,” he said, “students are very used to them.”

At Souhegan High School, the open campus has also been an issue, and Steel said the buildings will become more secure “as they define spaces for visitor and guest parking.

“While school is in session,” he said, “we need to ensure we know who is on our campus and for which purpose.”

Ballard said the middle school has pretty much a closed campus, because there is only one building and one central entrance and no one can get in without buzzing for access.

The Amherst-Mont Vernon SAU has an Incident Command team, said Steel, and Souhegan is developing a threat assessment team, in line with recommendations from Safe Havens International, a nonprofit consultant group that visits and assesses school security.

Also new at SAU 39, said Steel, is the Nixle system for communications updates that allow people to sign up to receive information by texting SAU39 to 888777. To receive snow day notifications, SAU39SNOW can be texted to 888777 to sign up for alerts.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@nashuatelegraph.com.