Billings elementary schools are close to getting their layer of electronic protection.
Crews are working this winter to finish installing video cameras and electronic code locks at the front entrances of School District 2 elementary schools.
The system at Washington Elementary School is already in place.
"I love it," said Julie Wilkinson, the school secretary.
Wilkinson has a small touch-screen monitor on her desk that allows her to see and talk to visitors who approach the school's main entrance. It also allows her to buzz people in.
"It's just one more way to be proactive," said Principal Karen Ziegler. "And not reactive."
In all, 26 SD2 elementary and middle schools will be getting the new systems.
Once installed, staff members will type in a key code or use an electronic badge to get into the building. School visitors will be buzzed in by a secretary rather than just being able to walk in. Other entrances will be kept locked from the outside.
In addition, each school entrance will be fitted with two video cameras that show who's standing at the door and who's in the area. A video monitor at the secretary's desk will show who's at the door. A large monitor visible to anyone in a school's front office will show who's in the area.
All the video feeds will be recorded and stored on SD2's online storage cloud and accessible at district headquarters at the Lincoln Center.
"It gives us a layer of protection," said Lew Anderson, SD2's facilities director.
He was quick to point out that these new measures won't make any of the district's schools invincible. But the new systems, and the training and drills that will go along with them, are important steps that will improve the safety of students and staff during the school day.
"The most important thing is training teachers on how to react and what to look for," Anderson said.
The district has also been working on finding ways to address security systems at its three high schools. Schools and district officials have been crafting uniform safety protocols from evaluations performed by federal law enforcement officials.
The district was one of 100 school districts nationwide selected last year to take part in a school safety assessment performed by the Department of Homeland Security.
The school evaluations are part of the federal initiative "Now Is the Time," launched in the wake of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings.
The challenge with the high schools is the sheer number of entrances and exits at the buildings and the number of times students come and go between classes and throughout the day, Anderson said.
Right now, the schools are looking at designating five or six entrances that they would maintain and monitor.
Quickly dismissed was the idea of closing high school campuses during lunch. It would greatly reduce traffic in and out of the building during the school day, but students would riot, Anderson quipped.