By Roger Langevin
When I began my first week as the School Resource Officer (SRO) at the St. Albans Town Educational Center (SATEC) located in St. Albans, my week started with a meeting with school administrators expressing their vision for the SRO program. That vision was all about building relationships with the SATEC staff, students and the community along with an emphasis on school safety.
In discussing the importance of school safety, it became clear that a threat assessment needed to be completed to know which areas of SATEC were vulnerable. SATEC’s facilities manager and custodial staff proved to be invaluable in assessing SATEC.
These individuals have the greatest knowledge of the interior and exterior of SATEC. I was shown the school layout and provided with a tour of the entire interior of the school to include all classrooms, conference rooms, labs, closets, cafeteria, boiler room and attic space. I also was escorted around the entire exterior perimeter of the school grounds which is 27+ acres and has cross country running paths through a portion of the exterior grounds that is wooded.
In performing the threat assessment, many small things were noted that could be improved upon. Things like some doors that were out of adjustment and not closing properly, holes in the fencing that could allow for easy access onto school grounds. However, the most glaring safety issue revealed in the threat assessment was the simple fact that SATEC, which was built in the 1960s, had only one entrance/exit and that entrance/exit was from Main Street, a very busy street throughout the day. In the event of an incident unfolding in the front of SATEC or an incident unrelated to SATEC unfolding on Main St. in front of the school, SATEC did not have an exit from the rear parking lot of the school. The only exit was to drive back around the school to the front of the school (potential hotspot) which would not be advisable or possible if an incident was happening in the front of SATEC.
In discussing the issue with SATEC administrators, it was determined a rear entrance/exit was necessary from the back of SATEC. The next question was, “where would the best location be to meet our needs in the event of an emergency and how large would the access/exit need to be to accommodate emergency response vehicles?” It was determined the best area to request and emergency access/exit was on the south side of the rear parking lot, accessing the limited controlled access highway to Interstate 89 that borders the south side of SATEC.
SATEC would need to request approval from the State of Vermont to construct a gated access road 24’ wide by 50’ long to accommodate buses and emergency response vehicles. What makes this access even more essential was the fact that SATEC is a designated Mass Care and Medical Surge facility designed to meet the needs of St. Albans Town, Franklin County, and Public Safety District A in times of an emergency. As a result, other entities such as the Northwest Medical Center Hospital, the Vermont Department of Health, Town of St. Albans, and the State of Vermont were all stakeholders who would benefit in the emergency access/exit being approved.
In researching this project, it was learned that a similar project had been discussed years earlier and the request to have a rear access to SATEC on the limited controlled access highway would not be allowed. However, since the previous discussion, several high-profile incidents had taken place at elementary schools, high schools and colleges throughout the country. These incidents have created an emphasis on preplanning along with tabletop exercises that are based on mitigating the loss of life and property in preparing and responding to foreseeable incidents. It is this change in thinking by the stakeholders in approving the emergency access that allowed this discussion to take place and move forward with the application process.
The Vermont Governor’s Highway Safety program provided vital initial contacts to assist SATEC in moving the request forward at the state level. Letters of support from the Town of St. Albans, Northwest Medical Center and the VT Department of Health were obtained in advance to making application with the State of Vermont. It was essential to obtain stakeholder support for the emergency access/exit road prior to making state application as the application not only required state approval but also required approval from the Federal Government.
In going through the application process with the State of Vermont, there had been multiple meetings at SATEC with the stakeholders. The completed application, including an engineered access, was submitted to the Vermont Agency of Transportation on February 2015. Approval for the installation of the gated emergency access to SATEC was approved on September of 2015. SATEC expects to complete construction of the gated emergency access/exit by April/May of 2016. This accomplishment was made possible by the St. Albans Police Department/SRO program in collaboration with all the stakeholders mentioned above.
Cpl. Roger Langevin is with the St. Albans Police Department in Vermont and the current school resource officer for his agency.