US schools implement new safety measures in wake of recent mass shootings

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The Sobel Group Inc.(SANTA FE, Texas) -- As some school districts get ready to head back to school, officials continue to keep campus safety a priority in the wake of recent school shootings. From hiring additional personnel, digitally mapping out schools or arming teachers, various measures have been taken to increase protection.

After the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where 17 people were killed, nearly 57 percent of students said they're worried about the possibility of a shooting happening at their school, according to the Pew Research Center. In the same report, around 63 percent of parents said they worry that a shooting could occur at their child’s school.

Since the shooting at the Parkland school, the district has entered the second phase of upgrading a network of 10,000 real-time surveillance cameras across Broward County Public Schools. This includes installing an additional 2,500 cameras to "leverage the upgraded system" and "provide additional functionality for monitoring campuses."

Moreover, the district is searching for individuals to apply to its Armed Safe School Officer - Marshal/Guardian Program in order to place an armed school officer at various campus sites.

When a gunman opened fire at Santa Fe High School in May, it was a reminder that "if it can happen there, it can happen anywhere," Joy Baskin, director of legal services for the Texas Association School Board, told ABC News.

The most immediate change the board saw after the shooting at Santa Fe High School was that Texas leaders began to push to confirm that all Texas school districts had in place an emergency plan in the event of another school shooting.

"We know from our interactions with Santa Fe over the years that they had been given this a lot of attention and thought," Baskin said. "They clearly had emergency plans in place. That was evident."

The Austin Independent School District, a short drive down Highway 71 from Santa Fe High School near Houston, has taken safety measures by maintaining a police presence at its schools. An additional five police officers, extra personnel and a second mental health officer have been added to the department.

Those additional resources might not be available to some school districts, such as Lee County in Virginia.

Because of a tight budget, Lee County Public Schools is among a small group of U.S. schools that will arm a selective number of its teachers and staff.

After a unanimous vote by the school board, the county’s sheriff's department has started training teachers and staff who expressed interest in the concealed carry program.

Rob Hines, District 2 board member of Lee County, said the district’s “perfect solution” was to purchase a small number of Glock 9mm for school personnel.

However, some educators have criticized plans to arm schoolteachers.

“Parents and educators overwhelmingly reject the idea of arming school staff. Educators need to be focused on teaching our students,” Lily Eskelsen García, president of the largest teachers union in the country, the National Education Association, said in a statement. “We need solutions that will keep guns out of the hands of those who want to use them to massacre innocent children and educators. Arming teachers does nothing to prevent that.”

Hines said the school's plan to arm school teachers and staff, however, has received nothing but support.

"People down here have hunted. They’re familiar with guns. They’re not afraid of guns," Hines said. “From that standpoint, we knew it would be fit in the community. I didn’t realize how many people were really enthusiastic that we’re actually taking a stand to try to protect the best we can."

Hines said that if the school budget were expanded, he would consider curtailing the conceal carry program and invest in other methods of increasing safety.

Another way schools have sought to protect students is through the use of digital technology.

The Anaheim Union High School District (AUHSD) in Southern California has become the first school in the U.S. to partner with The Sobel Group Inc., a company that creates digital maps of schools.

Aimed at cutting "response time for law enforcement during dangerous incidents on campus," the digital maps are made by stitching more than 15,000 photos together to create a side-by-side floor plan that can be pulled up anytime and anywhere.

"The issue of school safety weighs heavily on my mind,” said AUHSD Board President Al Jabbar in a statement. "It is our responsibility as elected officials to do whatever we can to make our students safe. It can be frustrating because there are no easy answers."

The company was founded by retired police officer David Sobel. Sobel said he hopes that, with the maps, an officer will gain a familiarity and situational awareness of the campus.

"This is a game changer,” said Julian Harvey, Anaheim’s interim police chief. “It reduces the danger and response time for first responders while assisting in locating a suspect. It won’t prevent a shooting, but we know that time is of the essence when dealing with those situations.”

Ultimately, Baskin, of the Texas Association School Board, said a school’s method of handling safety is "the decision of the school and community."

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