May 16 2019

Town Meeting Approves Emergency Buttons and Radios for School Security and Other Capital Projects

By: Rich Hosford

On Wednesday evening Burlington Town Meeting finished passing the 29 capital projects that were included in the 2019 warrant.


The projects totalled just under $3 million with roughly half coming from town departments and half from the school district. Most capital projects with little discussion or questions by Town Meeting members.


Click here for a roundup of the town government projects and here for a roundup of the school department projects.


The one capital project that did spark some lengthy discussion was a proposal by the schools to spend $105,000 for emergency buttons and Walkie-Talkies to connect with police during emergencies.


Town Meeting and Capital Budget Committee member Ernest Zabolotny said that the committee, after reviewing the request, voted 2 in favor and 5 against. He said those opposed pointed to the ubiquitous presence of cell phones that they said would work as well or better than radios. They also worried that relying on battery-charged equipment in an emergency could prove dangerous if the equipment wasn’t property maintained and kept charged.


Superintendent Eric Conti said the project was a joint request from the schools and the Burlington Police Department with the goal of increasing safety based on recommendations of police.


Burlington Youth Services Detective Thomas Fournier said the request had two parts. The first is for additional emergency buttons to be placed in all of the town’s schools. These buttons, he explained, can be used during an active threat and automatically alert police to the situation and send a message of the school’s public address system instigating a lockdown. These buttons will be placed in areas not accessible to students and at strategic points throughout the schools so no matter where the threat is in the building there will be a faculty member in the area with access to a button.


Having multiple buttons to alert police and to enter into lockdown mode is important, Fournier said, because relying on the main office alone is not reliable because the threat can start there and limit the ability of faculty to raise the alarm.


“Most school rely on the front office but if someone at the front desk has to flee there won’t be anyone there to put school in lockdown,” he said. “With these buttons that alarm can happen quickly and from multiple areas of the school.”


The second part of the request was for Walkie-Talkie radios that can connect both people within a school, people in different schools and faculty members with police. Fournier said the radios can be used during any emergency and can prove helpful if students are in a “lock out” mode, meaning there is a threat outside of a school, and need to be switched to a “lock down” mode if police believe the threat is moving towards the school. They can also help if a school is evacuated and students are being brought to another school to coordinate between police and faculty in both buildings.


Lt. Dan Hanafin, who is also a Town Meeting member, addressed the radio versus cell phone argument. He said that cell phones rely on fine motor skills that “go out the window” in times of stress like a person with a weapon attacking a school. The Walkie-Talkies, on the other hand, use gross motor skills that require a push of a big button to operate. The difference in speed between the two, he said, can mean the difference of life and death.


“It can take time to get a cell phone out, unlock it, and dial the number,” he said. “Studies have shown that every 10 seconds during an active threat accounts to another life. If it takes 20 seconds to use cell phone opposed to a couple of second to use a radio that is two lives.”


Town Meeting voted nearly unanimously to approve the capital project.


Superintendent Conti thanked the body for the decision.


“Thank you for supporting this article,” he said. “I’d also like to highlight the importance of our relationship with the police and fire department, they are incredible partners in helping to keep the students safe. Things like this is what keeps me up at night, not the test scores, but the safety of our students.


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