District’s Attitude About Protection Goes From ‘Ho Hum’ to ‘Gung Ho’

Evansville Vanderburgh School Corp. gets passionate about safety thanks to CS K-12 Director of the Year Gerald Eugene Summers.

When it comes to campus public safety, Gerald Eugene Summers has a lot of experience, and all of it he’s put to good use as the director of safety and security of the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corp. (EVSC) in Evansville, Ind. He learned from his experience in 1977 when, as a rookie cop, he was one of many law enforcement officers who retrieved bodies from the scene of a DC3 plane crash that killed the entire University of Evansville basketball team.

While he and his fellow officers were sloshing through the mud on that rainy, cold and terrible night, he overheard elected and appointed officials jockeying for jurisdiction over the incident. It was then and there that he recognized the importance of something like the National Incident Management System (NIMS) and Incident Command System (ICS). Understanding the lessons from this tragedy, when Summers joined EVSC, he made it a top priority to provide his district’s teachers and administrators with NIMS training.

He also learned from his experience as a hospital safety and security director about the importance of using de-escalation techniques with individuals who have behavioral health issues or who are acting out in an abusive manner. In his capacity as a K-12 security director, he has applied these skills to successfully de-escalate situations involving school students who sometimes have undiagnosed disorders, such as autism or intermittent explosive disorder (IED).

Additionally, Summers’ years on the job in law enforcement and security, as well as his familiarity with many different types of protection programs have enabled him to transform his district’s attitude about safety from disinterest to enthusiasm. Now, the entire district, including teachers, parents and students, take responsibility for their own well-being.

It is for these and many other reasons that this year’s Director of the Year judges deemed Summers more than worthy of the 2011 Campus Safety Director of the Year, K-12 nod.

Summers Obtains Community Support

When he first came to the district, Summers encountered teachers, administrators and staff members who were complacent about safety. To change this attitude, he knew he had to obtain buy-in for his plans for upgrades from the community and school board. Having formerly been a local police officer and elected school board member certainly came in handy. As the director, he often called on (and continues to call on) law enforcement, the school board and the superintendent to help him solve problems in the district.

Summers also recognized that having supporting documentation would help him garner buy-in for his safety and security efforts. He understood the importance of assessments from his experience with the Joint Commission when he was a hospital security director. So, in 2007 he hired a safety and security consulting firm to conduct assessments of the district’s buildings.

“In our 2007 report, it clearly stated where the weak points were, what needed to be addressed and recommendations on how they should be addressed,” he says. “I shared it with the superintendent and the board, and that’s how the buy-in occurred.”

Some of the recommendations were implemented almost immediately and at little cost. Others, however, would take more time and funding. Some of the suggested improvements included developing a visitor sign-in program; more emergency management and ICS training; more uniformed officers in the schools; working with architects to include security in new building projects; provide better severe weather shelters for students; parents providing proof of child custody; and dealing with the gang problems on campus and in the community.

Related Article: Low-Cost Upgrades Implemented Imediately by EVSC

That’s quite a long list of upgrades, especially during a deep economic recession. Despite the enormity of the list and the severity of the economic downturn, Summers was able to implement many of the recommended changes.

Improved Access Control Allays Parent Fears

The district’s superintendent provided Summers with $400,000 so he could hire more officers. EVSC added part-time, off-duty sworn police officers to each of the five high schools and the alternative school. This gave the school resource officers (SROs) time to focus on issues at the district’s feeder campuses. Previously, the SROs were spread too thin.

To address the access control problem, several of the school buildings were redesigned so the office is accessed immediately inside the front door of the campus. This prevents visitors from wandering the halls past students and classrooms to reach the school office.

Summers collaborated with the Evansville Police Department to bring in more than $84,000 to EVSC through a Community Oriented Policing Service (COPS) grant to further improve technology at the schools. Now, all exterior doors lock after the school day begins, and at some campuses, the upgraded access control system enables Summers to track who enters a school. Additionally, visitors are properly managed with Ident-A-Kid software and an intercom and buzzer at the main entrance that links to a video monitor on the school secretary’s desk.

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About the Author

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Robin has been covering the security and campus law enforcement industries since 1998 and is a specialist in school, university and hospital security, public safety and emergency management, as well as emerging technologies and systems integration. She joined CS in 2005 and has authored award-winning editorial on campus law enforcement and security funding, officer recruitment and retention, access control, IP video, network integration, event management, crime trends, the Clery Act, Title IX compliance, sexual assault, dating abuse, emergency communications, incident management software and more. Robin has been featured on national and local media outlets and was formerly associate editor for the trade publication Security Sales & Integration. She obtained her undergraduate degree in history from California State University, Long Beach.

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