Public Release: 

Sandia Earns A+ On School Security Program Achievements White House Sent Account Of Success At New Mexico High School

DOE/Sandia National Laboratories

A pilot school security program between Sandia and Belen (N.M.) High School is being credited for an impressive decline in the number of incidents that typically distress school administrators and students alike - violence, theft, and drug and alcohol use.

In a recent letter sent to President Clinton, Belen High School Principal Ron Marquez attributed the Sandia partnership with reducing vandalism by more than 75 percent, vehicle theft by more than 80 percent, and truancy by 30 percent. In addition, fights, previously a weekly occurrence, are down to one per month, and what was once a daily false fire alarm is now a monthly incident.

Preparation for the exam

Mary Green (5861), project leader for the Belen pilot program, said the procedures and technologies that were applied to the school were developed after first looking at the whole picture of Belen High through Sandia's systems engineering glasses.

"Our first priority last spring was to identify vulnerabilities, problems, and issues the school was facing," explains Mary. "Then, right from the beginning, with the help of retired DOE employee M.G. Martinez, we involved students, teachers, parents, and the community in the process to find out their concerns and to make them part of the solution.

"This was really a 'right place at the right time' situation. Belen High was starting to see increases in truancy, theft, vandalism, and drug use, and the whole community was eager to put a stop to this misconduct before it got out of hand. Sandia came along with the expertise and interest in applying some of its extensive work in security technologies. The match was perfect."

Other members of the core Sandia team were Tim Malone and Charles Ringler (both 5849) and Paul Brannan (5841).

Approximately 150 students helped develop the school security blueprint. Key points:

  • All students now are required to carry ID cards on campus. This process helps ensure that only authorized people are on school grounds and at school functions.
  • Tamper-resistant cameras are positioned to monitor areas known for incidents of fights, drug and alcohol use, smoking, and vandalism.
  • A hand-held metal detector, loaned to the school by Sandia, is used to search for weapons in rare but threatening situations.
  • Areas prone to graffiti vandalism received coats of antigraffiti paint, designed so graffiti wipes off easily.
  • Better lighting is being installed at strategic outdoor locations thanks to the Public Service Company of New Mexico.
  • Microdots, air scribes, and indelible and invisible paint are used on equipment and other assets to deter theft by providing a unique identification.
  • Hair-analysis test kits were provided to the school for parents to use in instances of suspected drug use by their children.
  • A portable breathalyzer unit was supplied to the school and is used in instances of suspected alcohol use by students or employees.

The result, according to the message relayed to President Clinton, has been a "successful effort to make our high school safer." The letter said Sandia's goal was "to make our high school as safe as possible without making it seem like a prison, and doing it in a cost-effective manner that other schools could learn from." Several Belen community leaders as well as a teacher and student representative also signed the letter.

Mary is absolutely thrilled by the results of the pilot program and points to the integrated approach as key to the project's success. "When students returned to school last fall, things had really changed," says Mary. "They were issued ID cards, saw surveillance cameras positioned throughout the school, noticed that school property was tagged to deter thefts, and knew of the capability to detect drug and alcohol use. In addition, the school had instituted a closed campus, which complemented the things introduced as part of the school security program. The success of the program is due to many facets working together."

Mary says she would like to do this sort of partnership with a few more schools and eventually gather the data into an "expert system," perhaps accessible via the Internet. She envisions other schools being able to tap into this electronic resource to address their school security concerns, looking initially at the whole picture to identify unique situations and needs. A detailed program would step educators through the system, leading them to security options relevant to their particular schools.

The Department of Justice is considering funding this work in the future.

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