Panama City - It's the first of it's kind in Northwest Florida. Engineers are putting the finishing touches on Bay District Schools own Emergency Operations Center off 17th Street near the media center. The district's Chief of Security, Mike Jones, asked for the Homeland Security grants that paid for the center almost entirely. Jones gave NewsChannel 7 a tour of the facility. While the system is not completely online yet, it will be very soon.
It might look like just another warehouse from the outside. But inside this building are the new eyes and ears of Bay District Schools security. "When we go into crisis mode it's all right here. We now have all the security camera operations here, our communication operations here, law enforcement here, background checks here...all in one shop," said Mike Jones, Chief of Safety, Security and Police for Bay District Schools.
"These are the monitors where we'd be monitoring the security cameras in the schools, monitor the weather, and the GPS on busses," explained Jones. If a bus accident were to occur it could be seen on the monitors. And in severe weather situations an alert system will call the school and district officials. "We can now dispatch all the school busses, the maintenance people and the administrators from this location so we are in that crisis mode, we can do it all from right here," said Jones.
The EOC includes an observation room for school board members and the media. As well as a fingerprinting system that is saving the district thousands. The fingerprint scanner cost $17,000 in Homeland Security grants, but it will save the district $55,000 a year by cutting out the middle man. Now prints will go directly from the system to the FBI, making it much more secure.
Before housing all this cutting edge technology, the space was simply used for storage. The transformation is a testament to the power of Homeland Security grants and the man who asked for them. Jones is also exploring the possibility of taking over the fire, burglar and alarm systems. Jones says the new center closely mirrors that of Leon County School District's EOC.