Riverhead school district’s security department was severely short-staffed, guards were not deployed efficiently — and handling non-security tasks that detracted from their mission — and physical security improvements at the high school and one elementary school required immediate attention, the district’s new security director told the school board and public at last night’s meeting.
Terry Culhane, assigned to Riverhead by the district’s security consulting firm, Summit Security Services of Uniondale, presented his assessment of district security last night, outlined improvements already undertaken and discussed those he’s about to implement.
On his recommendation, 10 new guards have been hired, Culhane said.
Each elementary school now has at least two guards and the pupil personnel services office also has a guard now, Culhane said.
He said he revamped the guards’ hours to provide more coverage and ensure that guards are present during early morning and evening hours.
Guards are often called upon for non-security tasks, such as delivering paperwork, Culhane said. He recommends hiring additional door monitors so that guards could be used more efficiently.
Culhane said his initial physical assessment of the district did not disclose major issues.
The condition of fencing around the perimeter of the high school property mandated immediate replacement, Culhane said. The existing fence has breaches in the area adjoining the rear of a Route 58 shopping plaza. People cut holes in the fence, he said.
The wooded area has evidence of a homeless encampment and drug dealing, Culhane said.
“It’s a safety concern,” he said. He’s been in close contact with police about it and they are patrolling the area frequently.
The school board has approved funding for new fencing, one made of high-gauge steel that Culhane said would be “virtually breach-less.”
He also moved immediately to replace security windows at the high school and Roanoke Avenue school vestibules, which are lacking “bank teller windows” for better security. New windows are being procured, he said.
Roanoke Avenue Elementary School did not have a viable evacuation plan — it called for students to relocate to the Pulaski Street School, a significant distance away. Culhane said he has made arrangements to use the nearby former Grace Episcopal Church building as Roanoke’s emergency evacuation site.
District administrators have been trained in the RAVE app, a smart phone app that allows school officials to quickly notify local police, first responders and on-site personnel of an emergency.
“I am working with the Riverhead chief of police and town supervisor to expedite the installation of software needed for the app to function,” Culhane said. “It should be completed by the end of the year,” he said.
The district was able to purchase a lightly used vehicle and it has been outfitted for use by the security department, he said. The second vehicle improves the department’s ability to respond across the district.
Culhane said he is reviewing “next-generation security camera platform technology,” because the existing camera system software is nearing obsolescence.
“Additional technologies are being explored to streamline lockdowns, image search, door ajar alerts, anonymous reporting, social media monitoring and crowd control,” he said.
“Our security staff is very motivated,” Culhane said. “Most are from Riverhead and they are all highly invested in the success of the district and its security operation.”
All guards have received training in gang awareness, active shooter protocols, “Stop the Bleed,” passive restraint techniques and incident adjudication, as well as ongoing routine and refresher training.
Culhane said he is working with high school administrators and security staff to foster “a culture of connections” — which he described as developing relationships so each student can have “a go-to person, a trusted adult they can go to if they have any problems or have something to tell us,” he said.
Culhane, whose career in law enforcement included more than 25 years with the MTA Police, where he retired as deputy chief, said he has been working closely with the school resource officer and Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller. He said he is also in regular contact with Southampton Police Chief Steven Skrynecki, as well as the sheriff’s office, state police and MTA police.
“We are always adapting to changing trends and patterns of behavior to make our schools safer and more secure,” Culhane said.
Board members did not ask the security director any questions about his assessment and recommendations. Board vice president Christopher Dorr expressed his thanks to the security staff for the job they do.
Member Laurie Downs said she wanted to know why the board had not previously been told about the need to replace the windows at Roanoke and the high school. “This is not a question for you,” Downs told Culhane, “but I do want to know why we weren’t told about that.”
School Superintendent Aurelia Henriquez thanked the security director and staff for their expertise and professionalism.
“Thanks, Mr. Culhane for all you’ve brought to the position,” Henriquez said.