News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

September 1, 2012

Dialing up more SAFETY

Web-based panic button system will add security to county buildings

TERRE HAUTE —

The first phase of a two-part plan to improve safety measures in Vigo County government buildings — such as its Courthouse —  will include the activation of a panic button system on Internet-based telephones.

A previous system used battery-powered buttons to send radio signals to the county sheriff’s department to notify law enforcement of a situation.

That system has been off-line for nearly a year, because of damaged parts and a needed upgrade.

Last week, a fight broke out in Division 6 during a hearing for William Mallory, who was being charged with the murder of Dustin Kelly of Terre Haute.

Vigo County Sheriff Greg Ewing said the button would not have made a difference, as police were already in the courtroom.

“That is part of the multi-layered security at the courthouse,” the sheriff said. “Once that situation exploded, we already knew about it.”

Judge David Bolk, Vigo County Superior Court Division 3, said he relies more on the practice of having deputies in the courtroom.

“I don’t know that I knew the buttons were not functioning. We knew there had been problems with the ones we had before,” Bolk said. “I was told after the [Aug. 28 courtroom fight] they did not work.”

Bolk said he has served as judge for the past 10 years and has not had an occasion where he has had to use a panic button.

“We try to anticipate if there will be problems, and if I know that I have a particular nasty divorce protective order hearing, I will ask for a [deputy sheriff] to come up. We also usually have an officer in the courtroom,” Bolk said.

However, the judge said he does see a use for a panic button.

“If for example, there are people fighting in the hallways and some are trying to get them apart, having a panic button might be helpful to get other people here and let them know,” Bolk said.

Ewing said a new panic button system will address more than just the county courthouse, but all county government buildings. The new system, to be active later this month, provides a panic button on all county government phones.

The phones also have a speaker, enabling an emergency message to be transmitted, such as a building lock down in effect, Ewing said. The sheriff said the county plans to adopt a countywide emergency procedure, nearly identical to that used by the Vigo County School Corp., that instructs workers what to do in the event of an emergency.

“Let’s say a person displays a gun at the treasurer’s office, what procedure do employees in other offices do, such as gathering any citizens visiting other offices into a safe zone, locking doors or pulling a curtain?” the sheriff said.

Cheryl Loudermilk, a deputy auditor, said the panic button is a “a good idea, especially with the economy and with paying property taxes weighing on people’s minds, sometimes people do come in a little upset.”

“It is another measure of feeling more secure. We do not have metal detectors for people to go through, like at the courthouse which also has one public entrance. The annex has several doors,” Loudermilk added.

“It will make me feel more secure if it works,” said Chief Deputy Treasurer Cheryl Clements. “The old system had buttons hooked up for the wrong office. Hopefully this [panic button] will be quicker” if a sheriff’s deputy is required, she said. “I do think it is necessary especially with our office because of the money we take in.”

Because the phones are Internet-based, software must identify each phone and its location, said Maj. Jeff Fox of the sheriff’s department. That means employees will be discouraged from moving phones from office to office.

“An Internet phone can be used anywhere, so we would think it is still on the northwest corner of the first floor but it may have been moved to the third floor at the courthouse or somewhere else,” Fox said.

He emphasized the phones are to be used only for the need of law enforcement, not for a medical emergency or other events, such as power outages or weather. “If that is needed, [employees] should call 911,” Fox said, which can dispatch medical or other services.

Other security measures have already been taken this year at the courthouse, including a new swipe card system to unlock certain doors and the installation of “panic bars” which sound an alarm when a locked door is opened. The bar allows the door to be opened in the event of a fire.

Those improvements, along with the panic button and speaker system, cost $156,000. The sheriff is seeking the same amount in his 2013 budget for a second phase to place the swipe card system in the county annex and replace a system at the juvenile center.

It also will cover cameras to be installed in the annex (11 interior and eight exterior), and add or improve cameras (14 interior and six exterior) at the juvenile center, said Fox, who oversaw a safety and security assessment last year which led to the upgrades.

All of those cameras will send an image back to the county’s central dispatch center, Fox added, which are then digitally recorded.

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at (812) 231-4204 or howard.greninger@

tribstar.com.

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