POINT PLEASANT — “Unfortunately, this is what the world’s come to,” Commissioner Miles Epling said at yesterday’s first regular meeting of the Mason County Commission for the new year.
Epling’s remark was made in reference to the recent changes to courthouse security and how to improve those changes while maintaining a safe environment for employees and visitors. The undertaking is a work in progress, but work that has begun nonetheless.
Sitting in during yesterday’s commission meeting was new Mason County Sheriff Greg Powers who has inherited this latest issue and is now the head of security for the courthouse. Powers said there was a lot of work to do to write and implement a comprehensive security policy, but that’s what needed to be done. In the meantime, all employees and visitors are to use the first floor entrance to gain entry and exit from the building. Should there be a fire, there are State Fire Marshal-approved fire escapes on the ends of the building. County Administrator John Gerlach said he’s already looked into ordering $300 worth of new signage directing attention to the fire escapes.
County Clerk Diana Cromley said she, along with other employees, had concerns these two fire escapes were not adequate, particularly if there are extra visitors to the courthouse, such as on court days. Cromley asked about being able to use the two sets of doors on the second floor of the building for emergency exits.
Gerlach said installing crash bars on these doors, which would allow exit but not entrance into the building, had been discussed. However, this raises another security issue. A person could theoretically go through first floor security and then be able to go to the the second floor, push open the doors with a crash bar and allow another person, who hasn’t been through security, to gain entry. Powers said even with alarms on the doors, by the time the alarm sounds, the person you don’t want in, has gained entry.
Cromley stated she was in support of having the fire marshal inspect the building. Powers also said he felt the State Fire Marshal should be asked to come inspect the facility to determine the number of exits versus the number of people in the building and travel distance of those people to the exits. This will ultimately help the county determine a better security plan for the courthouse, and if any compliance issues are raised, they can be addressed.
Gerlach also brought several security ideas to the table, from talking about getting quotes to retrofit the old doors with crash bars, to replacing all the door lock cylinders to the building and assigning new keys (all keyed alike) to employees. He also spoke about upgrading pass card technology — these pass cards are used by deputies to gain entry to the building and by various staff to gain entry into locked rooms, such as the main court room. Gerlach also brought up the point that a scanner which is compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act is also needed. Also, two, new magnetic wands for searches have been purchased.
“This has all been a learning experience,” Commissioner Rick Handley said, adding that by the commission’s next meeting on Jan. 17, the county will have even more information to move forward, particularly after the fire marshal’s visit.
When the new security measures were implemented last month, originally, there were two entrances and exits out of the building, one on the first floor and one on the second floor facing Sixth St. The one on Sixth St. was closed, according to the commission, because the first floor security checkpoint seemed to be adequate for the amount of people using it. Having the second floor checkpoint open also requires an additional deputy to run it, though Powers said that could still be an option when there are more visitors to the courthouse, such as on court days, or grand jury meetings.
Also at the meeting was Commissioner Tracy Sturgeon Doolittle who spoke about being sure the county is in legal compliance when implementing these new security measures.
This whole security issue began in an effort to keep the courthouse a safe environment because the days of walking in and out of the building at will are gone forever, just as they are at pretty much every other government building in this country.
More on other topics discussed at yesterday’s county commission meeting will be published in Saturday’s Point Pleasant Register.