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NBC reporters gain access to some schools with ease, exposing security gaps

Posted: Updated:
By Robert Powell and Avni Patel
NBC News

NBC reporters were able to access school buildings and walk around at several New York-area schools, two NBC investigations have found, raising questions about school security as the anniversary of the massacre in Newtown, Conn. approaches.

Today Show National Investigative Correspondent Jeff Rossen was able to enter one New Jersey school without giving a name. Unescorted, he went looking for the main office, per school policy. As he looked, he walked past several classrooms with kids, stopping at one to ask a teacher for directions. No one asked who he was, or what he was doing there. For two minutes, he walked through the halls, and was only stopped once he arrived at the office.

The school's PTA told NBC the findings were a "wake-up" call.

"This is incredibly problematic," said safety consultant Sal Lifrieri, a former director of security at the New York City Office of Emergency Management, after watching the video. "Something like this, two minutes of not being challenged, it's just too much harm you could have caused if you really had intent,"

At the other four schools he visited, however, he was asked for identification and kept away from children and classrooms.

He was buzzed in after identifying himself at one school, and was escorted straight to the principal's office. At another, a guard intercepted him outside the building and asked for identification.

But in New York City, Jonathan Vigliotti of WNBC was able to walk in to seven out of 10 schools without being challenged. "I had a harder time getting into my friend's apartment building," said Vigliotti.

At one school he was able to bypass the metal detector, roam the hallways, and enter a gym full of kids. Approached later, the guard at the metal detector was surprised to learn Vigliotti hadn't signed in. "Wow," said the guard. "I thought you were a teacher."

The New York City Police Department, which trains public school guards, said it would investigate after it was contacted by NBC.

The city's school chancellor watched the incident on video, and said more training was needed.

Said Chancellor Dennis Walcott, "When we have probably around 135,000 staff that works with us, we are going to have issues where some people need to be trained and trained better. And some people that don't need to be in the system."

While school safety experts say many schools have taken steps to increase building security by installing buzzer and intercom systems, surveillance cameras, and alarms on doors and entrances, security gaps still remain.

"It's not just a matter of putting in technology," said Michael Dorn, executive director of Safe Havens International, a non-profit organization that conducts safety assessments for school districts across the country. "Where we're often running into problems is with training."

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