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The portable threat on school campuses around Houston & beyond

HOUSTON – Few places in this world are darker than the images and calls for help involving a child facing a school shooter.

Rhonda Hart's life was fractured last May when her daughter Kimberly was murdered inside Santa Fe High School.

"It was terrible. It was the worst day ever."

Hart recently spoke with Channel 2 Investigates and provided insight to the moment her life was forever changed: "'I'm very sorry Ms. Hart but your daughter has been a victim of gun violence.' There you go, your world just gets split open.”

Fred Burton is with Austin-based geopolitical intelligence company Stratfor, who says, "I've investigated lots of acts of terror in small confined spaces."

Burton says an active shooter inside a school is a situation like no other.

"It poses a very unique, protective security and protective intelligence threat."

READ: School Safety Action Plan

 

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School Safety Action Plan (PDF)
School Safety Action Plan (Text)

Burton met with Channel 2 Investigates to address a school security flaw we've been examining for months. The question is a simple one that Burton asked aloud during our interview: "What would you do if you had an active shooter in a portable building?"

"God forbid what if,” Burton said, quickly adding, “These are the kinds of rough questions that parents don't like to ask, teachers don't like to ask, school administrators don't like to ask, politicians don't want to talk about."

Channel 2 Investigates examined multiple school campuses with portable classrooms. The sole protection for most? A simple fence. Access to many of these portable classrooms could be gained in less than a minute, or in the case of some, mere seconds.

"Anyone wanting to do harm can get to that portable building on two sides, maybe without being detected," says attorney Chris Tritico.

A noted criminal defense attorney, Tritico also represents teachers unions in the area. Tritico recently shared his concerns with Channel 2 Investigates regarding children and teachers trapped in portable classrooms.

"They are definitely exposed to harm," Tritico said.

Channel 2 Investigates identified 1,647 portable classrooms currently in use by seven area school districts. Portables have been used in Texas and in other parts of the nation for decades.

Robin Cummings with Vanguard Modular says these buildings are vulnerable, because they're not designed to be bulletproof.

Vanguard Modular builds portable classrooms with enhanced security features, including bulletproof glass. There's one big problem in Houston, however.

"We are offering the services, but unfortunately, the money is not there to capitalize on it,” Cummings says.

When asked if he expects that money to be there someday, Cummings says: “That's a great question. I have not even seen a hint of it coming."

Gov. Greg Abbott has called for action two times this year. Following February's school massacre in Parkland, Florida he asked the Texas Education Agency to address school safety. One recommendation was "Provisions for increasing the safety of portable buildings."

Channel 2 Investigates asked the governor's office to tell us what came of that idea. We haven't heard back.

After Santa Fe, another action plan was proposed by the governor. This one came with a price tag of $110 million.

READ: Gov. Abbott action plan

 

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Texas Governor Greg Abbott Orders Immediate Action in Regards to School Safety (PDF)
Texas Governor Greg Abbott Orders Immediate Action in Regards to School Safety (Text)

"Security doesn't come cheap and it doesn't come from anywhere, you have to have funds to do it,” Tritico says.

The 42-page report highlighted the "hardening" of schools, calling them soft targets. However, unlike February's two-page letter after Parkland, the second report never mentioned portable classrooms.

Burton says securing every classroom will take commitment from parents, school districts, and most importantly, Austin.

“It's going to take a lot of hard questions being asked, like you are as to 'what do we about this threat?’ Until it happens."

The safety policies outlined in the governor’s action plan has a number of initiatives. Total price tag? $110 million. The report states that as of last May, $70 million was already available or will soon become available. In 2019, the governor plans to work with the Legislature to secure an additional $30 million.