City Hall staffers in the metro area are building a first line of defense against a frightening reality that has played out in workplaces across the nation — the active shooter situation.
In light of recent incidents, local and national government agencies are consulting with architects and safety experts on how to provide a safe, and still welcoming, environment for their employees. Panic buttons and bullet-resistant glass are among the safety measures appearing in newly remodeled city halls and other public facilities.
Following active shooter situations in New Hope and Morrison County, Minnesota cities have started to step up efforts to secure their buildings, too.
“The way people think about their facilities now is different because of those experiences,” said Cindy McCleary, vice president and market sector lead for architecture firm Leo A Daly in Minneapolis. “We are much more aware of how people move through buildings and where we give them access to move.”
Cities often bolster security measures because of an ongoing threat, said Tracy Stille, public safety consultant with the League of Minnesota Cities. “Sometimes it is rooted in an increased concern because of a repeated pattern by someone in the community,” he said.
Forest Lake didn’t have an active threat, but city officials decided to increase security anyway when building their new city hall and public safety facility. They added cameras and a dais made of Kevlar — a bullet-resistant fiber — as well as panic buttons. Each city department office has a layer of bullet-resistant glass between staffers and people walking through the building. Council members on the dais can see who is coming and going.
It’s a significant change from the previous facility, City Manager Aaron Parrish said.
“More or less we were entirely closed off,” he said, referring to the council chambers. “You didn’t see who was coming into the building until they were actually in the room.”
In all, Forest Lake spent about $130,750 on security enhancements, including $46,250 for the bulletproofing and panic button system and about $45,000 for a key card system.
Council chamber doors made of glass may look merely like a modern design, but they give council members a good look at who is coming in. Some cities are taking it a step further and making the glass doors in their chambers and reception areas bullet-resistant. McCleary said bullet proofing is becoming more common in health and social service offices that deal with a variety of clients with underlying issues.
McCleary’s firm has worked with regional and national government agencies looking to include safety features in a remodeled or new facility. Two approaches are discussed: passive security, which involves strategic planning and situational awareness, such as giving the reception desk a view of the front door; and active security, which includes technology and equipment.
“It comes down to good planning,” McCleary said. “If it is done right, you shouldn’t see it or know it is there. But it provides an opportunity for additional time for folks to seek cover or additional time for them to exit one way or the other.”
McCleary’s firm is working with Hennepin and Carver counties on their security strategies. Carver County received a bomb threat in 2015, leading officials to re-examine their security measures. Carver County Administrator David Hemze said the threat led the county to adopt a mass notification system for emergency alerts. The county also established a security committee to oversee the safety of its building.
Last year, Ray Kmetz, a 68-year-old who was mentally ill, entered New Hope City Hall and fired his semiautomatic shotgun outside the council chambers, where police had gathered for a swearing-in ceremony.
Police shot Kmetz before he could fire into the council chambers. Upon further investigation, they found shotguns, ammunition and ankle chains in Kmetz’s Cadillac.
New Hope is still awaiting City Council approval for a new City Hall, but the city already is researching ways to install strong security measures there, said New Hope Police Chief Tim Fournier.
“We are going to be doing whatever we can to make it the safest building for everybody,” Fournier said.
Remodeling or moving may not be an immediate option for some cities looking to increase security. For cities with older city halls, limited funding can keep them from securing their facilities with the latest technology or hiring an officer to attend City Council meetings.
Cities can apply for a Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry safety grant for $10,000 to improve their security measures, said Stille.
“It’s not just adding additional security measures to their buildings, it is having an emergency plan in place,” he said.