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Marion County Public Schools install Knox Boxes on school campuses

Before Knox Boxes, access to a building required someone from inside the school to work with first responders, even in the case of an active shooter lockdown. (Illustration by Sara-James Ranta/WUFT News)
Before Knox Boxes, access to a building required someone from inside the school to work with first responders, even in the case of an active shooter lockdown. (Illustration by Sara-James Ranta/WUFT News)

Marion County Public Schools is adding another layer of security to all elementary, middle and high schools by installing Knox Boxes.

Knox Boxes, or a wall-mounted safe, hold a set of building keys. The Knox Box helps first responders access the school in the case of an emergency.

Kevin Christian, public relations director of Marion County Public Schools, said the Knox Box conversation started in 2018 after a shooting at Forest High School.

Before Knox Boxes, access to a building required someone from inside the school to work with first responders, even in the case of an active shooter lockdown.

“It’s part of an ever-improving school safety measure,” he said. “This is what’s recommended by our first responders.”

Christian said Marion County Public Schools spent a total of $65,146 to have them installed at every elementary, middle and high school in the county. The funding came from a combination of district funds and Florida Department of Education Safe Schools Grants, he said.

“The district is currently in the process of installing them,” he said. “It’s not an easy process. It does take time, and it does take people with skills.”

The current installation plan is for schools to have them “as soon as possible,” he added.

Wall-mounted safes are frequently used on community buildings such as churches. According to The Knox Company, there are over 14,000 fire departments who use Knox Boxes nationwide.

Each Knox Box at Marion County Public Schools is connected by a universal key. Local fire departments or sheriff’s offices hold all master keys to all Knox Boxes in their response area.

Lt. Paul Bloom, public information director of the Marion County Sheriff’s Office, said the formality of one universal key helps first responders get to the scene quicker. Each response area could have up to 50 commercial buildings with wall-mounted safes, he said.

“You can’t carry a key ring around with 40 or 50 separate keys trying to figure out which-one-is-which in the case of an emergency,” he said. “That key is protected. It’s kept secure.”

Other problems for first responders also arise when there are multiple entrances to a large school or when few employees have access to a set of master keys, he said.

Bloom noted that access to a school campus is most often needed in odd hours when there is no threat to student safety, but no one is around to let them in.

“When I worked for the fire department, we used them quite a bit after hours,” he said. “We’ll have somebody calling in saying there’s somebody in the school after hours or there’s some type of alarm going off.”

Knox Boxes are designed to be solid and secure. The lock on the box isn’t designed to be easily broken into, Bloom said.

“Before you get that lock picked, you’re probably going to be in handcuffs,” he said.

Even though the Knox Boxes will be installed at eye-level and visible from the outside, there are other levels of security always taking place on school grounds, Bloom said.

"There is not just a school resource officer, there is not just an alarm system and there are not just cameras,” Bloom said. “There’s going to be multiple layers of security for your child. I think every parent wants that."

Sara-James is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.