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Lack of crucial radio signal inside Columbia high school

“Within the school our police radios were essentially useless for us,” said Sgt. Brian Leer, with the Boone County Sheriff’s Department.

Right now emergency responders and law enforcement cannot use their radios inside a Columbia high school.

The reason is a lack of radio signal.

Battle High School has been open for two years now without radio signal in 95 percent of the building.

The new elementary school next door is supposed to open this August, but will a communications tower be built in time to ensure children in these buildings are safe?

In a special report, ABC 17’s Heather Hourigan has been looking into this issue since October when a fight broke out at Battle. It was then she learned police weren’t able to call for help from inside the building.

Police said the student resource officer who was there during the fight was not able to use a radio to call 911.

Instead, the SRO had to page the worker at the front desk, who then was able to call by using a land line.

It is a process SROs at Battle told ABC 17 News they have to use during every emergency.

However, that extra step adds time, when every second counts in emergency situations.

“I was never able to talk to joint communications inside Battle High School,” said Sgt. Brian Leer.

Leer was an SRO at Battle for six months.

“We have had issues until the day I left out there. We still have issues,” said Leer.

Leer told ABC 17 News his police radio is useless in the school.

“They are basically our lifeline to joint communications,” said Leer.

Leer said his cellphone, as a backup to call for help, doesn’t work unless he steps outside the building.

It’s something the students are all too familiar with.

“If I am trying to get a hold of my dad or my mom for something, even one bar won’t work,” said Maddison Spiess, a student at Battle.

“If we are in an emergency situation in that building our crews inside can’t communicate with the 911 center or other crews outside,” said Assistant Fire Chief, Brad Fraizer with the Columbia fire department.

Right now under current fire code, first responders have to have 100 percent radio coverage in the building.

ABC 17 News asked Sgt. Leer how much of the building has this spotty signal,”well over 95 percent,” he said.

So how was Battle able to get an occupancy permit to open without following fire code?

“It is a requirement that you have access to emergency operations and we do have that, we just don’t have it at the level we would like to,” said Michelle Baumstark with Columbia public schools.

The school district told ABC 17 News that because they set up signal boosters around the school they could get the occupancy permit.

However, emergency responders tell us those aren’t working, and soon the elementary school will be opening and the tower may still not be up.

City officials told ABC 17 News if the tower is not up by August there will be no delay in issuing an occupancy permit to the school district for the elementary school.

They say that is because plans are in place to build the tower.

“I would hope they would have it ready by the start of school this fall,” said Boone County’s presiding commissioner, Dan Atwill.

ABC 17 News checked in with a joint communications technical consultant for radio communications who gave us a time frame for other towers around the county that have been built.

There are about seven steps that have to happen to get the tower up, the first sending out request for proposals.

If that bid was to happen today, the fastest the tower could go up we averaged was about 17 weeks, most likely after school starts for the elementary students.

ABC 17 News asked Sgt. Leer if he felt they had been lucky the past two years that there was not a significant incident at Battle.

“I do, I do it’s probably a combination of being good and luck, but luck definitely plays into it,” said Leer.

But parents ABC 17 News spoke with did not know law enforcement was relying on luck at their children’s school.

“I would think that they have been pretty lucky. I am concerned but not drastically concerned,” said Lonnie Spiess, a parent of a student at Battle.

“It can be very problematic. Good news is this tower is coming I hear and that will be a blessing for everyone out there,” said Leer.

But will it come soon enough?

Right now the communications tower is in the hands of the county.

County Commissioner Dan Atwill said on Wednesday they have not yet sent out a request for proposals but should sometime next week.

Battle High School was just annexed into the city, so county fire no longer has jurisdiction there.

However, ABC 17 News did check in with county fire officials who said they were not going to allow the elementary school to open unless the tower was up and operating by the time the elementary school opened.

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