As Newton students walk into USD 373 school buildings on the first day of classes this fall, they'll notice something different — reflective numbers on the doors. While this may not seem like a major change, these new numbers could play a significant role during an emergency.

"The reflective numbers are to aid emergency responders when and if there is ever a crisis — i.e., intruder, gas leak, explosion, tornado damage — in any of our buildings," said Deborah Hamm, superintendent of Newton USD 373. "The purpose is to number the inside and outside of exterior doors so that employees know the location of the emergency and can communicate it effectively to first responders. Therefore, first responders can focus their attention at the best point of entry when dealing with an emergency."

"The project makes the school safer by making all entrances more accessible, recognizable," agreed Newton Police Chief Jim Daily. "... That's going to create an atmosphere of more security and faster response."

Hamm said all the district's school buildings have reflective numbers placed on exterior doors that are visible from the outside and inside. The district chose to use reflective material so during a power failure or a nighttime emergency, flashlights can be used to illuminate and identify doors.

Hamm said the idea for the project came from talking with members of a crisis team and first responders in Harvey County, including representatives from the police department, emergency management, and the fire/EMS department. The group's purpose is to discuss issues related to school and community safety, and the plan to install reflective numbers was inspired by the group's discussions. The project also is supported by current recommendations from Kansas Safe and Prepared Schools.

The cost for the project is $1,572.32. The district received the numbers in the spring and began installing them once the weather was warm enough. The project has now been completed. Staff have updated all district floor plans with the exterior door numbers, and those will be posted in buildings by the beginning of the school year.

"It is important because it aides first responders and employees (as they) identify the best way for assistance to arrive to an area of need in the event of an emergency," Hamm said.

"That's what it's all about — trying to keep our kids safe," Daily said.