The Montgomery County Council unanimously approved yesterday a $685,000 spending request to put video security cameras in county high schools.

The vote to put the cameras in all 23 high schools was expected, because support for the cameras has been high since then-Montgomery County Superintendent Paul L. Vance proposed it in June.

Council member Michael L. Subin (D-At Large) said the cameras will help prevent low levels of violence, sexual harassment, drug abuse, drug dealing and thefts. "You're looking at a system that will discourage trouble from walking in and trouble from walking out," he said.

Indeed, video cameras in three Montgomery County high schools--Seneca Valley, Damascus and Einstein--have helped administrators monitor hard-to-watch areas, resolve fights and solve cases of theft and vandalism.

But Subin and council member Betty Ann Krahnke (R-Potomac-Bethesda) cautioned that video cameras are not a panacea in a new and dangerous world where student mass shootings have swept the country.

"This will not stop a Columbine," Subin said, referring to the school shooting in April in Littleton, Colo. "This will not stop one or two maniacs hellbent on wreaking havoc. The only thing that might stop that is a ring of policemen and National Guardsmen around the school. And I don't know anyone, myself included, that is in favor of that."

A recent school safety audit faulted Montgomery schools: The schools do a good job of keeping outsiders out but are not as good at keeping tabs on who might cause trouble from within. And that, experts said, is the only way to prevent an occurrence like the one at Columbine.

To that end, new Superintendent Jerry Weast has asked schools to come up with their own safety plans that account for threats from without and within. And, after the audit, he has required each school to have an emergency plan and emergency supplies such as flashlights and radios. Each school now has a liaison police resource officer. And all high school students and staff will be required to wear photo identification badges starting in February.