Simplify Emergency Communications from School Districts to Classrooms
Security and effective communications for K-12 schools is critical for all school systems. Schools need technology that can simplify this complex issue, create immediate emergency communication channels for administrators, staff, students, and visitors. School’s communication systems should be efficient for all school buildings, even those that are not staffed 24/7, cover large geographic areas, and during times when cellular networks are at their limits.
The Alertus System is one such tool for K-12 schools. There is no need to update your equipment or purchase equipment specific to Alertus, as this system utilizes your existing communication equipment to provide comprehensive emergency notification.
There are multiple options to choose from when setting up your emergency notification system. Will you need a district-wide or school-based notification system? Which communication devices will you want to integrate, such as computers, public address systems, and sounders and strobes? Can your local emergency services interact with the system – receiving and posting emergency notices?
Emergency Alert Grants/Donations for Schools
Some emergency communication systems offer special pricing for school systems. Alertus has a grant application for K-12 schools, colleges, universities and certain nonprofits to apply for their Desktop Donation Initiative. This initiative assists schools with severe budget challenges to address emergency communications. Recipients of the grant receive a perpetual license of Alertus Desktop Notification including the software, activation console, and unlimited utilization of notification on desktops and laptops throughout the school’s facilities. For more information, or to apply, check out Alertus.com/donation.
District-Wide or School-Based Notification
District-wide notification allows individual schools to communicate with the district office, local police and fire stations. K-12 schools can mount notification devices in the front offices, enabling administrators to respond to threats during a crisis. You can also tie in school’s existing voice public address system, enabling school administrators to share critical alert information to select schools or district wide.
School-based notification provides panic buttons within classrooms that communicate emergencies to other staff, the front office, or police/first responders. These panic buttons can also trigger a preset message over the school’s public address system, alerting everyone of an immediate lockdown during a safety incident.
Integrating Existing Systems to your Emergency Alert System
Each school will have existing systems in place, adding an emergency alert system should not mean costly upgrades or new equipment purchases. The Alertus System can be connected to desktops throughout your school’s facilities to provide on-screen notifications during an emergency. In addition, you can tie in the Alertus system with your public address system or outdoor notification system, fire alarm panel, digital signage, cable TV, and access control system as long as they utilize the CAP, Common Alert Protocol.
Connect your Local Emergency Services with your Emergency Alert System
Consider having your emergency notification system connected to your local dispatch for emergency responders. Some systems can automatically notify dispatch of emergency situations so that help can be sent right away. If you prefer not to have dispatch connected to your system, see if your system can store public safety numbers for easy access during an emergency.
School security is an important and complex issue. Outlined here are some best management practices for any school security program.
A study from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the percentage of public schools reporting the use of security cameras has increased from 19 percent in 1999 to 75 percent in 2013. In this same time period there was also an 18 percent increase in the number of schools controlling access to the school during the day by locking or monitoring doors.
Improving school security is a serious concern and securing doors is an important part of that security. As with any public facility, this security must be looked at from all aspects – not just keeping intruders out, but also providing safe egress in case of an emergency. Several states, ignoring both existing codes and warnings from their fire marshal, have approved the installation and use of barricade devices. Many of these devices are not code compliant and could prohibit safe egress and endanger the life safety of the school’s occupants in the event of an emergency.
Rather than installing devices that could risk the lives of their students and staff, we encourage schools to consult security and life safety experts to evaluate options for security measures that work with, not hinder, life safety. Your life safety experts can also work with you to develop protocols that include best practices for perimeter security and access control which will allow you to provide a secure learning environment.
Having a single point of entry available during school hours allows for a more secure environment. School’s should have clear signage with directions to the entrance and a visitor management center. This entrance should be monitored during school hours for more control over who should and should not be allowed to enter the building.
Visitors: Controlled Entry and Management
Entry to the school should be arranged so that visitors are funneled from the door to the office before having access to the rest of the school building. Having a vestibule that connects the main entrance and the office allows for staff to safely monitor visitors before granting access to the school. The vestibule can be open during arrival and dismissal of students but locked during the day. As visitors enter the vestibule, an intercom system, camera, impact-resistant windows and pass-through drawers allow staff to verify the identity and purpose of the visitor to allow or deny access with access-controlled electronic locks.
Electronic Access Control
Electronic access control allows for doors to be locked and unlocked remotely. Access controlled doors provide better security, additional reporting of activity, and more control over secured areas. Access control systems utilize a card or fob as a lock release mechanism which provides a more secure system than traditional keys which can be copied and distributed. Cards and fobs can be deactivated, given limited access by area or time, and provide a log of activity for when they are used. In addition to providing better perimeter security, access control can be utilized within the school to limit access to computer labs, classrooms, etc to only those with authority to enter the area. These systems also provide a method to quickly lock-down areas should an emergency situation arise, as the electronic locks can be activated through the central system and can be integrated into the emergency response system with video cameras, digital video recording, and alarm monitoring.
Having a secured perimeter and protocols for school access are the first steps in providing a secured learning environment. An interconnected communications system can pull all of your security systems together and alert first-responders when an alert occurs. While these communications systems can be expensive, there are programs to assist schools with the cost. Talk to your security adviser about possibilities, and always coordinate with your local police and fire departments.
A1 helps our educational clients complete a grant application with Alertus for a full license of their desktop alerting system, which provides alerts to all computers during an emergency. The grant provides the Alertus software for all desktops and laptops within the school, whether managed or personally owned, allowing schools to integrate existing IT assets into their security system.
After your security systems and protocols are in place, training and drills for your staff are imperative. For a security system to be effective, everyone must understand how it works, what they should and should not do in order to work with the system and not impede it, and what their response should be to an emergency alert. Remember to explain and train on every aspect of your security system including policies, procedures and technology. Drills should be repeated to ensure every staff member will understand and remember the actions they should take in an emergency. During your training, it should be stated clearly that these policies and procedures are not optional but required behaviors to ensure the security of staff and students.