Emergency Communications On Campus
Working to improve how administrators, staff and teachers can utilize communications tools.
As the nation wrestles with the painful tragedy in Connecticut, numerous inquiries into better or enhanced communications provide us the opportunity to improve how administrators, staff and teachers can utilize communications tools. The single tool that caught my attention in Newtown is described in a First Digital Media report:
"...And someone switched on the intercom, alerting people in the building to the attack--and perhaps saving many lives--by letting them hear the hysteria going on in the school office, a teacher said."
We agreed to meet with one of our K-8 campus customers to discuss emergency communications. Administrators, staff, the Access/Control security company and the IT Admin contributed. We were provided with a manual that administrators and teachers use and then examined the internal procedures during emergency or crisis conditions. The same manual is used in nearly 100 area schools.
Recently we met with a committee to discuss and outline how we could better utilize existing technologies in place and what to add or change to improve safety, increase responsiveness or reduce time in notifications and feedback.
The consensus of the group revealed that whatever solutions are utilized, they must be simple, easy to use, reliable and consistent. Then, teachers must maintain control of their classrooms and students be kept calm during any emergency or crisis situation.
When a school administrator initiates a "Code Red", one of two responses occurs: The school goes into complete lockdown, securing all exterior and interior doors; or everyone evacuates the building.
In either condition, human judgment comes into play and depending upon the situation, reactions and responses will vary. What we found to be a common expectation was feedback from each classroom (teacher) as to its classroom status during a lockdown. Is the classroom safe (GREEN); is a student missing (YELLOW) or is there immediate emergency need or danger (RED)? While I won't reveal the process, it is manual and time consuming.
We also discussed using audible and visual messages and alerts to ensure there is no doubt of the emergency condition because of: classroom noise; malfunctioning speakers, phones, computers or network; or proximity--meaning where students and staff are in the building or grounds.
The next thing we did was a campus walkthrough inside and outside. Akin to a site survey, we observed areas of any sound-dead zones that the paging system did not cover where students, teachers and staff may be during the school day. We noted any interior or exterior camera, WiFi or telephone coverage that was missing or potentially a blind spot or dead zone. Then we reviewed what doors would be used for entry/exit and whether or not a camera including an access control interface to the telephone system could be used to hasten entry back into the school if some students and/or staff are unable to get back in.
Keep in mind that what we are reviewing is specific to one school and doesn't necessarily apply universally to all schools or school systems. There are unique requirements and even different conditions in other schools. We aren't trying to fix something or someone but have been asked to review existing technologies in place along with what can be changed or used for improvement in emergency communications. What we also discovered and have heard before are the numerous decisions made by administrators, staff and teachers during an emergency or crisis.
So we have an initial review and at least a start to begin a new process for improving campus emergency communications. Anything that shaves response time or improves the communications process and contributes to safety or provides safer conditions, I think will be welcome and appreciated. Our industry can collectively provide improvements and the right mix of tools without breaking budgets. I'll let you know what we accomplish as this project continues.