Page 28 - Campus Security & Life Safety, May/June 2020
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“School district administrators and security personnel now have the means to coordinate multiple first responders immediately and simultaneously.”
By Christopher Buecksler and Derek Peterson
Feeling Safe
Leveraging technology in the education sector to create safer, healthier learning environments
New Technologies
The best environment for learning is one where students, teachers and staff feel safe. With increasing incidents nation- ally of vaping and bullying, plus the ever-present threat of an active shooter situation, school administrators and their respective security teams face far greater challenges to pro- vide safety levels enjoyed by previous generations than their prede- cessors could ever have imagined.
Safety and Health Issues
Fortunately, new technologies are available to allow administrators to manage the safety and health issues in schools. These tools also allow them to make better and smarter decisions by leveraging data that they collect to understand where incidents of concern, such as vaping, smoking, bullying, graffiti and other inappropriate behaviors are tak- ing place, and how frequently.
It’s up to administrators and their security teams to develop, imple- ment and practice plans that mesh seamlessly with technology. Tech- nology is part of the solution for managing emergency events and preventing, reducing and managing problematic activities and behav- iors such as vaping, bullying, fighting and vandalism.
One of the important keys to this is the consolidation of informa- tion into one easy to use platform that can be used to generate school- wide emergency alerts, respond to and track internal incidents and then generate reports following those events. Having immediate access to these powerful tools at all times is crucial – especially in a quickly escalating crisis situation where there are any number of moving parts and one person out of the loop or receiving inaccurate information can lead to fatalities. Police, fire, emergency personnel as well as school staffers, teachers, students and parents need to receive accurate information simultaneously, in a timely fashion, throughout each stage of the crisis or emergency situation.
Powerful Technology
Implementing powerful, yet easy-to-use technology leads to greater efficiencies because there is a shorter learning curve and training is easy. Having a unified and automated alert mechanism is key when it comes to coordinating fire, police and emergency rescue efforts. When these automated responses are included in technology that staffers are already using, the effectiveness of the transition is enhanced.
The Long Branch (New Jersey) Public Schools, for instance, has 11 sites in its district, which presented a challenge for communicating with each site simultaneously. Communications plans incorporated the use of cell phones, two-way radios, emails and a special emergency channel on its radios. While thorough, this comingling of communication devices is counter-productive in that it greatly enhances the chances of information not being distributed accurately and simultaneously or, worse, not being disseminated to all relevant parties or first responders.
Seconds matter and having the ability to use technology to commu-
nicate with first responders is critical. The alert or 911 call is part of this, followed by the sharing of important information, including access to cameras, door locks, floor plans, maps and other information.
First responders knowing where a fire is in a building, where an intruder might be in an active shooter situation, or even where stu- dents are hiding can make a significant, positive difference in how response strategies are implemented and actions taken. Technology that shares information during emergencies is a time saver and potentially saves lives.
By leveraging a consolidated platform, Long Branch has a com- munication system in place that empowers every staff member with the ability to send an emergency alert to first responders, uses a mass- communication system to stay connected with all their school build- ings and offers multiple interface options. It even provides a desktop safety app for staff members without smartphones.
Emergency Information
The Linn-Mar (Iowa) Community School District’s emergency infor- mation and communication plans were even more analog. The school district had relied on physical binders, but few staff members knew what was in them or where they were. In addition, it took too much time to update and share their revised plans when changes needed to be made. Exasperating matters is the realization few visuals are more likely to inspire panic than a leader in a crisis resorting to flipping through a binder to decide what to do next.
One Linn-Mar evacuation event was successful but left the district scrambling with what to do next after everyone had safely exited the building. Leisa Breitfelder, Linn-Mar Community School District’s Exec- utive Director of Student Services, saw a need from the feedback officials received from the drills and incidents so they could adapt their safety procedures. Breitfelder stated, “You are always making edits to your [safe- ty] plan because you want to make them better and the only way you can do that is through practicing or, unfortunately, living an incident.”
Being able to quickly make changes online and instantly update the emergency plans for all Linn-Mar staffers enabled the district to use the platform just days after it was implemented. Subsequently, when local police put the district on lockdown due to a vague active shooter threat posted on social media, Breitfelder said their school was able to lockdown in a matter of seconds, whereas other schools that weren’t trained with the platform took 15-20 minutes. According to Breitfelder, from that experience, the district learned the impor- tance of having each school learn and train with the platform.
This is just one example of why schools need an incident manage- ment platform that coordinates alerts, messages and notifications through communication and Internet of Things (IoT) devices across and with first responders, school safety and security teams, teachers and staff and the entire education community. Since the best way to deal with a challenging situation is to prevent it from happening,
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