Recently in early March, we were honored to not only attend the Kentucky Society for Technology in Education conference in Louisville, but we also had the opportunity to present on the topic of school safety along with Honeywell, a provider of safety and security notification solutions for K-12 education environments.
In this article we will address some key points from that presentation and include it here to help inform and educate the public on practical applications of IT communications and network improvements to address these concerns.
Types of Emergencies K12 School Districts Experience
When considering a safety and communications solution for your school, it’s important to consider the variety of emergency situations you encounter. Here are a few:
- School shootings
- Weather alerts
- Early closures
- Delayed openings
- Environmental alerts (such as gas leaks, etc.)
- Natural disasters damage (tornados, hurricanes, high damaging winds, hail, earthquakes, flooding)
Will your current K12 communications solution address the above scenarios, and if so, is it enough? Parents, teachers, and school workers want instant access to the latest information and updates, and getting the right information to the right people as quickly as possible means using more than one method of notification.
It means using technologies like IOT, AI and CPaaS to facilitate the need for centralized control over the various methods of outbound communications.
There are two types of elements for notification. The first being on-site physical systems that provide notifications at the school site.
A few examples are:
- IP Phones
- LED lights
- Paging systems and loud speakers (hallways, bathrooms, offices, rooms)
- Beacons and strobe lights for visual indicators of an alert
- Digital signage that can be displayed in various strategic places
Many of these components or systems can be integrated with your phone solution. Take for instance, the paging system and loud speaker announcements. Syn-apps is a product that tightly integrates with Mitel’s unified communication and phone solutions, making it possible to have advanced paging and emergency alert notifications broadcast throughout a single location or multiple locations.
The second element of a notification system would be the external end points, meaning notifications that are sent/delivered to ‘end points’ through external services. These include:
- Mobile Alerts
- Outbound dialer services
These external end points and services can be used to notify parents of situations regarding any school-related events noted above.
They can also be used simultaneously, meaning phone calls can be made using the automated dialer, text messages can be delivered to mobile phones, and custom IVR (interactive voice response) systems can be initiated to provide detailed recordings or updates to any situation, with the use of custom apps running on a CPaaS such as Twilio for example.
There are multiple components that play a part of your overall K12 safety and communications strategy.
- Your phone system (Kari’s Law just got passed and signed into law, more on that below)
- Network reliability including disaster recovery (tornados and high winds, phone lines or internet go down)
- Unified communication tools (are they integrated with your phone system and network)
- Integrated services and applications
- Compliance with federal, state and local laws (again, Kari’s Law)
- Internal processes and rules
- Internal personnel training
Being able to identify and segment areas within your infrastructure, whether the phone system, 3rd party tools and services, you can discover where within your safety and communications strategy that need improvement.
For example, due to the passing and signing into law of Kari’s Law, it will within 2 years be required that any multi-line telephone system in a business have the capability to direct dial 911 without the need for dialing a prefix in order to place the call.
The law was first proposed after the tragic event of Kari Hunt who was in a motel with her children and was murdered by her estranged husband. Her then 9 year old daughter tried repeatedly to dial 911 from the motel room but was unsuccessful because she did not know she had to dial a prefix before the 911 in order to make an external call.
The law does not only apply to the hospitality industry, but to all businesses installing, managing, or operating multi-line telephone systems.
Details on the law can be found here.
Internal Preparedness for Disaster Events
Just as we have fire drills to prepare us should a fire happen at some point in time, proper training should be mandatory for new staff and personnel for each of the potential disasters.
And while school shootings are certainly one of the highest reasons for security measures being put into place, the other scenarios can be just as deadly without the proper safety precautions and systems in place to handle those events.
After enacting and implementing new systems, networks and protocols, educate your internal staff. Document and incorporate these practices and processes in your new staff training handbooks.
It Won’t Happen to Us
When considering overall statistics, it may seem unlikely something as awful as a school shooting might occur in your own school. But don’t let that lead to a case of “it won’t happen to us.” Something at some point in time will happen whether intentional, of ill-intent or a natural disaster event.
For example, tornado or hurricane prone areas can experience severe devastation to their building facilities, and if it occurs when school is in session, what communication measures are in place to notify parents and others?
Heavy snow and ice during the winter months can cause school delays or early school closures. Are you prepared to have an emergency IVR ready to play recorded updates and details of the schedule changes so parents can call in for more information?
Do you have a central communication system to push out text messages, or outbound dialing phone message blasts with pre-recorded messages?
Regardless of which scenario becomes reality in your K12 school, they all possess the same requirement of fast, reliable and informative communications to students, parents, staff, personnel, and other necessary contacts.
In today’s age, it’s critical to be pro-active and prepared with the right communication and technology tools to deliver messages fast and have a plan of action.
As our President of Business Development Joe Rittenhouse who gave the presentation at KY STE conference reminds us, "As a Mitel Platinum Partner supporting the largest number of schools of any other partner, we understand that safety and security may not be a welcoming topic, but it is a necessary one for discussion. We strongly encourage school officials to get with your IT vendor and start asking questions. It doesn't have to be us as your vendor, but start asking... now."
If you’re in need of a Mitel Partner that understands the Education industry, please contact us today to learn more.