19 Jun Simple Systems Ensure Response
We have all become increasingly concerned about violence in schools. There is an army of school safety consultants ready to visit every school and come up with a customized safety plan. Of course, there are many different ways to develop and implement these types of plans. All stakeholders, staff, faculty, parents and students, need to be made aware of the plan and how it is being implemented.
Sometimes safety plans become too complicated, and expensive, to put in place and maintain. It is important to focus on what systems and protocols are most important and make sure that everyone knows what to do in an emergency. There is a risk that, over time, training for systems that are too complicated will not be kept updated.
There is also a risk that, if you ever have to put the plan into effect during a real emergency, you will not have the time or presence of mind to implement a complicated plan. For instance, if there is an active shooter on campus, you may not have time make a phone call and have a coherent conversation with a dispatcher. It is better to have a clear, pre-recorded message available to send to dispatch at the touch of a button. Another message should be prepared to send out over the public address system to tell everyone on campus to take appropriate action.
Similarly, it is best to have an email and text message prepared in advance and ready to send to staff and faculty on campus at the touch of a button. The mass notification of parents and other stakeholders can wait a few minutes. It is most important to notify first responders and those in potential danger of the emergency so that they can take immediate action.
It is also important to consider the reliability of emergency notification systems that are based entirely on cell phones. During an emergency, cell phone towers can become very busy. This can slow down or even stop voice and data traffic in your area during an emergency. Having other ways to communicate with first responders is vital. For example, emergency notification systems that can only be triggered from cell phones present a number of problems. For one thing, it will take time to open the app and trigger an alarm. After that, a monitoring company needs to enter into a text message or voice conversation with you to determine your location and verify the alarm. They will then get law enforcement involved to respond. This can take several minutes. It might have been faster to just call 911 from your cell phone instead of using the app.
There are emergency notification systems that can be activated using dedicated wireless networks or your wired network or WiFi that eliminate the risk of busy cell phone towers. These systems can, at the press of one button, take multiple actions. For instance, they can notify first responders of an emergency, trigger the public address system to broadcast an emergency message, send a radio alarm to school buses that may be heading into campus, send emails and text messages to faculty and staff, switch on blue light strobes or digital signage throughout the campus, and send pop-up alarms to appear on computer screens across campus.
Catastrophic emergencies such as active shooters, occur quickly and unexpectedly. The shooting usually ends when first responders arrive and pursue the attacker. The key is to get first responders on the scene as quickly as possible. First responders generally use two-way radios to communicate with each other during an emergency. They are trained to listen to and respond to their radios. Emergency notification systems that utilize this radio network to alert first responders to an incident are the fastest and most effective systems.
It is also important to have an active shooter safety plan that is distinct from your fire safety plan. During a fire, it is vital to evacuate the building as quickly as possible. During an active shooter incident, a lockdown may be more appropriate. Emergency notification system that use fire strobes or sirens should be viewed with caution. During a real emergency, people on campus may be confused and may not be able to distinguish between the different types of emergencies.
The key to an effective school safety plan is simplicity. Focus on what needs to happen immediately: contacting first responders and getting everyone on campus to safety. Do not be distracted by ancillary issues such as notifying parents or others who are off-campus until after this is completed. Try to keep the system as simple as possible. During an emergency, everyone will be under tremendous stress. The more that can be prepared and automated in advance, the better the system will perform.