As a parent, safety in schools is something that is always top of mind. As a professional who works in the educational technology industry, I have insight into the tools needed to create a safer learning environment for kids. And while I do not claim to have all of the answers (far from it), there are certain things I am keenly aware.
School campuses are very different than they were several (and I won't specify just how many) years ago when I was a student. Classrooms are different, with more technology implemented in each classroom than ever before. Students and teachers engage differently; my kids have tablets and online 'games' to encourage interactive learning. But along with this, changes to safety plans for schools are ever present. Gone are the days of school bells, one sequence signifying an earthquake and another, a fire. At the time, growing up in San Francisco, the most common alert was the earthquake drill. Now, if you ask kids what types of emergency preparedness drills they experience? Lock downs, bullying intervention, a stranger on campus...it's a whole new world of school safety procedures.
So how, with the use of technology, can we build a safer learning environment for our kids? At the core, and in its more simplified version, the answer is communication. One thing is clear - there is no one solution, one technology doesn't address every challenge, and in a K-12 environment, it's very complex.
Imagine each classroom as its own little ‘city’; a city filled with 25 – 30 exuberant ‘citizens’ and one ‘mayor’. And on any given day in each of these cities, there is a certain noise level and maybe an acceptable level of controlled chaos. Suddenly a tornado is approaching and all of the cities’ occupants need to make it safely to the gymnasium. It’s up to the mayor in each of these cities to acknowledge the tornado alert, gather their citizens and follow a pre-established emergency evacuation plan.
But what happens if they’re watching a movie in class and they can’t hear the alert? Or they hear the alert, but they’re not certain what that specific bell signifies? Or the mayor can’t remember the steps of the pre-established emergency plan? How can technology and communication help?
The necessary tactic is to deploy multiple levels of technology to circulate critical information to key recipients during an emergency. A modern, integrated communication platform can combine a sequence of events such as:
Tying all school AV equipment together to alert, secure and make safer the students, teachers and staff.
And with an easily administered process, all of these events can also be modified to match changing emergency conditions.
Now, in that same scenario, the alert is deployed. The movie’s audio is ducked and the alert can be heard. Secondly, the projector in the room turns on and the emergency evacuation map and plan are displayed. Next, a mass notification is sent via email to all parents that the school is under tornado warning and their kids will safely be held in the school’s gymnasium; and even further, once the threat has passed, a follow up email can be sent to acknowledge this event.
A modern, integrated communication platform ties everything together. It’s important to understand that technology is one element of the solution. A solid, well-constructed emergency plan will identify how the equipment will be used during either daily normal events or emergency situations.
When designing and planning your school’s communication platform, there are useful elements defined in the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) guide SB 40-2008 Communications Systems for Life Safety in Schools. This guide covers the application, installation, location, performance, and maintenance of school communications systems and their components. It establishes guidelines for levels of performance, extent of redundancy, and quality of installation.
Further, with the recently published NFPA 72 (National Fire Protection Association) NFPA 72: National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code you’ll find information on how to apply and use most efficiently, technologies integrated with an emergency response plan. By using both the NEMA SB 40 and NFPA 72-2013 documents, a designer or consultant can better grasp the concept of a totally integrated solution in a K-12 environment.
We also have a free whitepaper, The Power of a Merged Communications System in a K-12 Environment. Learn more about all of the efficiencies associated with a merged system, both financial and operational.
Take a look at the information available. You’ll find that with a well-designed school communication system, an established school safety plan and a well-trained staff will help greatly in creating a safer learning environment in schools.