Columbia Elementary School Principal Tiffany Gomez and Technology Support Services Director Jeff Harris test the onetouch button feature which was installed this month in all Las Cruces NM Public Schools Las Cruces (N.M.) Public Schools

Columbia Elementary School Principal Tiffany Gomez and Technology Support Services Director Jeff Harris test the one-touch button feature, which was installed this month in all Las Cruces (N.M.) Public Schools.

New Mexico school district automates lockdown process

A newly installed key-card access system and automated lockdown capability were possible through a $65 million bond issue that was approved in February. 

The Las Cruces, New Mexico, school system has used a portion of a recent bond issue to automate its emergency lockdown process.

A newly installed key-card access system and automated lockdown capability were possible through a $65 million bond issue that was approved in February, just one month after a shooting left two students injured in a district just three hours away. About $4.6 million has been set aside for security-related improvements.

“That (shooting) again just reinforced the issue that even dreadful things can happen, and to be able to take control and spend time managing, rather than preparing for how you’re going to manage it, becomes critical,” Superintendent Stan Rounds told AS&U.

Whereas before a custodian would manually lock each door with a key, an administrator can now push a lockdown button in the office or enter a code from any district VoIP phone and lock all of the doors throughout a building. The process has gone from taking several minutes – one high school has as many as 80 doors – to a few seconds.

When the button is pressed or code entered, an automated message is broadcast over the intercom for everyone to follow lockdown procedures and a text message is sent to the system’s leadership team.

“Now you can do the job of managing it rather than preparing for it,” says Rounds. “That’s really where you want to be.”

The lockdown button, however, does not notify 911 dispatchers.

“We feel that someone needs to actually be on the phone to inform the dispatch center what the problem is, and to stay on the line while appropriate emergency responders are dispatched,” said Jeff Harris, the district’s director of technology support services.

Further, the dispatch center is often the originator of a lockdown request, he said. This is done as a precaution when police are active near a school. Also, the lockdown button is part of the school system’s drill process, and school administrators don’t want to bog down dispatchers with test calls.

Harris said the district built a complete solution by using a variety of vendors and integrating the functions through an interface.

Aside from intercom upgrades and the security card access system, the bond issue will also go toward a $500,000 wireless network upgrade and an additional 350 surveillance cameras that will double the number of cameras throughout the district and put cameras in all of the schools by the end of the summer.

District officials are currently working with local law enforcement to provide surveillance video access to “key personnel,” Harris said. Also, the district is integrating its camera system into the dispatch center at New Mexico State University, where the district’s Arrowhead Park Early College High School is located.

The district has also created a separate WiFi layer for emergency responders as part of its infrastructure, Harris said. Any configured police or fire laptop can connect to the district’s high-speed WiFi connection at any of the campuses.

The district is in the process of increasing its wireless capacity to meet the growing demands on the network, as the number of devices in each classroom continues to rise. A move toward electronic standardized testing, which is scheduled to start by spring of 2015, is also expected to increase the burden on the system. To address those needs, the district’s plans call for a 10-gigabit connection in the ceiling of every classroom.

The district has also taken measures to strengthen the network and design a fail-safe architecture that can withstand even high-stress situations.

“We could always give the test the next day. (But) if suddenly we lose communications during – heaven forbid – a school shooter event, that is just plain not acceptable. It just cannot happen,” Harris said.

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