Safeguarding Schools

Safeguarding Schools

One-way messaging is one technology tool that can play a role in effective school security.

It seems that violent school incidents are in the news every day. Violence, weapons, hazing, gangs, drugs, intrusions and terror have become commonly associated with our nation's schools.

We'd like to believe that most schools in our society are not victimized by these problems, but the numbers tell us otherwise. The National Center for Education Statistics “Indicators of School Crime and Safety” found that in 1999, students ages 12 to 18 were victims of more than 2.5 million crimes at school.

Similar findings appeared in a 2000 report, “A National Study of School Environment and Problem Behavior: The National Study of Delinquency Prevention in Schools.” It found that 6.7 percent of the nation's schools reported at least one violent attack or fight with a weapon to law enforcement personnel during 1997-98.

Communicating wisely

Timely, discreet communication systems that alert teachers, administrators and custodians to crises are essential for a quick response to a crisis. Some facilities rely on public-address systems, but in many schools, those systems do not reach classrooms and nearby grounds.

And even if schools already have a suitable public address system in place, many systems lack two important characteristics — discretion and ubiquity.

Alerting teachers and students to suspected threats by way of a loud, booming audible message is not the best way to maintain calm during intense situations. In addition, such systems usually do not have the flexibility to reach every area of a school campus as well as off-campus facilities.

As a result, many administrators have begun to provide key school personnel, including teachers, security and maintenance staff, with one-way messaging.

For many schools, this technology has become the preferred option for one-on-one communicating with individuals or sending messages to selected groups of staff members.

Timeliness and discretion

One-way messaging has provided many education institutions with a near-instantaneous method for reaching administrators, custodians, teachers and emergency personnel during times of crisis. Such a system can discreetly transmit one-to-one or one-to-many messages through a variety of media.

So how does one-way messaging work? When someone calls your 10-digit pager number, that call is received by a messaging terminal over the same telephone network that carries voice calls.

The messaging terminal recognizes the dialed number and generates a signal containing the code of a single device and sends it to messaging transmitters in the service area by either wire or radio signal. The transmitters then send this signal to the device. The subscriber is alerted by tone or vibration that a message has been delivered.

Typically, most education institutions use a combination of numerical and alphanumerical devices depending on the needs and position of the user. Numerical units generally receive wireless transmissions consisting of phone numbers, codes, date and message time from standard wired and cellular telephone services.

However, because the information provided is the more basic of the two technologies, its use is reserved most commonly for less critical purposes by schools and municipalities.

Alphanumeric devices, in addition to the benefits provided by numerical units, offer the ability to alert users via detailed text descriptions or voice messages left on a voice mailbox system.

The text messages, which can consist of statistics, detailed situational analyses or emergency instructions, can be sent to one person or simultaneously to a group of individuals from a computer, web page, phone system or e-mail.

By clicking a person's name or a group file on the computer, typing the message and pressing the send button, a user can distribute a message immediately to one or more recipients without alarming others, especially children, to potential crises.

Systems also can alert users to messages via vibrations rather than sounds, or through recorded messages left on the system's voice-mail system.

Dependability and cost

Another benefit to one-way messaging is the ability to cut through a wide range of interference and deliver messages. One-way paging systems can overcome obstacles such as mountains and tall buildings through a series of built-in transmission redundancies and overlapping signals. When tailored to a school's physical and geographic requirements, the systems can provide high degrees of reliability.

A detailed analysis of the coverage area required by a school will help ensure the system's reliability. The analysis includes logistical assessments that maximize the effectiveness of pre-existing transmitters situated on buildings, mountaintops, towers and other key sites.

Consequently, signal reception is ensured through a variety of overlapping sites that overcome obstacles produced by terrain, competing radio frequencies and other possible hindrances.

In many cases, wireless messaging systems can be designed to penetrate heavily fortified areas, such as building sub-basements. This is an especially important feature for reaching key staff during extreme emergencies.

Because the infrastructure for disseminating consistent pager transmissions already exists in many areas, most one-way messaging systems are readily available or can be installed and activated in weeks.

In addition, the per-unit and operational costs of pagers compare favorably to the charges that can accumulate from other communications tools such as cell phones.

Added precautions

“Safety first” is an old adage that has special significance in and around our schools. Added security precautions are desirable, but not always affordable.

One-way messaging is one communications method that can bridge the gap between need and cost.

Whether a messaging system is used in a classroom, at assemblies or sporting events, messaging can provide an effective tool for alerting select individuals — on or off campus — to all types of events. These include security breaches, teacher in-service days, busing issues and complications related to weather, such as snow cancellations.

Bobeck is president of Aquis Wireless Communications, Inc., a provider of one-way and two-way nationwide interactive messaging, as well as regional and local messaging services, headquartered in Parsippany, N.J.

NOTABLE

Typically, most education institutions use a combination of numerical and alphanumerical devices depending on the needs and position of the user:

  • NUMERIC

    Numerical devices generally receive wireless transmissions consisting of phone numbers, codes, date and message time from standard wired and cellular telephone services. Since the information provided is the more basic of the two technologies, its use is most commonly reserved for less critical purposes by schools and municipalities.

  • ALPHANUMERIC

    These devices offer, in addition to the characteristics of a numeric unit, the ability to alert users via detail text descriptions or voice messages left on a voice mailbox system. The text messages can be sent to one person or a group of individuals simultaneously from a computer, web page, phone system or e-mail. Users click the person's name or a group file on the computer, type the message and then hit send to distribute the message.

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