02/16/04 — School system explores emergency plan

View Archive

School system explores emergency plan

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on February 16, 2004 2:03 PM

Wayne County public schools are exploring ways to more quickly alert parents in emergencies.

The facilities committee of the school board heard two presentations last week from companies that have systems to improve communication and school safety.

The plans include contacting parents by home, work, and cell phone numbers as well as pagers and e-mail. In emergencies, more options enable speed and reliability. For general announcements, e-mails or more low-key methods would suffice.

Sprunt Hill, assistant superintendent for auxiliary services, said the school system is in the preliminary stages of investigating its options.

"The safety committee has asked us to look at ways of alerting parents not only for emergencies but for everyday broadcasts," he said. These could include such incidents as event cancellations or location change, a bus breakdown, or an unplanned late start or early dismissal.

Such a program could be customized to the school system's needs, he said. It would update the traditional methods of communication while allowing parents or guardians to decide how they receive information.

Hill said he was impressed with the concept when he heard a presentation at a summit for educators, and the idea was met with interest during a recent principals meeting.

"It would allow us to contact parents in a matter of moments," he said.

Sean Mahoney works with Honeywell and is national manager of the Instant Alert program. He said that parents' number one concern is getting information.

Calling his system an emergency broadcast notification to parents, it can send 18,000 messages in 15 minutes, he said. But it is not just an emergency preparedness plan.

"It's about emergencies, but the frequency of having emergencies is few," he said. "If we can give parents information, we can improve the learning environment. If we can improve parent participation, we can improve students' achievement."

Corey Duber represents Safety Net's program Alert Now. His company's model is the one that was created for Wake County schools, where he was chief of security for seven years.

"We took it and made it into a document that others could use," he said. "It is everything that a school system would need, but it's not a 'plan in a can.'"

He said that an emergency response program will be important for parents, because it is not only immediate but accessible. Instead of getting a recording when the system is called, an operator answers and services the caller.

Hill said this is the first step toward bringing such a program to the school system. The facilities committee has not made a decision, and the idea must still be submitted to the finance committee before it receives board approval.

He said introducing the program is not a heightened reaction to the shootings at Columbine several years ago. Instead, is it is a pre-emptive strike in preparedness.

"This won't take the place of our crisis plan," he said, "but will add to it."