Utilizing Technology To Improve Communication In School Emergency Situations
What is more important in schools than learning? Student safety. Period. A safe environment is a prerequisite for productive learning (Maslow, 1970; Piaget, 1936). The school shooting that occurred on December 14, 2012 in Newtown, Connecticut where 6 educators and twenty first graders were killed by an active shooter highlighted the importance of school safety. In the analysis of this incident, one of the major lessons learned is that efficient communications in emergency situations prove difficult. School safety expert Ken Trump (2013) indicates that schools must “strengthen communication capabilities and create redundancy.” By this he means that if “Plan A” fails there must be a “Plan B” in place to reinforce communication.
Gaps in communication are not contained to only active shooter situations in schools. Communication breakdowns occur during natural disasters, bomb threats, bullying incidents and fires just to name a few. It is not only within the school that these communication challenges occur. These challenges happen more frequently and with more severity as the distance from the incident increases. Communication between building administrators, central office administration and first responders becomes even more delayed, challenging and complex.
Lockdowns and fire drills are still the most effective tools to keep staff and students away from danger (Trump, 2013). The latest technology from COUNTABILITY helps us to improve upon current school emergency protocols; specifically in the areas of student accountability, emergency notification and communication.
WHAT IS COUNTABILITY?
This new company looks to bridge the communication gap in school safety situations. COUNTABILITY is an integral part of a school’s emergency response procedures. It is an easy-to-use mobile phone app that allows teachers to account for students in real time across all devices in the event of an emergency. It replaces the use of paper-and-pencil checklists which must be manually collated after an event. With COUNTABILITY, teachers, administrators and emergency dispatch are connected as events unfold, and all users can communicate with each other silently.
In addition to the checklist feature, COUNTABILITY has emergency alerts connecting schools to emergency dispatch; 2-way messaging allowing teachers, administrators and emergency dispatch to communicate across all devices; access to students’ emergency medical information and emergency contacts; and access to emergency procedure documents.
COUNTABILITY’S primary feature is to provide real-time information as to the whereabouts of students. It allows teachers, administrators and emergency personal to ascertain quickly who is accounted for and who is not. At the end of an event, COUNTABILITY will generate reports that administrators and security staff can use in preparing required reports and enhancing emergency preparedness.
A teacher or administrator who clicks the Emergency tab at the bottom of the screen can select whether the situation is a Lock Down, Lock In, Fire, Medical or General Emergency. Clicking one of those options will initiate an event on COUNTABILITY, activate a school-wide alert and notify the local emergency dispatch center. Everyone is instantly on the same page in real time as events unfold and emergency procedures are implemented.
COUNTABILITY provides two-way messaging through a chat feature which allows teachers, administrators and emergency dispatch to communicate with each other. Helpful information and instructions can be shared between teachers, administrators and emergency personnel. The two-way messaging allows information to be broadcast silently to teachers; intruders are not privy to the information exchanged on COUNTABILITY. Nor can they use the sounds of a 2-way radio to locate teachers and students in hiding. Students need not be exposed to disturbing information that may be communicated silently on COUNTABILITY. At the end of an incident administration can signal the “All Clear” across all COUNTABILITY users.
COUNTABILITY’S Medical History icon lets a teacher quickly see whether a student has a known medical condition. With another click, via a secure server, that teacher can use the Emergency Alert tab to simultaneously notify school and emergency authorities of the urgent situation. COUNTABILITY’S Medical History icon empowers a teacher to save extra seconds when every second counts.
No need to enter or copy a phone number. Simply touch the phone number in COUNTABILITY’S Emergency Contact Information to call a student’s emergency contact. By clicking the icon, a teacher will be able to view the name and phone numbers of a student’s emergency contacts in order to simplify the reunification of students with their parents or guardians after an event.
Government-mandated and other emergency planning documents are readily available and easily accessed on COUNTABILITY. School emergency protocols, maps, scripts for teachers, and other useful information are easy to find when needed. With COUNTABILITY, school security personnel can easily keep these vital preparedness documents updated and current. COUNTABILITY connects your local emergency services Dispatch Center to real time information about what is going on in the schools. As soon as COUNTABILITY is activated in school, Dispatch is alerted and able to see the type of situation occurring, which school or schools are involved, details of the emergency, location of individuals and identify the students who are not yet accounted for.
This functionality allows first responders to show up at the scene armed with intelligence that allows them to be more prepared, more effective and less at risk. Dispatch can communicate directly and silently with those inside the school by using COUNTABILITY’S Two-Way Messaging to obtain information and to give instructions. COUNTABILITY can be customized to allow administrators to determine which alerts go immediately to Dispatch and which alerts are to be sent to Dispatch by the school’s main office.
SIMPLICITY OF ACCESSIBILITY
Graham asserts that of 2,137 schools surveyed, 25% reported that their emergency plans did not include provisions for children with special needs (as cited in Clarke, Embury, Jones & Yssel, 2014). The authors continue that plans for students with disabilities be shared with all individuals who might work with such students. Students with special needs may have a hearing impairment, be nonverbal, blind, or have other needs that prevent routine communication during an emergency situation. COUNTABILITY is designed for use on iPhones, Androids, iPads, desktops and Smart Boards. A triggered alert can be verbally or visually shared by teachers, the vibration of the device can be shared with students to indicate an emergency situation or a flashing visual alert projected on a Smart Board can be shared with students.
COUNTIBILITY is designed to be easy to navigate and use, requiring no training. The user interface has 4 Tabs at the bottom of the screen: Student List Tab, Chat Room Tab, Docs Tab and Emergency Tab. Teachers with all levels of technological expertise will be able to easily access and utilize the app. COUNTIBILITY directly connects to Power School allowing districts the ease of having student information populated onto the app for them. Student information will be available for administrators, teachers, central office staff and first responders. Janitors, cafeteria staff and substitutes will have access to the app’s alerts but not the student information.
COUNTABILTY has drastically improved time effective accountability of students in school emergency situations by streamlining communication between all stakeholders. Seconds count in school crisis situations making rapid and concise communication a must. A school’s greatest responsibility is the safety of its students. With a variety of events possible, concise, time effective management of emergency situations is of paramount importance in the school community. Is your school community prepared to take the next step towards modernizing and upgrading its security process?