Setting the Standard with State-of-the-Art School Safety Solutions

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This guest blog post was contributed by our ecosystem partner, Industry Weapon.

School Safety Solutions

There’s no room for error in school security. As adults, keeping kids safe is perhaps our most important responsibility, and the right technology helps us fulfill that job as best we possibly can.

We’ve worked with all types of campuses to fold effective security systems into their digital signage solutions. But there’s something uniquely special about the Mobile County Public School System, which educates 59,000 students who live in the southernmost part of Alabama. We headed down south to see Mobile County’s incredible system in action, and it was nothing short of awe-inspiring.

See Singlewire’s side of the story with Mobile County

Effective Doesn’t Mean Expensive

No matter how much money a school has at its disposal, all students deserve to be equally safe. It’s unsettling to think of how many children are at risk of harm because there’s seemingly no room in the budget to revamp security tools. Without a doubt, school budgets are tight, but thinking outside the box can lead to successful, cost-effective solutions.

Inside Mobile County, administrators consciously chose to table financial concerns while diving into planning mode for their reimagined district-wide security plan. “People were willing to put money aside, quit worrying about that, and think about something that could not only change Mobile County, but Alabama and this country as far as security goes in schools,” said telecommunications manager Tracye Mathis.

The result? Mathis and other district leaders developed a remarkably cross-pollinating plan that blended together multiple channels of emergency notifications. Joining forces with leading tech companies enabled Mobile County to ultimately map out a solution that would completely transform all 89 of its schools across the region. It was impressive enough to secure a large grant that helped fund the entire program.

Mathis noted that the perhaps more obvious choice was to primarily focus on equipping “brand-new schools” with the new security program. After all, new buildings are much better tailored for new tech—they’re built to accommodate powerful servers and systems. Instead, she said, that impulse made it all the more clear that the right choice was to zero in on a more dated building.

“Other people who were thinking about doing this would say, ‘Well, we don’t have new schools, we don’t have all that money,’” Mathis said. The county wanted to prove that its solution could, and should, be implemented in all types of schools, no matter their budgets or the quality of their facilities.

Building Trust with Daily Usage

Most days are, thankfully, emergency-free. But one of the biggest shortcomings of most notification systems is that they only kick into action when something serious is unfolding, prompting people to become confused and panicked.

Think about it: If you’ve never seen or heard a particular signal, and suddenly it’s blaring all over the building, you’re not necessarily going to understand the implications. You have no idea what the emergency is, or what areas are unsafe. Should you run into the hallway? Should you stay put and barricade the door? You also might assume, if you can’t see the danger right in front of you, that the alarm is just malfunctioned and has gone off for no reason.

Now consider the total opposite circumstance: There’s an emergency happening, and you have no idea. That’s what happened at American University in July 2018, when an armed intruder put the college on lockdown. After local authorities resolved the situation, a survey revealed that a shocking 73 percent of students did not receive the university-issued emergency notification they were all supposed to get on their cell phones. Nearly three-fourths of the student body had no clue of an active crisis on campus unless they happened to hear it word of mouth.

When it truly matters, there’s no time to explain what’s going on. Students, faculty, and guests need to immediately receive and understand the messages coming their way. That’s why it’s critical to utilize elements of the security system on a daily basis for standard, non-emergency purposes.

Does that mean students should receive a constant barrage of meaningless texts from the school? Of course not. In Mobile County, different light cues are deployed in various everyday situations. This indicates functionality (if the system isn’t working, it can be repaired in advance of an actual emergency situation) and builds student trust.

“One of our colors is yellow, and it’s just ‘On Hold,’” Mathis explained. “It could be that the picture session of seniors went longer than [expected]. Or they’ve decided to hold class because testing wasn’t completed yet. Bad weather, we don’t want to let the kids out, we just want to put them on hold.”

In other words, after a few color-change situations, students instinctually recognize that the lights are a reliable source of information when a school-wide notification is being relayed.

Cross-Platform Integration Is Critical

It wasn’t just Industry Weapon contributing to Mobile County’s school security solution. The district also joined forces with companies including Singlewire Software, Cisco, Igor, and Extron. Simultaneously leveraging all of these separate tools enabled all the components of the system to communicate with each other, ultimately inspiring the right safety-taking actions from faculty and students.

“What we discovered is we had a lot of good plans in place, but a lot of them operated independently of each other,” said Andy Gatewood, director of security, comparing the system to separate, mismatched pieces that needed to solve one single puzzle. “The setup we now have here at Davidson High School is basically one-button.”

When an administrator taps the screen to select particular options, “a lot of things happen automatically,” Gatewood continued. “From the notifications to the lighting system to the digital signage, phone calls made to law enforcement and EMS, all the way to calls that are made to parents.”

The commitment to streamlining security means that students of all ages, in all schools across the district, are able to acquaint themselves with the program.

“If we were going to make changes that only affected one school, we could do it all day long, every day. But you can’t do that when you have 89 schools,” Mathis said. “To have the consistency across the board so that children in kindergarten can move into middle school and have the same type of security plan and technology, and then move on into high school. You have to have flow and consistency there.”

She added, “We have to be very wise, consider what we’re doing with our money and make sure we’re spending it wisely.”

Getting It Right with Good Partners

David Akridge, Mobile County’s chief information officer, had already given digital signage a shot before we entered the picture. And he wasn’t thrilled.

“We had purchased digital signage, but we weren’t very happy with it at the time because the content management part of it was not what we expected it to be,” Akridge said. “Industry Weapon came in and said, ‘Hey, we can make this easier. We can make this something your teachers and administrators can do.’”

He continued, “You guys understood exactly what we were looking for, exactly the problem that I had, and then garnered a solution very quickly.”

Today, Mobile County isn’t just safe, it’s also a dynamic learning experience. Teachers utilize the digital signage in order to showcase lunch menus, cool announcements, newsletters, and other great features. Students and teachers alike have particularly appreciated an integration that clearly displays a countdown clock in-between classes, which reduces tardiness.

In other words, Akridge said, the revamped security system isn’t only great for emergency situations: “It’s just a positive thing for the school as a whole.”

Click to see how Industry Weapon Helped Mobile County (VIDEO)

 

 

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