School Alert System Best Practices

School alert systems are often clunky and ineffective

Your school alert system can make or break the emergency response of K-12 educators and staff. With violent or potentially harmful incidents in the classroom or on school grounds, every second matters.

Schools face a variety of incidents that require effective safety measures. This can include anything from everyday occurrences like medical emergencies, altercations, and classroom behavioral issues, to more extreme campus-wide crises like school shootings, kidnappings, or extreme weather events.

School Emergency Fast Facts

    • Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, at least 18% of school psychologists and social workers, 15% of school administrators, and 22% of other school staff reported at least one violent incident by a student.
    • While school shootings remain rare, there were 34 school shootings in 2021, more than any year since 1999.
    • As a result of violent incidents against educators and staff during the 2020-21 academic year, 22% of teachers wanted a transfer, and 43% wanted to quit.

A Growing Need for School Safety

While major violent crises on campuses such as school shootings have placed a national focus on school safety, the fact is that the increase in everyday violent incidents in the classroom since the beginning of COVID-19 demands critical attention. As a result, many school safety professionals are critically evaluating their districts’ safety plans.

This includes training employees to respond to a variety of potential emergencies, as well as upgrading systems already in place to prevent future tragedies.

These extreme scenarios are relatively rare compared to the everyday incidents teachers and staff deal with in the classroom, such as behavioral issues or medical emergencies. Teachers need to feel supported by administrators and district officials when handling these incidents, some of which put them under threat of violence.

A school alert system should notify affected personnel quickly, clearly, and from anywhere, with precise location accuracy, so responders can act immediately.

These systems should also be simple to use, without needlessly complicated extra steps.

When an emergency occurs, people affected will experience mental distress. The mind and body flood with hormones that trigger a fight-or-flight response. When in danger, survival instincts kick in. A faculty or staff member may experience rapid pulse and breathing, dilated pupils, tightness in the chest, and other physical sensations that can be overwhelming and affect decision making.

In other words, an emergency isn’t the time for teachers to start overthinking the steps it takes to alert responders.

When everyone knows their role in an emergency and can take simple steps, schools can resolve situations more efficiently and with potentially better outcomes.

Having the right school alert system in place can promote school safety in the presence of risks from the extreme to everyday classroom challenges.

Table of Contents

  1.     What Is a School Alert System?
  2.     Mobile Security Apps
  3.     Other Common School Alert System Solutions
  4.     What Makes an Effective School Alert System?
  5.     How CrisisAlert Helps Keep Schools Safe

What Is a School Alert System?

A school alert system protects teachers and students

School alert systems keep everyone on campus connected, so during an emergency, anyone within the school community can be notified and safety protocols can be enacted as quickly as possible. 

Systems like landline phones, intercoms, and radio communication have been used for emergency communication for some time. In more recent years, digital technology solutions have rapidly evolved, such as remote, cloud-based systems, IoT (Internet of Things), and AI-driven machine learning software. As with many other industries, this digital boom era has changed the way schools approach the relationship between tech and school safety.

Schools may employ many different types of school safety technology solutions, depending on the specific vulnerabilities and risk factors on their campuses, as well as budgetary concerns and other district priorities.

Some of these technologies include digital surveillance, alarms and sensors, weapons detection, mobile alert systems, safety software applications, digital access control, and vape detection.

Modern school alert systems often come in the form of mobile panic buttons such as a smartphone app for teachers and staff, a wall-mounted panic button, or a two-way radio communication system.

For instance, after the Parkland shooting in 2018, new school safety legislation was passed, known as “Alyssa’s Law.” The law, named after shooting victim Alyssa Alhadeff, requires public elementary and secondary schools to be equipped with “silent panic alarms that are directly linked to law enforcement.”

Yet many of the tools used in school alert systems come with drawbacks and challenges that must be addressed.

Mobile Security Apps

Mobile device technology continues to improve and evolve, opening the door for many remote applications for anything from banking, to online shopping, to touchless QR code entry, to everyday communication.

School alert systems have followed this trend and adopted the use of mobile apps as digital panic buttons. The thought process behind this is that the vast majority of school staff have access to an app-ready smart device such as a phone or tablet, which means these devices can readily be used to send a panic signal or communicate during an emergency.

Yet, in practice, mobile panic button apps can create challenges, and many of these implementations fail.

Using mobile apps means teachers and staff need access to devices that are charged and nearby, and they need to be able to access the app quickly and consistently, without difficulty.

Teachers can’t always access their phones. There’s no guarantee that a teacher will have their mobile device on their person. If a phone is in their desk, purse, or car, or they left it at home, they may not be able to reach it in the event of a crisis. In some types of emergencies, teachers may not be able to cross the classroom to access their phones.

Using an app requires perfect execution. Teachers shouldn’t have to fumble with their phone’s swipe code and then open and operate the panic alert app, all while overwhelmed by a crisis. Plus, using an app presumes the app or hardware won’t freeze or malfunction in a critical moment. WiFi or cellular coverage may drop in certain dead zones on campus.

An app’s location notification capabilities are too limited. Phone GPS can give some information about where an emergency alert originates, but can’t tell you exactly which room to respond to. This information is critical for a quick and effective response.

Some apps have a poor adoption rate among teachers. In one Florida county, an app that was being used was only downloaded by 16% of school staff in the first two months it was available.

An app-based school alert system can provide an important added layer of campus safety, but schools should evaluate their use since they may not be reliable in every scenario.

Even when teachers use their cell phones to call the office directly for help, they face the challenge of a bad signal or lost connection.

Other Common School Alert System Solutions

While mobile panic button apps have drawn a lot of attention in the arena of school safety tech, there are a few other common tools, each with challenges and considerations.

Fixed Wall-Mounted Panic Buttons

Imagine you’re a teacher caring for a student who’s suffering a medical emergency. There are panic buttons mounted in classrooms and other key locations, but you’re nowhere near one, and you can’t leave the student’s side.

What if a student’s behavior is threatening and could become violent toward you, but you’re cornered, and the panic button is across the classroom?

What if you witness a violent altercation outside where no panic buttons can be reached?

When you picture these scenarios, you can immediately spot the critical weak point of relying on wall-mounted panic buttons. These limitations also apply to intercom systems and classroom landlines, all of which may not be reachable in an emergency.

Two-Way Radio Systems

Two-way radios give school staff the ability to communicate quickly and can work as a single component of a broader school alert system.

While these radio systems have evolved technologically and can be tailored to specific one-on-one or group communication needs, they still present certain limitations in the event of an emergency scenario.

Radios or walkie-talkies are bulky and impractical for educators to wear all the time.  Radios also make it difficult to be discreet, where a teacher may need to send an alert about a behavioral issue in the classroom without escalating the situation.

A radio alert system may also lack other key functionality, such as:

  •       Direct communication with responders across all systems, channels, organizations, and jurisdictions.
  •       Fast, clear, voiceless communication, without the potential for multiple speakers causing confusion.
  •       Critical location information so responders know exactly which room an alert is sent from.

A two-way radio system can provide a vehicle for critical communications during everyday operations and in emergency scenarios. Yet it may not be the most effective approach when used as a single point of communication during a crisis. That way no bottlenecks occur in the chain of notification, which could cause costly delays.

What Makes an Effective School Alert System?

A school alert system protects everyone involved

While protecting against major incidents like school shootings deserves attention and resources, focusing solely on these rare crises means districts risk placing too little emphasis on the everyday needs of teachers and staff.

The most effective alert systems provide a holistic approach, giving school staff the functionality and support they need in any emergency scenario big or small.

Some of the key criteria for an effective school alert system include:

  •       Flexibility to address all types of incidents on school property
  •       Accessible to everyone from anywhere
  •       Fast and easy to operate
  •       Communicates precise location of the incident
  •       Keeps everyone informed

School alert systems should help personnel enact their safety plan when anything from a campus-wide crisis to a single classroom behavioral incident occurs. It should facilitate a response that’s simple, mobile, and instant.

Flexibility

Beyond preparing for the “worst-case scenario” of an active shooter or other devastating crisis, a school alert system should provide the flexibility to work effectively in a wide range of everyday emergencies.

Schools must be ready to respond to medical emergencies, student altercations, classroom violence or threats, fires, unauthorized visitors trying to access the building, or weather events like tornadoes and earthquakes.

According to the most recent findings of school violence by the National Institute of Justice:

  •       71% of schools reported at least one incident of a violent crime during the school year.
  •       66% of public schools recorded physical attacks or fights without a weapon.
  •       21% of schools reported at least one serious violent incident at school.

In addition, between 10% and 25% of all injuries occur when children are in school, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. This doesn’t include the many other medical emergencies that may occur due to chronic health conditions, life-threatening allergies, and sudden illnesses.

These incidents require a fast and versatile way to report them and keep everyone in the building safe. The right school alert system can save lives.

A school alert system should let the appropriate staff respond quickly to any incidents likely to occur, from a playground injury to a fight in the parking lot, to a custody dispute, to more extreme scenarios.

Accessibility

A school alert system should be available to all staff from anywhere on campus. When emergency notification tools rely on an internet or cellular connection that could fail, it may leave teachers unable to call for help when they need it most.

Ideally, the system should be mobile so staff can send notifications from anywhere, not just fixed locations they may not be able to reach in the moment.

Coverage of an entire campus allows a swift notification and response whether an incident happens in a classroom or outdoors. Technology such as a mobile alert badge is wearable and enables a school to enact emergency protocols from any location.

 

Fast and Easy Use

How schools respond within the first minutes of an emergency can be critical. The Academy for Emergency Medicine found that when paramedics responded within the first four minutes of a patient suffering a life-threatening emergency, their chances of survival increased.

Beyond everyday emergencies, targeted school violence usually lasts five minutes or less, leaving schools a small window of time to enact lockdown safety protocols.

Alert systems should allow for easy use with as few steps as possible, since those responding to an emergency may be too distressed to think through a complicated notification system. Being able to activate an alert with a push of a button, such as on a device worn on the body, can simplify the process, saving time and potentially lives.

Precise Communication

When a teacher or student is in danger, verbally communicating critical information about what’s going on and where the incident is taking place may not be possible. Discretion may also be needed to avoid making a situation worse.

Alert technology can facilitate rapid communication to specific personnel or emergency response agencies instantly, providing responders with precise information about who sent the alert and where they are.

While GPS can indicate a general area to respond to, an advanced private security network can use alert devices to pinpoint specific floors and classrooms without relying on internet or cell service.

Alert technology should also work in conjunction with an overall plan to alert everyone on campus when an emergency happens. Automated intercom messages, strobe lights, automated instructions displayed on phones and computers, and other methods of alerting the school population of an emergency may be employed when an alert is sent.

Systems should be remote and link directly to emergency response agencies such as police, paramedics, and EMTs.

How CrisisAlert Helps Keep Schools Safe

A school alert system should address everyday emergencies.

Emergencies happen. What if instead of fumbling with an app on your phone, running for a wall-mounted panic button, or having to rely on verbal communication, you could send an alert from anywhere, instantly, easily, and discreetly?

CENTEGIX’s CrisisAlert badge gives you this ability. CrisisAlert’s remote panic system can be seamlessly integrated into your existing security systems and emergency protocols.

Each school has its own needs based on unique factors, as well as requirements across the district, state, and federal levels. Your district can customize button codes for the CrisisAlert badge, so alerts correspond to different types of emergencies and who gets notified.

A CrisisAlert badge allows a teacher to send an alert during a classroom incident without escalating the situation. The system can be used to call 911 from anywhere when a student or teacher is hurt.

A school alert system needs to account for everything from the everyday incidents that happen in and outside a school building, as well as the most extreme emergencies. Centegix offers the ability to call for help quickly, discreetly, and securely to keep everyone on school grounds safe.

About CENTEGIX

CENTEGIX is the leader in incident response solutions. Our CrisisAlert platform is the fastest and easiest way for staff to call for help in any emergency, from the everyday to the extreme. CENTEGIX creates safer spaces by innovating technology to empower and protect people, and leaders nationwide trust our safety solutions to provide peace of mind. To learn more about CENTEGIX, visit www.centegix.com.