Dec 18 2023

Three Key Features of a School Alert System

Mass notification systems in K–12 schools can keep staff and students safe. Here’s what to look for when investing in this physical safety technology.

In the event of an emergency, seconds matter. Communication needs to be immediate and clear. At a school, this means staff need trusted and effective methods of relaying information. In many cases, they will be communicating with individuals in and outside of the building, whether that’s parents and the community or local law enforcement.

Several states have already passed Alyssa’s Law, legislation that requires K–12 schools to equip silent panic alarms that directly notify law enforcement. Whether or not they are legally mandated to have this technology, school leaders should invest in physical safety tech that sends alerts in the event of an incident.

These technologies prevent threats from escalating by keeping all stakeholders in the loop at crucial times. IT departments, now stewards of physical safety thanks to advancements in technology, must ensure there’s a solution in place that checks the following boxes to keep staff aware and students safe in an emergency.

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1. Interoperable: School Alert Systems Should Use Other Safety Tech

Adding new technology in any area of a school — from the classroom to facility management — can create complexity. This can add more responsibility to the IT team’s plate, make teachers less likely to use the tech, and hamper security.

One way to solve that challenge with school alert systems is by choosing a solution that offers interoperability.

“We’ve been very purposeful about investing in other parts of the security workflow to ultimately create an ecosystem that can really address the end-to-end needs of a lot of security users,” says Sharon Hong, vice president of safety ecosystem solutions at Motorola. “You can connect a video camera and the analytics in that camera, then communicate that instantaneously on a radio.”

Technologies that are interoperable can also be maintained more easily. Verkada products, for example, can all work independently of one another, but they also work seamlessly together, the company explained at CITE 2023.

“Six different product lines — from cameras to access control alarms, environmental sensors, products that manage guests and visitors as well as packages, and then an intercom product — are all tied together with a common way to manage the security and privacy and sharing policies on the system,” says Brandon Davito, vice president of product and operations at Verkada.

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2. Configurable: School Alert Systems Should Meet the District’s Needs

School districts large and small need alert system technologies, but they have different communication priorities and different budgets. Configurable solutions for mass notifications ensure all schools can stay in contact with the right people on their teams.

Motorola’s Rave Panic Button technology, built into a smartphone application, adapts to meet schools’ needs in multiple ways.

“Certain types of messages and who it’s being communicated to can be configured in the application,” Hong says. “Typically, it’s going to be some combination of teachers, staff, administrators and school resource officers.”

The app also works on Wi-Fi or cellular data, so schools struggling with bandwidth can still reach authorities quickly. “You could look at leveraging radio communications to help bridge the gap on on-campus communication, and you may only have enough bandwidth for one or two devices to communicate directly to the Emergency Operations Center,” Hong explains.

Sharon Hong
You could look at leveraging radio communications to help bridge the gap on on-campus communication.”

Sharon Hong Vice President of Safety Ecosystem Solutions, Motorola

Configuration also comes into play in the ways schools share information with law enforcement. “The district has a lot of control over what’s being shared and how,” Davito says. In Verkada’s system, schools can choose whether first responders have access to live camera footage or certain footage of past incidents and events. They can also set time frame limits on how long these users have access.

“Because we’re cloud-based, we make it very easy to add individuals or assign them limited or appropriate permissions within a site,” says Davito.

3. Purposeful: Schools’ Alert Systems Should Simplify Communication

Mass notification systems in K–12 schools should make communication clear and efficient, not cause panic among teachers, admins or the community.

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To ensure that educators get the response they need, Motorola’s Rave Panic Button has built-in features that make it easy to control. For example, every push of the button doesn’t immediately call in the local authorities. Users have the option to report a noncritical incident, such as a medical emergency or a suspicious person.

“It really is more day-to-day security incidents that most administrators and staff are concerned about, like a suspicious person coming onto the playground or people not being where they should be, or even students exiting the campus when they shouldn’t be,” Hong says.

And, in the event a staff member does want to contact law enforcement, they have to hold the button in the app for a significant amount of time. “If it’s any less than two seconds it won’t be sent through, it will be considered an accidental touch,” she says.

Verkada’s products are also built with intention in mind, especially when it comes to sharing access to school cameras, access systems and other safety technologies.

“We want to make sure a district can control who has access to different pieces of data and when, so they can maintain the privacy of their students and staff while still making sure that the right folks have information in case of an event,” Davito says.

UP NEXT: Why do physical security and cybersecurity work so well together?

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