Apps Aren’t Enough: How Holistic, Comprehensive Approaches to School Safety Save Lives

Apps Aren’t Enough: How Holistic, Comprehensive Approaches to School Safety Save Lives

In the wake of numerous school shootings nationwide, it is becoming a hard-learned but valuable lesson for many school administrators and law enforcement officials that effective lockdown response goes far beyond just a text message notification system.

In fact, Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District (CISD) held a school board meeting with concerned families and community members to share its ongoing efforts to improve school security through enhanced wifi, additional cameras, and other improvements after its own tragedy earlier this year. Though apps are one component that can improve school safety, they cannot work in isolation to achieve the highest levels of safety for a campus. Rather, emergency notification apps are one channel of communication that comprises the larger school safety ecosystem.

In this blog article, we’ll explore the different elements of a fully robust, comprehensive technology solution. We’ll also apply learnings from recent tragedies to provide actionable recommendations that school officials can utilize as we all endeavor to make schools safer places to nurture young minds. Let’s begin…
Keeping Your District Safe Requires More Than “Security Theater”

When it comes to keeping your school campus and the students, staff, and visitors within it safe in an emergency, every second counts. One of the best ways to mitigate damage and save lives in an urgent event is to remove as much room for human error as possible. For that reason, we encourage school districts and officials to do all they can to utilize technology solutions that remove the potential for mistakes or communications errors.

This is, perhaps, why so many schools and districts have moved toward text-only notifications to initiate all aspects of a lockdown: The use of this technology appears to remove all potential for human error by simplifying emergency response to a single message delivered directly to one’s phone.

However, while these systems may look to be streamlined and impactful, they still rely very heavily on human action. As a result, they often neglect the efficiency, swiftness, and dependability that can be found with more comprehensive, integrated, and automated systems.

‘Security theater’ is the phrase that commonly describes such responses: On paper, they appear to be helpful. The intention IS to be helpful. The creators of these technologies designed them to be valuable, and districts earnestly believe they will address their safety and security concerns. Families may even feel comforted that their district is employing a technology solution. But in practice, these solutions are not as effective working alone as they need to be to truly provide for the safety and security of the school.

One way to avoid entering this realm of security theater (where the intent is good, but the impact is not as sufficient as needed) is to ask two vital questions:

Will this technology ensure that everyone who needs to be notified of the danger receives the emergency announcement quickly?

And most importantly of all:

Is this approach the most effective way to save lives in an emergency?

When it comes to text-only solutions, while the intent is good, the results simply don’t fully rise to the occasion as they require a set of necessary conditions to function properly and require that the first person who sees a threat has a cell phone and the ability to activate the emergency message system. These required circumstances may not always be present and when they are not, the effectiveness of the text-only system will surely be reduced.
Holistic Lockdown Notification and Response: Recognizing Complexities and Addressing Potential Vulnerabilities

One essential part of effective emergency response is the recognition of the complexities and potential vulnerabilities that your school or district faces.

When it comes to application-only or text-only solutions, this is perhaps the most overlooked aspect of emergency response.

And, in addition to poor cell phone service in a particular building or area (an all-too-common challenge for many schools), when we consider how infrequently students and teachers are accessing their phones during the school day, the vulnerability that underlies text-based notification of an emergency becomes clear.

In fact, many students and even faculty are not permitted or are asked not to be on their devices in the classroom, on sports fields, or in other campus areas. Further, small children, those in science labs, and those engaging in physical education or technical education classes may not have access to their phones during an emergency. And in most cases, schools don’t include students as a target population for message dissemination when using an application or text-based only solution. This means that students not only lack the ability to initiate a lockdown themselves, but they’re also not notified by phone that an emergency event is in progress regardless of whether or not they have a phone on their person at the time of lockdown initiation. Leaving this critical population out of the communication loop can be a serious misstep when looking to ensure the safety of the entire community during an active shooter or other emergency event.

While a particular school or district may adjust its handbook to allow for the use of cell phones in the classroom, the issue of accessibility remains. Students with unique financial or personal circumstances, learning differences, or disabilities may not have access to or the ability to properly utilize cell phones or applications for the purpose of emergency notification.

Holistic Lockdown Notification and Response: Recognizing Complexities and Addressing Potential … Teachers, school counselors, and other school personnel may have guidelines that require them not to use personal cell phones for school purposes or may keep their personal cell in desks, purses, or cars.

Of course, substitute educators or staff as well as visitors may not have access to the applications that would notify them of an emergency.

Each of these circumstances adds a level of complexity to the potential vulnerabilities faced by administrators when implementing solely a text-based or app-only solution rather than employing it as a component of the school safety ecosystem.

The school safety ecosystem includes a wide range of considerations including personnel, process, protocol, and technology. From multi-line phone systems and strong internet connections to PA systems and video surveillance, these pieces interact with one another in ways that are truly unique to each school. Whether we consider a campus’s geographic layout, infrastructure, or communications needs, the emergency response solution that will be most effective is as distinctive as the school where the response will take place.

And because quick, cookie-cutter solutions really cannot address the complexities that schools encounter during a lockdown situation, a robust, integrated solution that rounds out the school safety ecosystem is ideal. Let’s explore a solution that addresses these concerns…
LENS + OPTICS: A Comprehensive Alternative to Text-Alert-Only Lockdown Notification and Emergency Response
Only One Piece of the Puzzle

Text-alert systems, given their typical price point, are an often-alluring way to feel protected when an urgent situation arises for a shockingly economical fee. After all, apps and text-only alerts do provide schools and districts with the ability to send out email and SMS messages swiftly, which is certainly a vital part of enacting a lockdown. However, when every second counts, these messages should be just one of many components that are activated as part of your school safety ecosystem.
Liability Considerations

While text-alert-only systems may appear to be a very wallet-friendly approach to lockdown response, what really acts as a mitigator for a lockdown-style event is a comprehensive solution. In fact, a holistic approach to emergency response often reduces the chance of litigation. App-only approaches involve a great deal of liability considering many do not account for those who may not have their phone or computer at their side during the emergency event or those with certain special needs or disabilities that cannot access the app or text alerts. Taking a holistic approach also goes further in preventing tragedies like the Uvalde and Parkland school shootings by offering a customized, robust solution in place of a quick fix.
No Two School Communities Are Exactly Alike

In an emergency, what schools truly need is a system of technology solutions that integrate with one another seamlessly. This allows them to keep costs down as they ensure the physical security of those in their buildings and on their grounds. Schools also need to consider their student and staff populations, the logistics of their daily routines, the grounds themselves, the building layouts, and rooms that have unique characteristics. Additional considerations extend to the ways in which schools can eliminate the chance of human error when every second counts. Even the most innovative text-only applications cannot achieve this level of customization. But, an integrated system, like Eastern DataComm’s LENS + OPTICS can.

Fast-Acting: To have the greatest impact on mitigating damage and loss of life, it is imperative for a technological solution to issue rapid communications during lockdown or active shooter events. Once triggered, the LENS + OPTICS system deploys emergency notifications within seconds of activation.

Automated: Human error can and should be avoided at all costs. Automation significantly decreases the opportunity for error and provides the ability for rapid communication when every second counts. LENS + OPTICS is a fully-automated emergency alert solution. Once it is triggered, the potential for human error is removed from the equation.

Communication-Facilitating: Unlike apps, LENS + OPTICS does not require someone to have a cell phone on them to benefit from the notification and response features it provides. Auditory and visual emergency announcements need to cover the entire school grounds, both inside and outside of buildings – wherever students, faculty, or staff may be – so that all are aware and able to react to the emergency alert.

Integrated: LENS + OPTICS ensures everyone on school grounds is immediately notified of the emergency situation no matter where they are on campus. Furthermore, contingencies like access to a cell phone and availability of cellular service do not impact the LENS + OPTICS functionality or its emergency notification dissemination. The system works in unison with other technology solutions to blanket a campus, both inside of buildings and across the grounds, to ensure all are aware of the emergency notification messaging. The system offers a variety of accessible forms of notification, including visual and auditory cues such as strobes, LED sign boards, PC pop-ups, text messages, and audio recordings. It integrates with video surveillance, access control, VoIP phone systems, and school bells, as well as your indoor and outdoor PA systems and paging system. And yes, text messages are a component of the communications that are employed with this solution, but for the reasons we’ve enumerated above, they are not the sole contributor to campus-wide emergency notification.

While the technology itself is robust, it’s the consultative and diagnostic approach of our Eastern DataComm team that ensures it’s as effective as possible for you and your school or district. We carefully examine your campus for potential areas of vulnerability to ensure that there is proper coverage in all areas. Working in unison with the latest in access control and video surveillance technologies, our team creates a truly encompassing solution that lends to the highest standards of safety and physical security for your school community.
Enhance Your District’s School-Wide Communications and Physical Security with Eastern DataComm

For a holistic approach to keeping your community safe, contact Eastern DataComm for a complimentary School Safety Consultation.