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Technology Upgrades to Help Schools from “Falling Back”

Sapling ClockIt is now the end of Daylight Savings Time and schools need to set all of their clocks to “fall back.” While most of us are trying to get accustomed to the time change, a complex routine is playing out in many schools across the country.

IT administrators must go through the painstaking task of resetting the school’s bell schedule. School districts typically have a wide range of clocks, some of which are set by opening the cabinet and entering numbers on a keypad, others which require knowledge of complex codes. Newer clocks were programmed to automatically update for daylight savings time — that is until Congress extended it in 2007.

The clocks and bell schedule isn’t the only antiquated technology schools must contend with. In many schools the paging system is at least 30 years old — sometimes even older. The “brains” of these systems is a head-end unit the size of a refrigerator that’s housed in the main office. A microphone is used to make an announcement, which is amplified by the head-end and sent out to hardwired speakers throughout the school.

These giant head-end units are a wiring nightmare and weren’t designed for today’s needs. These systems also typically have one zone, meaning that messages go out over every speaker. Administrators may get annoyed with having to listen to morning announcements, and neighbors complain about hearing announcements from the outside speakers. At the same time, issues with wiring and bad speakers often create no-coverage areas throughout the building.

These systems would be obsolete if it weren’t for the need to make emergency announcements. However, it seems almost futile and depending on the situation dangerous, to run to the main office to make an announcement that most likely won’t reach everyone.

To better meet their school safety and emergency notification objectives, schools should upgrade to a modern head-end unit with a zone controller that enables messages to be directed to appropriate areas of the building. For example, morning announcements can be directed only to classrooms while emergency announcements go to all speakers.

A modern head-end unit can also be tied to an IP phone system, allowing school officials to make announcements from any phone in the building. This is extremely beneficial in an emergency. With Eastern DataComm’s LENS solution, if the principal sees a dangerous situation, she can go to a nearby phone, dial in a code, and make an announcement and notify students and staff of an emergency without having to run back to the main office. In addition, modern head-end units typically have an override port to ensure that an emergency announcement gets control of the speakers.

In order to maximize your investment in communication and school safety technology, existing wiring and speakers that are still functioning may be able to be reused and augmented with additional speakers to cover hallways and other areas with no coverage. Most school paging systems installed decades ago were intended for morning announcements, so additional speakers are generally needed to ensure that emergency announcements can be heard throughout the school no matter where you are on school grounds.

It’s imperative that you work with a team that understands schools and knows where there may be areas throughout school grounds that are not covered by your existing speakers.

Schools should also consider implementing a modern bell schedule with an easy-to-use, browser-based interface. This eliminates complex configuration during the beginning and end of Daylight Savings Time or when schools have delayed openings, and ensures the time is always accurate. It also allows the bell schedule to be tied into the paging system so that a bell or other tone can be played over the speakers rather than actual bells installed throughout the building.

At Eastern DataComm, we’ve worked with over 100 schools in NJ and NY Metro Area. We understand the technology challenges schools face and have developed practical, budget-friendly solutions to maximize investments. Let us help you upgrade your bell schedule, paging system and emergency notification system to relieve maintenance headaches and improve your school safety preparedness.