Special needs schools, like those that serve deaf children, have unique requirements above and beyond a typical K-12 institution. The typical piercing “fire alarm” sound cannot be heard; emergency announcements over the intercom are silent; and any type of security alert needs to be visual to be understood and acted upon.
This has afforded MessageNet Systems, a provider of communications systems, software and security solutions, an opportunity to take the existing visual communication elements deployed throughout these schools and leverage them fully for security purposes — enhancing each school’s communications investment. The added benefit is that this approach can also be used in traditional K-12 schools to also help extend a school’s security and communications investments. The company has deployed security systems in more than 40 schools for the hearing impaired throughout the country by combining communications and security into a uniquely integrated package that not only is comprehensive, but also is easy to use.
A Visual Communications Approach
MessageNet has become a pillar in the in the special needs and overall K-12 community because not only does it offer a security system, but it provides a way for it to double as an effective communications tool by providing easy ways for students and staff to visually communicate. The systems can be fairly simple, or incorporate many different security applications under a single browser interface. There continues to be more security opportunities for dealers and integrators in the K-12 environment, but it is up to integrators to show key decision makers how to best leverage the technology within their budget while helping increase school safety.
To overcome barriers associated with the hearing impaired, the single browser interface enables emergency responders to access the security system directly. For example, responders can view school cameras in real-time. There also is the ability to track motion detectors, allowing responders or administration to activate a camera in the location where movement was detected.
The browser screen can offer visibility into which doors are being opened or if there is motion in a certain area. With the browser, an authorized party could view or monitor this information from home or a remote location. There are many other applications that could be integrated into this type of system. For example, the fire panel can send data that may enable voice evacuation or other emergency messages (such as visual messages on LCD screens in each classroom and throughout the school) and the card access system can receive messages — all in real time — on the browser screen. Meanwhile, every teacher has a button to press in the event of an emergency that initiates the notification.
MessageNet uses Inovonics’ wireless panic buttons in most of the school installations. Typically, each classroom is equipped with a wireless button that is pressed during an emergency. Once the button is activated (from a single touch), an alert is sent through the appropriate notification channels, which may, in turn, enable camera activation, text messages, PC pop-ups, email, voice calls to emergency responders and other key personnel, as well as public notification on LED signs, LCD TVs, and postings to school Twitter and Facebook feeds. Social media increasingly has become an important tool for a variety of communication strategies, including security notification.
The panic-button notifications are configurable based on specific needs of the school. For optimal coverage, each school should be evaluated on an individual basis and must understand that there is no standard communications or security set-up. There are, however, best practices that will apply to most installations — for example, multiple modalities of notification tend to be far more effective than a single solution.