School administrators, teachers and parents are increasingly concerned about the safety of their students and want to explore all opportunities to improve the existing security and communication systems in place. There have been too many campus incidents recently to remain complacent anymore, especially when it comes to emergency preparedness.

Questions are being raised about whether schools have either the planning or the expertise to handle emergency situations. It is imperative they develop the infrastructure and protocol for daily and emergency operations so tragic events like Sandy Hook do not recur.

According to Campus Safety magazine, a unified emergency communication system is the need of the hour for K-12 campuses across the country. Proper and instant communication is the lifeline for all emergency situations, and in an educational environment, this will be the foundation to create a common operating picture (COP).

A sound COP will provide the perfect platform to reach out and get help through effective communications during a dangerous incident. Instead of a freeze, law enforcement agencies can continue to interact with the staff inside as they have practiced on normal days to better command and control an untoward incident.

The key features of this unified emergency communications include:

  • Ways a message can be delivered or exchanged — phones, mobiles, radio, text or social media, intercom or a public address system.
  • The format of the message — voice, text or data transmission of some kind.
  • Whether a message will be unidirectional, which means public address systems, mass text or automated phone messages. Bidirectional, as the term explains, is a more interactive exchange of information.
  • Considering the degree of time sensitivity in a message is important for the format and direction, and the method may well rely on that.
  • The confidentiality and security of the message must be considered to ensure it cannot be intercepted by people who are a threat to the campus.

Keeping these features and modalities in mind, authorities must design communication systems that will save time and bring immediate response or action for every emergency that befalls the campus. Unified communication systems offer more room for planning and control, and recent events have shown us the importance of planning.

Determining all individuals who need to be in the loop parents and police included the content and format may keep changing every day. In the face of an emergency, all these different modalities will converge to send a unified signal for help to all. The planning for the latter, however, should be in place and practiced from day one.

The use of emerging technology to gain real-time information from a campus can help increase situational awareness for both internal and external forces responsible for campus safety. When integrated with a local law enforcement agency alarm system, this unified communication system can save crucial response time and lives.

One must remember, however, that this is an ongoing and evolving process that will be improved with every developing incident and with new technologies coming into the scene. Keeping up with the times may seem like big investment for school districts, but this investment may be the lifeline for containing a critical situation.