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How AV Technology Can Make K-12 Schools Safer

AV Tech for safer schools

PASS (Partner Alliance for Safer Schools) is an organization founded in 2014 to address the issue of school safety in K-12 schools. PASS provides school administrators, school boards and public safety and security professionals with the information and expertise needed to implement a tiered approach to securing and enhancing the safety of school environments through regularly updated guidelines. According to the organization, K-12 schools are increasingly becoming a target for mass violence, with the FBI identifying schools as the second most frequent targets in active shooter incidents since 2000. Chuck Wilson, vice chair of PASS Advisory Counsel and CEO of NSCA, says that one of the most important factors for school safety is communication, whether through audio, signage or mass notification. With this in mind, rAVe reached out to a number of AV manufacturers to see what AV solutions can be integrated into schools to improve communication and safety within schools.

Mass Notification for Timely Emergency Communication
Digital signage plays a pivotal role in enhancing overall safety and security in schools. The ability to deliver emergency messages through dynamic visual displays ensures that critical information reaches students, staff and visitors promptly. In rapidly evolving situations, real-time updates on digital signage offer a visual confirmation that is often more effective than verbal announcements, according to Corrie Brannan of Skykit. She suggests utilizing this technology during training and drills to familiarize the school community with necessary actions in different scenarios, cultivating a more prepared and responsive environment.

Compared to traditional announcements or email alerts, Brannan said digital signage stands out for its immediate visibility, especially in high-traffic areas. It grabs attention quickly and ensures that the audience receives the most current information as situations evolve. The strategic placement of digital signs across campuses allows for communication with a broad audience, aiding quick comprehension of emergency messages. Brannan also highlighted the fact that the visual impact of digital signage can overcome accessibility barriers for those with hearing impairments or language barriers.

Digital signage is a valuable tool for schools in emergency and everyday situations. In emergency situations, Brannan said that “[digital signage] offers the capability for real-time updates, ensuring that students, staff, and visitors receive immediate and accurate information as situations unfold.” Digital signage can also display designated routes and multimedia messages in evacuation scenarios, aiding quick comprehension in high-stress situations. Beyond emergencies, digital signage contributes to an environment of preparedness by displaying safety tips that can foster a culture of awareness. Cloud-based content management systems empower administrators to remotely control displayed messages, ensuring consistency and accuracy.

Brannan advised that effectiveness of digital signage during emergencies lies in its design and placement. Distinctive designs, large readable fonts, symbols and moving elements all allow emergency messages to stand out. Additionally, strategic placement in high-traffic areas ensures maximum visibility during crises. Together, these elements reduce panic and confusion by providing clear, consistent and accessible information.

Managing Threats with Integrated Audio Systems
Advanced audio systems have also emerged as a pivotal element in comprehensive security infrastructure for schools. Patrik Di Luca of Barix underscored the significance of integrating diverse technologies to enhance safety measures. Di Luca recommended using audio signaling technologies with existing fire and security systems, coupled with the Singlewire Informacast platform, to facilitate unified and efficient communication of safety initiatives. Both he and AtlasIED’s Gina Sansivero also advised that pre-recording safety messages ensures a prompt response to various scenarios.

Barix

Barix Paging Gateway M400 product enables paging from a mobile device using existing analog systems.

Di Luca and Sansivero stressed the importance of integrating audio systems with existing school infrastructure. Barix’s approach involves leveraging the school’s IP network infrastructure for compatibility with intercom systems, enabling centralized control functions. The use of IP gateway solutions, such as Barix’s Paging Gateway M400, facilitates the feeding of existing analog paging systems, offering a practical and cost-effective retrofitting solution. Similarly, AtlasIED’s IPX Series consolidates multiple functions into endpoints, streamlining installations while delivering critical visual notifications during emergencies. Another solution, BBright IP Gateway, simplifies the deployment of IP contribution services by offering comprehensive monitoring capabilities, support for Ultra HD and the generation of multiple SRT streams.

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Addressing the unique settings of educational institutions, both advocated for customization and flexibility in audio systems. Di Luca recommended creating zones and groups for targeted messages and sending text alerts to mobile phones, desktops and collaboration tools. The scalability of solutions ensures a phased integration that aligns with the size and needs of the school or campus. Regular testing, adjustments to configurations and staff training were highlighted as best practices by Di Luca, ensuring the effective tailoring of alerts.

Leveraging Mobile Technology for Swift Response
Integrating mobile technology into existing systems for swift and flexible responses is an important trend in school safety. Di Luca says Barix can transform analog paging systems into modern, mobile-accessible solutions with the Paging Gateway M40, allowing school staff to initiate announcements and emergency alerts directly from their mobile devices.

Enhancing School Safety with CAP Alerting
The integration of Common Alert Protocol (CAP) alerting into existing emergency notification systems can also play an important role in school safety. Adapting to the diverse layouts of school environments, CAP alerting allows for tailored messages based on specific zones or buildings. CEO of Carousel JJ Parker stresses the importance of segmenting and targeting alert messages to different areas within a school, ensuring that only relevant information is dispatched. This customization is important for mixed-use environments, accommodating scenarios like school assemblies or specific administrative areas that may not require alerts.

Visix CEO Sean Matthews highlighted the importance of tailoring alerts for different types of emergencies. CAP alerting supports the customization of content based on the type of alert, ensuring that responses align with the urgency and nature of the situation. This adaptability streamlines communication during various incidents, from fire alarms to school assemblies, providing clear guidance on appropriate actions.

Moreover, tailored alerts contribute to an alert and vigilant environment. According to Parker, “People start to ignore the messages if those messages are not for them. This can cause a serious issue when the messages are important for safety.” By tailoring messages, schools can help to ensure alerts are taken seriously.

Safer Schools Digital Signage

Both address the importance of security measures to authenticate and secure CAP alerts, preventing tampering or misuse. Parker emphasized the need for strong security practices, including role and permission settings for users. Matthews assured that while any system can be hacked with effort, the current security measures in place, especially within digital signage networks, provide layers of protection against intrusion.

The cost of implementing CAP alerting depends on existing system support. According to Parker, implementation costs should be reasonable if chosen communication systems already support CAP. Matthews points out that CAP’s adaptability is inherent, allowing schools to switch out various systems while maintaining alerting functionality. Awareness of ongoing updates, especially through FEMA’s Integrated Public Alert & Warning System (IPAWS), ensures long-term planning for evolving emergency communication systems.

Final Thoughts
While these technologies can enhance safety in a school setting, it’s crucial to recognize that simply installing AV technologies alone will not significantly enhance security. In fact, PASS Vice Chair Wilson highlights one of the reasons for PASS’s founding: AV companies claiming their products alone would make schools safer.

“We’d have one [AV] salesperson going to a school saying, ‘You need cameras everywhere. All you need is cameras and that’ll take care of all the problems.’ The next person in is like, ‘No, you don’t need the cameras. All you need is the paging system. You get that done, and it’ll solve all your problems,’” Wilson said.

Despite its allure, the reality is that no single product can fully address the complexity of school safety. PASS emphasizes holistic approaches, such as guidelines that ensure classroom doors remain shut at all times and require people to buzz into buildings, before implementing more advanced AV technology.

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