One-button help is goal in emergencies

Published 6:49 pm Tuesday, November 13, 2018

By Frederic Lee

Staff writer

The Isle of Wight County School Board voted to move forward with purchasing a one-button, emergency communications system that connects county schools to emergency response entities through an automated process. 

The system integrates a range of communication channels — including those of local law enforcement, state troopers and other first responders — to schools in order to better secure them in threatening situations.  

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The price of $255,000 was accepted as proposed by the selected company in their response to the county’s request for proposal. The next step is for Isle of Wight County schools and security staff to develop a contract with the company and bring it back it to the School Board for approval. The selected company’s identity has not yet been made public. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

The purchase is part of the $8467,944 request to the Isle of Wight Board of Supervisors earlier this year to upgrade its security systems, and included the failed Nightlock door barricades that were subsequently found to be in violation of state fire codes — a mistake that sparked a conflict between the Supervisors and School Board over spending practices. The money had come from savings realized on past school roofing projects. 

The proposed system has the capability to send alerts and communications to notify “all stakeholders,” according to Eric Cooprider, Isle of Wight director of information technology and network services. “Stakeholders” would include educators, first responders and others connected to the alert system. 

“Is there a parent communication aspect in any of these systems?” asked School Board chairman Vicky Hulick. Earlier in the meeting, two parents spoke about their disappointment in the lack of communications pertaining to a lockdown at Smithfield High School on Oct. 16 resulting from a student threat that led to an arrest.  

“The emergency communication has the possibility… that it could integrate with existing parent communications systems,” said Cooprider.

 “(The) end goal is to get it to a point where … you open your phone and you hit a button, no more training needed,” said Cooprider about the alert system’s application in schools.

 “Working with law enforcement in these type of things that can occur . . . a lot of times, they do not want a message to go out to parents,” said Isle of Wight County schools superintendent Jim Thornton. “This is about preventing casualties and getting the responders there as quickly as possible.”

At the Oct. 16 School Board meeting, Cooprider asked the Board to move forward with a letter of intent to Mid Atlantic Installers Inc. to develop a badging system for county schools that would regulate school access. The board approved the request. 

At the same meeting, a $100,000 security grant awarded by Gov. Ralph Northam was presented and approved by the Board to update security cameras at Smithfield High and Middle schools.  {/mprestriction}