HARRIS COUNTY, Texas—Safe School Alerts, www.safeschoolalerts.org, an online source for emergency school alerts in Harris County (Texas) and surrounding regions, was awarded the 2010 National Exemplary School Safety Program Award from the National School Safety Advocacy Council. Harris County Department of Education (HCDE) Center for Safe and Secure Schools officials accepted the award at the 2010 National School Safety Conference in Orlando, Fla. on July 27.
The system is a Web-based, easy-to-use tool for authorized school officials to post emergency school district alerts. Twenty-nine center district member school districts utilize the system. Superintendents from each district choose key individuals within their respective districts to be trained and post the emergency alerts. The system can provide official, critical alerts via the Web, SMS (text messages), E-mail, RSS feed and chyron (television text scroll) to subscribers and the media simultaneously.
Pasadena Independent School District Superintendent Kirk Lewis nominated the site for the award. Pasadena ISD is one of the 29 member districts currently using the system. Houston ISD is also a center member and utilizes the emergency communication tool.
The robust system is powered through public information emergency response system (PIER) Inc., a highly reliable, Web-based emergency management communications system supported by a redundant base of nationwide servers. It is hosted by HCDE through its Center for Safe and Secure Schools. Created in 2009, the Web site addresses school districts’ needs for a Web-based, easy-to-use emergency communications system.
HCDE’s Center Senior Consultant John Wilson said the award affirms the power of partnerships as HCDE’s Center recognized a need and worked with local partners to utilize an existing communications tool and redesign it specifically for district use.
“Today it enables districts to efficiently and accurately distribute emergency school alerts at no cost to our 29 member districts,” Wilson said.
Through the site, districts quickly and efficiently notify media, emergency management officials and the community at-large about emergency-related school events such as school closures, lockdowns, delayed openings and re-openings. The site is not meant to replace any district’s existing internal communication systems, but rather to serve as a redundant communication tool.
Current local districts utilizing the system include the following 29 Center member school districts: Aldine, Alief, Channelview, Clear Creek, Crosby, Cypress-Fairbanks, Dayton, Deer Park.
The PIER, Inc. supported www.safeschoolalerts.org site was one of 30 initial sites selected by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Houston Area Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI), this group includes: the City of Houston; Harris County; Fort Bend County; Montgomery County; Brazoria and Galveston Counties. The Houston Area UASI is designated as TIER I, one of 10 urban areas nationwide which are at highest risk.
Last year, the center sought support of school district superintendents to train key employees to use the system and visited local media outlets to announce the service, said Sawyer. “Harris County is vulnerable to both man-made and natural disasters as an energy capital and coastal community. More than 900,000 students are served on 900 campuses throughout the community, and we have an obligation to keep them safe.
“The www.safeschoolalerts.org system is a critical tool to promote safety in our region, and HCDE and the Center are proud to lead this initiative,” Wilson said.
HDCE July 2010 press release