Two-Way Radios Keep K-12 Campuses Connected

District officials for Tennessee’s Warren County deployed Motorola’s MOTOTRBO digital control station to communicate with all campuses, as a result of a 2008 devastating tornado that cut off all communication.

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When a devastating tornado tore through Tennessee’s Warren County in 2008, the school superintendent’s office tried to contact each of the 10 campuses in the district, but all land lines and cell phone lines in the area were at capacity.

“Because we couldn’t get through to anyone, each school was basically on its own without central communication,” recalls Dr. Jerry Hale, Ed.D., director of schools for the county. “Immediately after that experience, we began looking for an emergency system where this would never happen again.”

Hale searched for a solution that would reduce reliance on land line phones, enable him to quickly and efficiently communicate with each school, and improve emergency response throughout the school district. Specifically, he wanted a system that would facilitate an “all-schools alert” via wide area broadcast; the ability to do private calls so his office could speak to a school representative one-on-one when necessary; and the security that would prevent eavesdroppers with radio scanners from listening in on school business. Additionally, he wanted to provide teachers with the ability to send a duress call in the event of a shooting.

District officials eventually determined that MOTOTRBO digital control stations would best meet their needs. Just in time for the 2009-2010 school year, the district deployed these stations at each school, providing reliable, secure communications for emergencies as well as day-to-day activities. The solution incorporates mobile radios, desktop microphones, speakers, and an emergency power supply with battery back-up to create a desktop base station. The stations were installed at each of the county’s schools, as well as in the school district’s administration office, maintenance department and bus offices.

The digital solution integrates both voice and data capabilities, and because MOTOTRBO operates in both analog and digital modes, it provides the district with full communications capability not only with school staff, but with the existing analog radios used by the district’s more than 30 school bus drivers. In addition, the system provides a cost-effective migration to digital technology.

The radios reach throughout the 450 square mile county, using a mountaintop repeater equipped with emergency battery backup.

Although the new communications system has only been in place since the beginning of the school year, it has already proven its value.

“All I have to do is push the transmit button to speak to anyone at our schools or our alternative locations either privately or as a whole broadcast,” says Joye Fuston, CLA, administrative assistant, Warren County Schools. “If a crisis occurs at any of our locations, personnel can send me an emergency transmission, and I can monitor the situation without the trespasser even being aware; therefore allowing me the opportunity to contact 911. Our system-wide SRO is also able to hear each transmission and can respond immediately upon hearing of a situation.”

The district accessed funding from the Safe Schools grant to finance the new MOTOTRBO digital system. When additional funding becomes available, district officials hope to equip each school bus with radios that have GPS capability. “We see the value in giving our drivers the capability to send an emergency distress signal from the bus if they have a situation,” says Hale. “With GPS, we’ll be able to find their exact location and get help out to them immediately.”

Paul Cizek is director of North America professional/commercial radios for Motorola.

 

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