As school district officials across the entire country consider ways to make their classrooms safer less than a year after a school shooting in Connecticut, the Shoreham-Wading River Board of Education heard a presentation Tuesday night about an emergency alert system it’s integrating that will enable designated school personnel to communicate with first responders in the event of a security breach.
The software was discussed at Tuesday’s school board meeting by Homeland Systems president Chris Downie. S.A.F.E.R. Direct, the name of the program, is smartphone-based and can send text message and email alerts to first responders and school personnel depicting where a security breach has been made. Alerts can be sent via smart phone, tablet or computer.
“Our system is a virtual panic button,” said Phil Tumminio, a district resident and the treasurer and marketing manager of Homeland Systems, based out of Delaware. He said he and Mr. Downie have been working with the district since May and are in the midst of negotiating a contract. “It’s not stationary. Everyone on the system with a smart phone can send an instant emergency alert direct to first responders from any location in the school.”
This is the latest in a series of security measures the district has implemented or is considering.
In January – less than six weeks after the deadly shooting in Newtown, Conn. left 26 innocent victims dead – the district hired two security guards. A district parent had raised concerns during an open forum on security in the district, Superintendent Steven Cohen said at the time. The middle and high school’s entrances have also been upgraded with more security measures.
In explaining in more depth the ‘virtual panic button’ to the board of education Tuesday night, Mr. Tumminio said one of the main problems with emergency cell phone calls is poor cell tower coverage in the area. “Hard-wired calls from alert stations can work, but in times of crisis it might be impossible to get to a hard-wired phone to send an alert,” he said.
The S.A.F.E.R. (School, Ambulance, Fire Department, Emergency, Response) Direct program would not be reliant on cell coverage, but would rather run through the a wireless Internet network.
Glen Arcuri, the district’s assistant superintendent for finance and operations, said S.A.F.E.R. Direct is already partially installed at Shoreham-Wading River High School. He hopes to see the installation process completed there by mid-November.
Superintendent Steven Cohen said on Wednesday that the board had instructed him to move forward with installing the program.
“Much planning will be needed, however, before the system is operational,” he said in an email.
The cost to install the program, Mr. Arcuri said, is typically $7,000 per school, or a total of $35,000 for the district. The total cost is offset by a $20,000 price reduction Mr. Tumminio and Mr. Downie said they’re willing to contribute, bringing the total installation cost down to $15,000. Once installation is completed, the district would have to pay $18,000 annually in maintenance fees – $300 per school, per month – Mr. Arcuri said.
Board member John Zucowski said during Tuesday’s meeting he supports installing an emergency alert system throughout the school district.
“What first responders really need during an emergency is information, so I think it’s worth pushing forward,” he said.