Archive for Thursday, August 30, 2007

District’s emergency notification system passes first test

August 30, 2007

Supt. Paul Dorathy has taken another step to improve the communication in the Baldwin School District. It got its first test last week.

Included in the 2007-2008 USD 348 budget will be about $3,400 to be used to pay for the SchoolReach automated phone system. When an electrical problem at Baldwin Elementary School Intermediate Center last week forced its evacuation, the new phone system was used. It passed its first test.

Improving communication within the district and to patrons has been a goal of Dorathy's since he took over more than one year ago. He is confident that the automated phone system is another step in that direction.

"This is just one more step in trying to improve what we are doing with communication," Dorathy said. "Not just with parents, but all patrons that live in the district."

Dorathy has budgeted enough money to partner with GroupCast Messaging systems for the following school year. The phone system will help provide district parents with information in case of an emergency.

"It's really important that the parents know this is coming," Dorathy said. "For us, we think it's a much better way to communicate with parents in an easier, quicker fashion so that they know what's going on."

The school board began discussing paying for an automated phone system after bomb threats were made in the area during late April. Those threats concerned parents about the procedures and policies of the district.

The board did talk about the SchoolReach system at its May meeting, but no action was officially taken. Dorathy said he asked the board to set aside money this year, because the district didn't have enough money during the spring to purchase the system.

"At that time we had talked about it, but hadn't gone in that direction, because we didn't have any money," Dorathy said. "This year they said let's get this thing going. Shortly after the threat deal came out of Lawrence, they said we need to get this going. We put it into the budget for this coming year."

One of the primary concerns for parents is finding out when emergencies, such as bomb threats, are happening in the district. The phone system will contact parents and inform them of the events.

That's what happened last week with the BESIC situation. The phone system was quite ready, but technical service people quickly loaded all the BESIC parent phone numbers into it and calls were made.

However, the system can be used for much more than informing parents of emergency situations. It can also be used to remind parents of upcoming events, inclement weather days or even sports cancellations.

"We can use it for any kind of informational thing that we want to get out to parents," Dorathy said. "We could use it to call them about enrollment coming up, open house or we're calling school off.

"One of the ones that will really help a lot is when we are calling off school early because of inclement weather," Dorathy said. "We can make a phone call out to everybody, instead of the schools making calls to everybody. They can get a call right away to let them know we are letting out early."

Dorathy explained that the SchoolReach system is easy to use and distributes the information quickly. He said the district must call in with a pin number and identification number. Then the administrator must select what he or she wishes to use the system for by selecting one of several prompts.

Then they choose which contact list to call. They will read about a 30 second message that will then be phoned immediately to all of the numbers on the list.

The contacts will be greeted by the voice of that district administrator so that they know the message is important. After the message is read, they will have the chance to hear it once again if they wish.

"It will help parents make decisions themselves if they want to," Dorathy said. "They need to be informed correctly and how it's being handled, so they can make a decision themselves."

He also said the district will have the capability to e-mail the message to parents if they wish to receive it that way instead of a phone call.

"We're going to try and have the thing up and running as soon as we possibly can," Dorathy said. "A lot of that will be determined on how quickly we can all of get these lists in accurately."

Obtaining the lists will be the toughest part, according to Dorathy. The district wants to ensure it has correct contact numbers for everyone before beginning to use the system. However, last week's emergency sped that up. He said the district's technology staff will soon be going through training sessions on the system, before they enter all of the contact lists and numbers.

"Then the idea is to get our lists ready first," Dorathy said. "That will be the biggest thing to start with, will be getting our lists updated so we have correct numbers, so we make phone calls to the numbers that parents want us to make phone calls to.

"We will probably have an emergency list that will have emergency contact numbers and we will have a non-emergency also," Dorathy said. "We might use for stuff that's not emergencies but is good information for parents to know. If there is an emergency, then we will have numbers that would more likely go to work or cell phone numbers."

The district learned the importance of the different numbers during last week's emergency. Calls were made to some numbers that weren't appropriate and showed the system needs to be tweaked.

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