Alert System For Schools Ready To Activate

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An emergency alert system for some Athens County schools was activated Wednesday, according to County 911 Director Dan Pfeiffer.

Alexander Local Schools, Beacon School and Tri-County Career Center received grants from the Ohio School Facilities Commission to install Multi-Agency Radio Communications System (MARCS) radios. The grants were for $2,000 per radio, and Alexander Local got two — one for the elementary school and one for the middle/high school. Basically, the system will work like a panic button.

On Tuesday, the county commissioners approved a 911 policy for the alert system, which Pfeiffer said was the final step needed before activation.

Pfeiffer has also required schools to sign a memorandum of understanding for use of the system. The document specifies that the system will only be used for a life-threatening emergency when it is not safe to call 911. Pfeiffer has said previously that 911 is the preferred method of contact in an emergency because it allows a dispatcher to obtain information from the caller.

The new emergency system sends out an audible alert and notification of which school is sending the alarm, allowing the 911 Center to send law enforcement, firefighters and emergency medical service personnel. The alert radio also stays “open mic” for 15 seconds, allowing dispatchers to hear activity at the school. An alert can only be canceled after law enforcement has gone to the scene and verified that it is a false alarm, according to the policy adopted Tuesday.

The memorandum requires participating schools to do monthly testing of the system, have training about the system at the beginning of each school year and to keep the radios in secure locations so that they cannot be accidentally activated. The memorandum warns that excessive false alarms can result in a school district’s removal from the program.

Eric Young, superintendent of the Athens County Board of Developmental Disabilities that operates Beacon School, said that the school has been implementing additional safety procedures over the past two or three years.

“This was just a natural progression,” Young said of the radio alert system.

Pfeiffer said that the county’s new 911 consoles are capable of receiving (or “catching”) the alerts, so the plan is to move a county catcher radio to the Athens Police Department so APD also can receive the alerts, thus providing a backup to the 911 Center.