Some Athens Area Schools Getting Panic-Button Radio Systems

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Some schools in Athens County are getting a radio system that will work like a panic button to summon law enforcement and other assistance in a crisis.

“It’s just another added measure of security,” said Supt. Jeff Cullum of Alexander Local Schools, which received grant funding for radios.

Alexander Local was awarded $4,000 from the Ohio School Facilities Commission to install Multi-Agency Radio Communications System (MARCS) radios in the elementary school and middle/high school. Cullum said the grant will cover the full cost of the two radios, although there will be a minimal monthly fee for use of the MARCS system.

Tri-County Career Center received a $2,000 grant for a radio for its building.

“It’s just another way we can ensure the safety of our staff and students,” said Career Center Supt. Bill Wittman.

Athens County 911 Director Dan Pfeiffer said he wants to have written memorandums of understanding with schools receiving the radios.

He said the memorandums will emphasize that 911 is the preferred method of summoning assistance, and that the radios will only be used when necessary.

Pfeiffer said 911 allows dispatchers to gather information from the caller, while the panic button just sends a coded alert. When the alert is received, dispatchers will send law enforcement, a fire department and the emergency medical service, Pfeiffer said.

According to Pfeiffer, the school radios will also be capable of voice communication, but the back-and-forth nature of radio communication and having inexperienced people using them could cause delays — making 911 the better choice.

Cullum, who indicated he was not aware the radios would be capable of voice communication, said he has no problem with such a memorandum of understanding.

Cullum said he can foresee the radios only being used in a crisis when time is critical — such as having an active shooter in a school.

In that instance, the panic button could be quicker than 911, he said.

At their meeting Tuesday, the Athens County Commissioners authorized Pfeiffer to spend $22,672 to have a radio installed at 911 that can receive communication from the school radios.

Most of that money — $20,000 — is for changes to the 911 antenna system so that signals can be received from the school radios, which use a newer MARCS frequency.

Pfeiffer said the county would have had to spend the antenna money anyway in the future, as local users of MARCS switch over to the updated frequency.

Athens City School Supt. Carl Martin said the district hasn’t applied for a radio grant, but has discussed it.

He said the district is currently upgrading security in all schools, and there has been discussion of incorporating a panic button system as part of the next phase of that project.

Nelsonville-York has not applied for the radio grant, according to Supt. Mick McClelland, nor has Federal Hocking Schools, according to Treasurer Bruce Steenrod.

Cindy Rhonemus, Trimble Local School District’s treasurer, said officials at Trimble Local have discussed applying for the radio grant money, but have not yet done so.

Even without the radios, Nelsonville-York, Trimble, Federal Hocking and Athens City Schools have upgraded their security at buildings, or will be doing so.

Under the grant program, $2,000 grants are awarded for one radio per school building.

The application deadline for the first ground of funding is March 15. If there is money remaining on June 15, a second round of applications will be accepted, according to the Ohio School Facilities Commission website.