News Column

Selling Better School Security

April 11, 2013

Ramsey man's venture uses common technology to improve emergency communication between educators, first responders.

A Ramsey man is combining his experiences in school administration and public safety in a new business venture aimed at improving emergency communication between the two, especially as the demand for more security in schools grows.

Erik Endress, a volunteer first responder for the borough since 1985 who also was a technology specialist for the New Jersey School Boards Association from 2009 to 2012, noticed through his work in both fields that emergency communication between school districts and public safety officials could be faster by using the technology that's common in many classrooms.

He partnered with Adrian Lanning of Norwalk, Conn., to build a wireless communications platform.

ShareWith911.com -- a service for which more than 20 schools have signed up so far -- allows authorized school users to immediately lock down a school from a mobile device or computer while simultaneously contacting public safety officials.

Schools employ a variety of methods to communicate an emergency. Officials say most schools use either a one-way or two-way public address system between classrooms and the main office, plus radios and cellphones. Some are considering emergency alert and security systems like those provided by Little Falls-based Promedia Technology Services Inc., New York-based Teq and San Francisco-based Nixle LLC.

Gene Murphy, president of Promedia, which provides information technology services to about 200 New Jersey school districts, said the company has expanded over the past few years to provide physical security services, like cameras and card swipe access, as school districts increasingly seek to put their technologies and systems onto wireless networks.

Murphy said he has seen more schools seeking to bolster their security in recent months, and he thinks ShareWith911.com is a unique tool to help schools achieve that.

"There's a lot of things that are out there, but nothing that simple, that's easy to use," Murphy said.

In November 2012, weeks before the horrific elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn., that killed 26 students and staff members, a prototype of ShareWith911.com was shopped around New Jersey school districts, with three signing up, said Endress, chief executive officer of OnScene Technologies Inc., the parent company for the brand. Lanning is chief technology officer.

Sharing information

After the shooting, 20 more signed on in the state, including five in Bergen County -- Ridgewood, Northern Highlands Regional High School District, Upper Saddle River, Ho-Ho-Kus and New Milford.

The service costs $3 per month for each school employee who is authorized to use it. Public safety officials use it for free.

"What we saw was an opportunity to use the technology that now exists in classrooms to let them share information about what they see," Endress said.

Daniel Fishbein, superintendent of the Ridgewood school district, said ShareWith911.com was set up in the district's 10 schools. But the system is still in its early stages of implementation, he said.

Fishbein said he did not consider other wireless emergency communication services after viewing demonstrations of ShareWith911.com, which costs under $20,000 a year for the district.

"It aids the first responders to get a good look at what's occurring in our buildings in real time," Fishbein said.

The system allows an authorized user -- such as a teacher -- to electronically dispatch for public safety officials through any device with an Internet or cell connection, while simultaneously alerting others throughout the school and enacting a "lockdown" mode. The signal then can be transmitted through texts or emails, or checked on ShareWith911.com.

Then, once the alert is received, others throughout the school can check on the situation's status and add details as needed.

The system ensures that the right information is coming from the right people, rather than students or social media, Lanning said.

"The people who are communicating with [first responders] are authorized to be on the system," Lanning said.

Bruce DeYoung, interim superintendent of the Ramsey school district, said his administration is considering the program along with several other wireless emergency communication options. Some may be combined depending on each school's needs and costs.

Wireless emergency communication is a top issue at educational seminars, as districts are interested in standardizing how their schools communicate in emergencies, DeYoung said. "We're all diligently trying to plan for a safer environment for our kids," he said.



Source: (c)2013 The Record (Hackensack, N.J.). Distributed by MCT Information Services.


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