Emergencies come in many shapes and sizes, but they share at least one common demand — the need to quickly and accurately notify the affected people with the right information.

The Santa Ana Unified School District (SAUSD) includes 60 schools in Orange County, Calif., serving about 50,000 students with more than 4,600 employees. Like many school systems, SAUSD had existing basic notification systems at each school for broadcasting generic overhead paging and announcements, some of which were supplemented with marquee displays and alarm strobes. SAUSD leadership felt the time was right to improve these basic capabilities.

“We knew that extremely urgent events, such as a school shooter, would challenge our existing messaging systems,” said Camille Boden, executive director of risk management for SAUSD. “We needed to be able to support detailed two-way communications with our staff in an emergency, while simultaneously contacting police and first responders. We were sure that smart mobile devices and greater system integrations could be a part of an improved system.”

To review the existing systems and develop the improvement proposal, SAUSD created a team that included their internal IT and security staff along with Nabeel Khatri, a consultant based in Tustin, Calif., and Maxxess Systems, based in Yorba Linda, Calif. Khatri provides design and implementation services for data networks and unified communications. Maxxess Systems provides security management software, including the InSite event response management platform that was used for SAUSD.

Powerful New Capabilities

“Automation and linking to mobile devices were two keys to improving the overall notification system capabilities and performance,” said Khatri, principal architect for the SAUSD Project. “And, by providing the ability for SAUSD to adjust the automated actions and messages when needed, we ensure that the system will be able to support evolving policies and procedures over the long term.”

The new system makes use of the InSite Emergency Notification and Incident Management modules to coordinate responses to critical events before they became too large to handle. Automation capabilities let staff pre-program the system with announcements and actions that can be triggered by specific events, speeding up the response, while maintaining an auditable record of every event and action for review. The InSite application was integrated with SAUSD’s existing notification system and premise-based communications platform, linking the response coordination system not only to the existing PA networks and to local law enforcement agencies, but also enabling the InSite mobile application to communicate with enrolled mobile devices. With the new system, SAUSD staff can trigger or receive alerts wherever they are.

As an example, in the case of an active shooter, an employee can activate InSite’s panic button on their mobile device, triggering an automatic notification to the appropriate people and automatically activating the appropriate systems — including PA systems, Motorola radios, door locks, marquee displays and cameras, among others. Based on geofencing data, the system automatically knows which site the staff member is located within, as well as which other schools are nearby. PA Systems can automatically make a pre-set announcement based on the specific InSite alert type, and strobes and marquee displays can be automatically activated.

The Police Department receives alerts in a multitude of ways including an audio announcement, the InSite dashboard, the InSite mobile app and via smart Motorola radios. Updates of the active shooter event are sent via trusted messaging to the staff on their mobile devices.

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SAUSD had many legacy systems of different brands at each school and across the district. Finding and deploying a single unifying system that could connect to all of them and automate the activation of those systems was crucial. Fortunately, the InSite platform has an open architecture that integrates with many legacy and most new systems. This allowed the district to enhance the existing systems and capabilities that they had already invested in.

SAUSD administrators were aware that most of the employees had not been through emergency response training, so during the upgrade project they initiated a plan to improve emergency preparedness generally across the district. Administrators were able to use InSite system tools to simulate emergency situations for training. Moreover, the simulations can help districts and individual schools identify their security and safety gaps prior to an actual emergency event.

“This new system has not only met our expectations, but it is already helping us in ways we hadn’t thought of — the training support is a good example of that,” Boden continued. “It is scalable and has grown as the issues we need to address have grown. We implemented InSite to manage emergencies such as Active Shooters or Natural Disasters, but as the world continues to evolve, our policies and procedures can be updated as needed.”