WALLINGFORD — A new crisis security system designed to improve emergency reponse times is being installed in all of the town’s public schools.
The system, manufactured by New Jersey-based company Sielox, will allow school administrators to use a computer or mobile device to communicate precise information to first responders regarding emergencies like a school intruder or medical issue.
School Superintendent Salvatore Menzo said Wallingford is one of the first school districts in the Northeast to utilize the technology.
“It’s a lot quicker than trying to use the phone or send someone to the office,” Menzo said.
Police Chief William Wright said alerts for medical issues, missing students or hallway disturbances are sent directly to police with mapping to pinpoint the location of the incident.
Classroom teachers can input where they need help, Wright said. “It gives our resources a very specific location in schools to direct our efforts,” he said.
Implementation will take time because each classroom must be coded and individually mapped, which Menzo said can be intense in terms of the setup, but will be worth the work. The system will also keep a record of every input made, which will allow administrators to review what went well and how to improve the response.
Installation is complete at two of the town’s 12 schools, Dag Hammarskjold Middle School and E.C. Stevens Elementary School. The remainder of the schools will have the system by June 2020.
“We actually did a demo training and it did phenomenally well,” Menzo said.
Dag Middle School Principal Todd Snyder said the school was the second to integrate the new security system and test it out. Teachers and staff participated in the training in September and tested the system. Snyder hopes the school never needs to use the system to its fullest extent, but will be prepared to do so.
“It’s just another layer in our school safety,” Snyder said. “Students’ safety always was and always will be a top priority.”
Snyder said the system is not live yet but that teachers are inputting information daily and it may take a while to get used to the interface.
“I think from any parent view, any system that increases communication or a level of security is welcomed,” Snyder said.
Patrick Mirto, operations manager with Security 101, said the security installation company is currently working to outfit a third school with the system. Mirto said teachers are required to check in every day.
“It serves two purposes. One, it allows the teacher to tell staff ‘we’re good’ and gives them daily exposure to the system,” Mirto said.
In the event of a lockdown emergency, Mirto said teachers that activate the panic button can communicate to a command center through a chat feature. Afterward, the recorded actions in the system are saved for forensic review by agencies like Homeland Security, the FBI or state and local police.
“Just the mere fact the administration can send out a message that police are on site is very reassuring for people who are in an emergency event and have no information,” Mirto said.
Following the school shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the Town Council and Board of Education held a joint meeting and forum that was open to the public. About 150 parents, teachers and residents attended the forum to discuss school safety. Several suggestions at the forum have since been implemented such as the lockdown training and an active-shooter simulation.
In June 2018, the school board proposed allocating $660,000 in surplus funds for security. The school board added four school resource officers for the 2018-2019 school year at a total cost of $480,000.
The town approved a bid waiver for $106,000 in September 2018, for the school district to purchase the Sielox system. The purchase also requires an annual $4,000 maintenance fee, which would be incorporated into the school budget. Menzo said the project will also be partially funded through a federal grant.
Wright said he looks forward to the rollout. The police department has access to the camera systems through all the schools and can launch surveillance in real-time. Wright said the Sielox System is just one piece in an improved security network. The department will distribute 64 portable two-way radios for police and fire, and will soon add radios for the Board of Education, Public Works, and Public Utilities Division. The system will be live by the end of December.
“With access to each of the schools (through) the two-way radio system, Sielox and the school lockdown system, we feel that we’re very well protected and covered for any situation,” Wright said.