Boosting School Safety Through Funding, FirstNet Technology

By James Careless

According to CNN, there have been at least 12 school shootings as of February 16, 2024. Seven people were killed and at least 19 injured. Nine attacks took place at K-12 schools, and the rest on college campuses.

Addressing such threats is at the heart of federal grant programs such as the School Violence Prevention Program (SVPP) operated by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office), the STOP School Violence Program, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Homeland Security Grant Program. It is also being addressed by technology solutions such as the FirstNet-certified Intrado Safety Shield mobile app, which includes a wearable panic button.

Public Sector Grants (PS Grants) assists State, Local, Tribal, and NGO agencies in identifying and seeking potential grant funding. In a recent webinar entitled, ‘How Texas Schools Can Use Federal/State Funds to Meet New School Safety Requirements in S.B. 838’, PS Grants’ Director of Grants Assistance Kamala Kuhn provided insights into various grant programs. Intrado Life & Safety Director of Sales Shannon Crawford then explained Intrado’s Safety Shield and Safety Suite.

When it comes to the SVPP and school safety, the federal government is “willing to include funding of civilian personnel to serve as coordinators with law enforcement training for local law enforcement officers,” said Kuhn. The STOP School Violence Program will also pay for “the purchase and installation of certain allowable equipment and technology, and other measures to significantly improve school safety.”

SVPP-eligible equipment in schools include entry control systems, door locking mechanisms and/or access control doors, peepholes for classroom doors, school site alarm and protection systems, motion detectors, and lighting on school grounds. Eligible technology includes communication systems, emergency call boxes, intercom or public address systems, panic and immediate alarm notification systems, two-way radios, automated email/text message emergency alerts, identification technology, laptops, maps of schools and bus routes, and printers in certain instances. “They also include supplies, contracts, consultants, sub-awards and other costs up to and including school safety assessments, fencing, gates, or poles for lights and cameras,” she said.

Worth noting: “Applicants proposing to utilize the grant funds to support technological enhancements directly or via training and technical assistance may receive priority consideration if their proposal addresses tenets of digital trust,” said Kuhn. These tenets include training staff to use this equipment so that “it contributes to positive outcomes for public safety, the community and/or criminal justice system” and safeguarding the privacy and civil rights of anyone affected by these school safety solutions. Addressing both tenets in a STOP School Violence Program application “can give you a leg up in that and improve your chances of success in actually being awarded the funds,” she said.

As for DHS’ Homeland Security Grant program? “You probably haven’t really thought about your eligibility to this funding source, but the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has since identified education facilities as a critical infrastructure, therefore allowing for assistance to schools for preparedness activities becoming a statutorily authorized use of the Homeland Security Grant program,” Kuhn said. To obtain this funding, “I would encourage you to reach out to your state administrative agency contact. We have provided that link here. However, what I would suggest is that you do so based on your state’s structure for access to these funds. It’s likely going to be done through a local emergency manager, which may go directly to the SAA or possibly through a district or a region.”

On the technology side, the FirstNet-certified Intrado Safety Shield mobile app pairs with wearable silent panic alarms to allow teachers and other school staff to contact 911 through their smartphones fast. This app also supports secure two-way faculty chats, digitized emergency response plans, role-specific response checklists, and integration with school information systems to account for all children in an emergency and quickly reunite students with their parents/guardians.

To ensure that help can be reached, the Intrado Safety Shield app is designed to communicate with the outside world via FirstNet-certified AT&T 4G/LTE networks, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth Low Energy personal area networks. “With the simple push of a button, important information is relayed to the local PSAP, which is where 911 calls are taken, enabling an informed and quick response from authorities,” said Crawford. “Important details are shared such as location, contact, information of the person in need and more. It’s all shared seamlessly, and this is without the need to add any new systems or screens to the call takers — because that’s a real pain point for those agencies.”

To ensure that safety alerts reach everyone, Intrado’s Safety Suite enables a school district’s existing infrastructure to instantly deliver warnings to those who may be visually or hearing impaired. “By leveraging systems that the district’s already implemented, such as LED displays, intercom systems, sirens, (and) strobe lights, you can ensure that everyone is getting the information as soon as it’s made available,” Crawford said.

The bottom line: The money and technology needed to make U.S. schools safer is available today.


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