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Real-Time Communications Comes to Oregon School

By Becky Lewis
July 2013

The alarm comes into the sheriff’s office command center. Someone pushed the alarm button in Classroom 10. All over the school, doors automatically close and the building goes into immediate lockdown. Live video feed comes into the command center, and an officer starts two-way communication with the teacher who hit the button. The teacher who heard gunshots echoing from down the hall.

Thanks to the efforts of the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office, Shady Cove Middle School in Jackson County, Ore., became the first school in the nation to use a new technology that provides a real-time direct link between law enforcement, first responders and the school in the event of an emergency – be it medical, fire, or criminal in nature. The sheriff’s office used drug seizure money to purchase the system, and local businesses Precision Electric and Adroit Construction donated installation labor over the Memorial Day Weekend.

When a teacher (or a student in the event the teacher is incapacitated) pushes the alarm button, cameras located in the classroom and elsewhere in the building begin providing live-time video feed to the sheriff’s office command center and to school administrative offices. According to Sheriff Mike Winters, the ability to see what is going on inside the building in real-time could prove invaluable in the amount of time – and potentially lives – saved in the event of an emergency. That’s why when he was offered the opportunity to pilot the system, he was quick to move on the project, selecting Shady Cove because “I wanted a school that had great teachers with an absolutely ‘can do’ attitude. The administrators of School District 9 are the same way. They really care about their students’ safety. They were really amazed at what the technology could do and they wanted to be part of it.”

With the system in place, the sheriff’s office and the school district are working together over the summer to run drills and come up with policies and procedures before Jackson County (population 206,000, some 75,000-plus in the county seat, Medford) formalizes plans to implement the system in additional schools.

“I’ve never seen a better system for implementing real-time communication. It really gets the job done,” Winters says. “The beauty of this system is when the alarm is pushed and the cameras come up, we’re looking at real-time info and we can brief officers. From the sheriff’s office in Medford, we can open doors and change the status lights. We can visually search the school while the first responders are in route and if there is a shooter in a classroom, we can put that light to red and the others on green to direct the first arriving officers to the crisis spot. With the pending addition of an app for officers’ smartphones, they will be able to look at the same information as well as receiving direction from headquarters. “

And if the doors go into lockdown with the shooter outside the classrooms, he might spend time going from door to door, looking for entry, while officers get closer: “Time saved equals lives saved. Activating this system might not save everyone in a shooting incident, but it might substantially reduce the number of fatalities. We might even be able to use the two-way communication channel to engage the shooter and distract him with the information that police are nearly there.”

And while Winters, like every other law enforcement officer in the country, hopes that Jackson County never needs to use the system during to a school shooting, he’s glad it’s in place, and he notes it could also be used to call for medical help or report a fire and improve outcomes in those types of situations: “If fire services could see immediately that one wing of a school is fully involved, they’d know to go to more alarms immediately. EMS could go into situations better prepared. This is asset management at its best.”

To learn more about the system and its implementation at Shady Cove Middle School, contact Public Information Officer Andrea Carlson at (541) 864-8801, email carlsoak@jacksoncounty.org. To watch a video about the implementation of the technology, visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=XapKQsbX5u8.