The Oconee County School System recently introduced a new defense against those who would harm students at schools, as reported in the Athens Banner-Herald.
Just a little after 9:45 a.m., an Oconee Middle School teacher quickly pressed a button on a card hanging around her neck, setting several things in motion as part of a lockdown drill and test of the school’s new alert system.
In school hallways and outside in parking lots and athletic fields, red lights flashed and the intercom system told teachers and students, “Avoid. Deny. Defend.”
A large video screen in a conference room showed the school’s layout, and when the teacher pressed her card’s button, a red dot immediately showed up on the map with the teacher’s name underneath it.
Designed to show who has activated the button and pinpoint where that person is located,
the system, purchased from Atlanta-based Centegix with special funds the state Legislature appropriated this year, also took over the school’s computer network to post the alert on computer screens.
The school district chose the Centegix system after evaluating other systems and consulting with school staff as well as the Oconee County Sheriff’s Department, said Dallas LeDuff, the school district’s director of student services.
The system is able to deliver alerts for different emergency conditions including tornadoes, but it’s set up specifically for school shootings.
The system also automatically notifies law enforcement to come to the school. In a real shooting situation, an emergency dispatcher would tap into the school’s network of video surveillance cameras, pinpointing the alarm’s precise location to enable law enforcement officers to respond directly to the exact location the alarm was activated at. The school system also added more security cameras to ramp up safety precautions.
“I’m fired up about it,” said Oconee County sheriff’s Capt. James Hale, who attended Friday’s drill. “The quicker we can arrive on the scene, the sooner we can make bad things stop happening.”
A sheriff’s deputy is within minutes of any of the county’s schools at any given time during the school day, he said.
Friday’s demonstration was the first of many planned as the school year begins, said Oconee County schools Superintendent Jason Branch. The Centegix system is now installed in all of Oconee County’s 11 public schools, and drills are planned in those schools too.
Teachers and other employees got one-on-one training in the system during planning days before students began classes last week, said Oconee County Middle School Principal Keith Carter.
“We’ve gotten great positive feedback from staff,” he said.
The alert system is new, but drills and training about what to do in case someone brings a gun to a school intending harm is not.
This is the fourth year schools have had active shooter training, Branch said.
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