For communicating during school emergency events, the most basic method – talking to each other – may be the most effective. But that’s only true if everyone involved has the tools to do just that.

When administrators, teachers, and staff can all talk to one another, as well as to campus police and local authorities, it limits the confusion and chaos that occurs in an emergency such as a school shooting. This connectivity makes it possible to size up the situation and gain control of it more quickly in order to improve school safety.

For most schools, though, there are islands of communication. The campus or school district police have their radios, with each school having perhaps one compatible radio. The local authorities have their radios, but they typically can’t communicate with the school district radios. Teachers and staff have mobile phones, or perhaps can connect to the school intercom, but they aren’t really connected with anyone.

And most of the time, that’s not a problem. But if there is a school safety issue and a school needs to move to lockdown or lockout – or if a crime is taking place right in the school – the inability to communicate quickly becomes a major concern. Every second counts in situations such as this, and time spent trying to get in touch with each other is time that could have been better spent addressing the immediate danger.

Interoperability between and among radios can make all the difference for school safety during an emergency. When campus police, affected administrators and teachers, and local authorities are all able to talk to each other, they can avoid the chaos.

The best approach to this is to make sure everyone who might need one has a compatible radio, preferably one that uses the cellular network. Otherwise, you might run into issues in which a radio’s range isn’t sufficient to maintain communications with everyone else.

With radios such as Sprint Direct Connect Plus push-to-talk devices, the interoperability of the devices means that everyone can be connected, with the ability to set up specific talk groups to better organize an appropriate response in the event of an emergency. These groups, of up to 250 members, can be set up ahead of time, or added on the fly.

In addition, Direct Connect Plus radios feature nationwide coverage, one-to-one push-to-talk calling, high-priority broadcast calling with up to 500 members, and real-time presence with user-controllable status.

Funding school safety communication tools

There’s no question that interoperability and comprehensive communication is better. The challenge for schools, however, is paying for a system that outfits so many individuals with radios. The bill for even affordable radios can become unaffordable when buying them in large numbers. Which is necessary, because every teacher and administrator, and most staff members, should have them.

The usual approach, in which a school may have one radio – usually controlled by the principal or kept at the school’s front office – that can communicate with campus police, has a built-in point of failure. If for any reason the principal or the primary radio user is rendered unable to use that radio, it is of no value. By spreading the ability to communicate as widely as possible, that risk is eliminated.

Few schools have the luxury of budgets large enough to easily afford a solution such as this, which is why state or federal funding or grants are so important for school radio procurement. After that the schools themselves can cover ongoing funding for radio service, which typically will not be prohibitively expensive since it isn’t heavily used.

Some public schools are taking gradual steps to make this happen. One recent Sprint school district customer began phasing in Direct Connect Plus radios, outfitting the campus police, school resource officer, and individual school security guards in the first phase. The second phase will make sure every administrator has one.

While school safety communications has always been a concern, it’s safe to say there has never been as much focus on it nationally as there is now, in the wake of several high-profile school shootings. But the financial question persists, which again underscores the importance of seeking funding from whatever sources might be available.