Local News

Wake County School System Begins High-Tech Emergency Response System

Posted February 26, 2004

— Though parents do their best to know how to react to emergencies at their child's school, every situation is different, and sometimes it is hard to know.

The Wake County Public School System wants to simplify the process and avoid panic. So, system leaders are turning to technology to keep parents in touch.

When the shootings at Columbine happened, the scene was chaos. Parents panicked. They wanted information -- and fast.

If a crisis happens at a Wake County school, parents will find out within minutes. Beginning this month, all Wake schools are part of a new emergency notification system called

Saf-T-Net Alert Now.

Parents provide as many contact numbers as they want to their child's school. With just one phone call to Saf-T-Net, an emergency message goes out to 4,000 numbers simultaneously.

"It's an unchallenged fact that rapidly communicating with parents in an emergency reduces the amount of potential harm, improves safety and reduces risk," said Howard Udell, of Saf-T-Net.

Saf-T-Net, based in Raleigh, will update the numbers every week. The high-tech service only will be used in an extreme emergency -- a Columbine situation, or a gas leak, for example -- that forces students to relocate.

In an emergency, it is a parent's first instinct to come to the school. But that's the last place they need to be. Saf-T-Net tells parents where to reunite with their child.

School systems in California and New York already are using the service. Wake County Public Schools is the first school system in the state to implement Saf-T-Net.

The $25,000 cost is paid for through a federal emergency response grant.

Many parents believe Saf-T-Net will cause less confusion and rumor during a frantic time.

"I want someone to call me and say: 'This is what's happening,'" parent Leanne Stradling said, "'this is how we are handling it. You can be calm, and we will let you know when the next thing is done.'"

It is a safety net Wake County Schoos Superintendent Bill McNeal hopes the system never will have to use. But he believes that parents and he will sleep better at night knowing it's there.

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