The Little Rock School District is adding "wearable technology" to its safety and security system.
The School Board at a lengthy meeting Thursday night authorized district leaders to enter into a five-year, $1.487 million contract with Centegix of Atlanta to provide a crisis alert badge system. The system will equip employees in the 21,000-student district with a wearable badge device with which they can notify appropriate personnel of medical and/or safety emergencies.
The device will typically hang on an employee's lanyard and can be used for two kinds of alerts. A staff alert is a call for individual assistance. A campus-wide alert will tell all campus occupants of a need to take action such as a lockdown in the event of an intruder.
Heather Connelly of Austin, Texas, regional vice president for sales, told the board that the Centegix company was founded after the Feb. 14, 2018, shooting deaths of 17 people at a Parkland, Fla., high school.
She said the badges -- powered with five-year batteries -- don't require most employees to download an app to their computers or to personal phones. Nor is wifi or cellphone service required, she said.
The system provides room-level accuracy, enabling crisis responders to get to the site of the emergency event quickly,
Nearly all of the use for the badge -- 98% -- will be for medical emergencies, a fight in the hall or kids who are running away from the campus, Connelly said, and not for active shooter events.
The staff alert for medical and other situations such as a hallway fight is initiated by a set number of firm clicks on the badge. The device will vibrate in response to show that it is activated and the campus crisis team has been notified.
Members of that crisis team -- made up of people such as the principal, assistant principals, school resource officer and school nurse -- will have an app on their phones or desktop computers to show them the person and place where the badge device was used.
"We have a lot of stories on this badge where we have saved lives," said Connelly, who told of instances where the device led to the application of the Heimlich maneuver to save a choking child, and the use of a defibrillator on a teen-ager who had passed out.
Campus-wide alerts, initiated by repeated clicks of the device, will not only go to the crisis team but will also activate a schoolwide voice announcement telling staff to lock their doors, turn off the lights and stay out of sight. Auditory and visual cues -- color-coded strobe lights -- will notify all in the building of the emergency. There is also notice sent to 911 dispatch centers and law enforcement.
"We need everybody to know you are in lockdown," she said.
Board member Ali Noland questioned whether teachers and other staff have been questioned about what they would like to see in regard to school security.
She said she is hearing mixed responses to enhanced security efforts. Some employees and others absolutely want enhancements, she said, while others see the measures as contributing to a culture of fear in a school and are worried about the impact on students.
"Our reason for pursuing or even investigating a panic system as an option is based on the state's School Safety Commission recommendations in 2019 and again this year," Superintendent Jermall Wright said.
That commission was appointed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson.
Kelsey Bailey, the district's chief deputy for finance and operations, said the cost of the five-year contract with the company can come from the district's federal covid-19 relief funding.
He said the system will allow all categories of district employees -- child nutrition, maintenance workers and others -- to be part of the safety system when they in previous years didn't have access to the emergency alerts.
"I think this is great," board member Evelyn Callaway said about the system. "This is so much better than having it on my personal phone, because my personal phone might be dead. I am really impressed."