A great school gives parents the confidence their children are learning in a safe, secure environment. It also ensures that staff can interact effectively together — whether they’re managing a sporting event or a maintenance issue — and enables administrators to coordinate an immediate response to any situation, with up-to-date technology that fits their funding.
While mobile phones, especially smart phones, offer multi-functionality, digital mobile radio (DMR) technology enables schools to do so much more.
Interoperability: Talk to everyone
Schools rely on many mobile devices: smart phones, tablets and two-way radios. While mobile phones only communicate with other mobile phones, two-way radios interoperate with a range of devices and networks. Staff can choose their device of choice and enjoy interoperability between devices, using applications (apps) such as WAVE Group Communications.
A principal might use his or her smart phone to directly contact maintenance on their rugged two-way radio, the office on a laptop or even a teacher via their tablet.
Superintendent Dr Michael Hanlon recalls when interoperability with emergency services came to the fore at Chardon Schools: “We had a student who had a seizure during class, with no prior history. Because our teacher was trained on the new [radio] system, she talked to emergency medical technicians before they even arrived, and the situation was handled successfully.”
One-to-many: Collaborate with others
“One-to-many” group communication function improves staff collaboration and significantly accelerates resolution time by instantly connecting people, as experienced by the maintenance team at Huntsville City Schools.
“We didn’t have open communication; it was only one-to-one. There were situations where a service person was working on a piece of equipment and another technician knew the answer to the problem, but wasn’t aware he needed help … We simply could not communicate effectively.” explains maintenance supervisor Quanteaus Jones.
Group communications enable staff to coordinate evacuation drills or emergency responses instantaneously wherever they are in the grounds, even when the public address system is knocked out by a power outage.
One-to-one: Keep private calls private
Two-way radios also offer the option of private calls, such as when district project director, Gary L Sigrist Jr, noticed an uninvited news reporter in the school grounds of South-Western City School District. “I was able to contact the principal on his channel, as I didn’t want everyone on the staff to hear what was going on outside. I said, ‘Private call my radio.’ Then he was able to private call my radio, so he and I were the only two that could hear the conversation about what was happening outside.”
Coverage/reliability: Be heard everywhere, all the time
Mobile phones present coverage issues when used in challenging areas, for example, where maintenance teams might work such as in basements, boiler rooms, back rooms and on roofs. Battery performance, audio performance or network outages can cause issues. A recent outage in Australia, unrelated to any emergency, affected up to 16.7 million services, prevented customers from receiving calls and caused complete loss of phone and data services for others.1
Moreover, during natural disasters or emergencies, mobile phone tower overload renders public mobile networks unreliable, while private radio networks remain reliable throughout.
Coverage by DMR radios includes previous black spots and makes staff contactable regardless of location on the school grounds. Superior innovation in battery technology mean two-way radios can operate as long as 12 hours without recharging.
Imagine being able to communicate with teachers accompanying excursions or camps, even those in remote areas in order to monitor staff and students? With two-way radios connected to wide area networks such as Zeon Digital or Orion Network, even this is possible.
Clearer audio: Hear over the chaos
Six hundred students in an assembly hall make a lot of noise and mobile phone conversations are next to impossible! Voice quality on two-way radios is enhanced by sophisticated algorithms and background noise suppression which ensures that clear voice is delivered in even the most extreme scenarios. Intelligent audio automatically adjusts volume to address background noise.
Applications (apps): Added functionality
Modern two-way digital radios offer integrated features and functionality which take them far beyond simple voice communications.
Other examples of apps for the educational environment include:
- Text messaging: Staff can read texts discreetly when convenient, which neither distracts them nor disturbs students.
- Lone worker safety management: Suitable for cleaning or grounds staff, man down functionality sends alerts if the radio is at an angle or inactive for a certain period of time. In 2009 the Western Australia Education Department reviewed safety for cleaners after several incidents affecting the personal safety of cleaners in schools. The Department determined that in order to meet its occupational health and safety obligations, cleaning staff needed access to security devices incorporating mobile phone/personal alarms, and commercial portable two-way radios were recommended.
- Remote tracking: Security staff can be automatically notified if a door or gate is breached, and open or close it remotely. Maintenance workers can turn lights on or off, control sprinklers and handle many other tasks with DMR radios.
- Employee attendance and automatic payroll: Apps eliminate manual errors and inaccurate recordkeeping with time and attendance reports – tracking when cleaners start or finish work – and provide an accurate and automatic payroll.
- GPS: agricultural schools or other institutions with a large campus can benefit from monitoring the location of personnel
- Students are automatically checked in as they board the bus for a school excursion with a DMR app that reads the RFID chips issued to each student and attached to their schoolbag for the day. Each student is quickly accounted for.
Durability: Unbreakable handsets
Unlike digital radios, consumer devices are not made for the rigours of school operations. In fact, smart phones are three times more likely to fail than radios2 and over 20 per cent fail mainly because they are dropped during the work day.3 DMR radios are built for rough environments such as oilfields, manufacturing and transportation, yet come in handsets light enough to carry for a whole day.
Easy-to-use: Even for volunteers
One-touch operation means that school volunteers – such as parents accompanying an excursion or coordinating traffic – quickly learn how to use handsets, with phone lists that are easier to manage than phone lists. With simple functionality volunteers can focus on the task at hand.
Security/safety: Block unauthorised access
As any school administrator knows, small events can get blown out of proportion when casual listeners lack all the facts. On 31 October 2008, lightning struck a tree at District Dallas County School where several students were standing, leaving one with minor injuries. When staff used the old analogue radios to coordinate response, communications were also inadvertently broadcast out to scanners.
“So many people tried to call the school, the phone system shut down,” says Turner. “So they began showing up at the campus wanting information. We have an obligation to care for the kids and communicate first with the parents but the way the information got out deterred our response and impacted our ability to efficiently manage the situation.”
DMR radios have built-in scrambling capability to block unauthorised access and enable private communications, ensuring greater safety for students and greater security for the campus.
Costs: Predictable expenditure
With ever-tightening budgets, schools must justify every expense and make sure that any investment is worthwhile. Two-way radios offer a lower total cost of ownership over mobile phones, which have an ongoing service fee and can be unpredictable in terms of bills – not a pleasant surprise in today’s constrained education budgets! By integrating voice and data in one device, DMR radios also save schools the expense of additional equipment for text messaging and GPS location tracking.
School community assurance
While schools may already be equipped with staff mobile phones, taking the next step to implementing two-way radio provides the assurance of staff and student safety, increased operational efficiency, better staff collaboration and the confidence to deal with any scenario in the school day.
- Dudley-Nicholson J, Telstra suffers network outage, News.com.au, 9 Feb 2016
- Enterprise Mobility and Connected Devices, VDC Research, August 2013
- Mobile Device TCO Models for Line of Business Solutions, VDC Research, March 2013