Schools adopt text-alert system

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AJ fire, Parkland prompt switch to instant emergency messages

By Mark Manicone

The Lancaster County School District has installed a new emergency alert system that can send information to parents, teachers and students instantly via text message.
“It’s very similar to what’s used on university campuses. That’s the model we’re after,” said Bryan Vaughn, the district’s safety director. “This give folks immediate info, and it’s good because I can access it anywhere… whether I’m on the side of the road, in a classroom or in the middle of a situation.
“With one, 25-word text, I can notify 1,000, 1,500, 2,000 or 3,000 people. It’s another layer of emergency preparedness,” he said.
The alert system is called Remind, and the district already has 3,000 people signed up.
The school district has divided the county into four zones, named for the high schools in each: Lancaster, Indian Land, Buford and Andrew Jackson. Anyone can go to the district website and sign up for one, or all, of the zones.
The school district already has a notification system called ConnectEd, a robo-call system that the school district uses to distribute notifications and announcements by telephone message. The system requires administration to record the message and send it out to the provided phone numbers of parents and teachers. This takes a lot of time, and the system was never intended for emergency notifications, Vaughn said.
After the Andrew Jackson Middle School fire and the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., Lancaster school officials realized they needed an alert that could reach people instantly.
“Parkland has spearheaded this project,” Vaughn said. “We did a lot of soul searching after that, and looked at all the mechanisms that we had to send out information. ConnectEd is a good system, but it’s cumbersome. We needed something that was real-time.
“You know, if we had a tornado watch, then we’d want something to distribute information instantly to classrooms, teachers, bus drivers and everybody,” he said.
The enrollment for the alert system is on-going. To sign up, go to the district website at: https://www.lancastercsd.com/. Click on the image with a cell phone that says, “Sign up for Remind,” and follow that link.
The district has also sent out e-mails to parents and will start placing fliers in schools after spring break to continue to reach out. The system will also be featured at open houses as school restarts in August.
“The goal is to get as many as we can signed up,” Vaughn said.

Follow reporter Mark Manicone on Twitter @mark_manicone or contact him at (803) 283-1152.