July 25, 2010 By Elaine Pittman
School systems and police departments are community partners, and ensuring student, faculty and officer safety is a high priority for both entities. In Pennsylvania, police departments are being both innovative and proactive by using wireless technology to handle school safety. If there's an emergency, local police departments can increase situational awareness by directly linking to Pennsylvania schools' live video camera feeds.
About 128 cameras keep watch over the Franklin Regional School District's five schools - one high school, one middle school and three elementary schools. And the Murrysville Police Department will upgrade officers' in-car laptops with software that will connect to each of the district's live video feeds. Linking to these feeds could provide vital information for police officers in the event of an emergency.
"As with Columbine [High School] and things that have happened since then with universities and shootings," said Murrysville Police Chief Tom Seefeld of the impetus created by the grisly 1999 high school mass shooting and other high-profile student shootings, "we're trying to approach this in a manner that will provide the best safety for officers and firefighters, as well as students and faculty, if we should in fact have critical incidents at the school."
The police department received a $100,000 grant from the Community Oriented Policing Services technology program, of which about $45,000 will fund the purchase of OnSite Information Systems Inc.'s Responder Knowledge software.
After receiving the grant, the police department approached the Franklin Regional School District. "They thought it would be a good mix and a good partnership as far as implementing such a program," said Frank Muto, the school district's technology services supervisor. "The software and its capabilities lend themselves to including the school district in terms of safety."
The City Council approved the contract with OnSite, a Murrysville-based company, in January, and the system is expected to go live by January 2011.
When the software is installed, police officers can log on through their laptops, most likely via a virtual private network (VPN), to access the software hosted from the school district's server. The software will provide a live feed from the schools' cameras, and also can load other information, like electronic floor plans to help police officers identify points of interest, such as stairwells and bathrooms.
Seefeld anticipates that the officer or firefighter in charge of an incident will use the video and floor plans to direct his or her subordinates about how to best approach a situation. "If we know of an area where something is occurring, we can punch that information in and bring that area up on the screen with the closest camera to that area," he said. "So we can relay to the responding officers or firefighters what we're seeing, which will greatly help them, I believe."
Murrysville's three fire departments - the municipality is divided into three fire districts - will each have a laptop installed with the software, and the municipality's emergency management center will have access through one laptop. Currently school officials can view the camera feeds while in the district's buildings, but they will be granted the same capability externally thanks to the software, Muto said. "It's just going to be an enhancement to what we already have."
The local schools are just the starting point for using the software. Seefeld said he hopes other organizations and businesses - like banks, hotels and universities - will take notice of the school district's implementation and utilize the technology in their buildings. Doing so would provide law enforcement with the best information when responding to incidents.
"I think it's getting our emergency services prepared to confront issues and matters, and provide the best safety as possible for first responders," Seefeld said.
Strict policies, Seefeld said, will ensure that the software is only
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