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Franklin County, Maine, Schools to Pilot Emergency Alert System

Sixteen schools in Franklin County will participate in the program, which is expected to improve security by including a panic button, that once pressed, alerts emergency responders of a potentially life-threatening situation.

(TNS) -- A $14,000 Homeland Security grant will pay for the first year of an emergency alert system to be implemented in Franklin County schools. The Punch Alert System will allow school staff who have the application downloaded onto computers, tablets, mobile phones and other mobile devices to press a button to alert law enforcement, dispatchers, other emergency responders and school officials to a perceived threat in the schools.

The Regional School Unit 9 school board agreed in April to try a program similar to Punch Technologies' system for a year. They plan to review it after that to determine the next step.

A county emergency responder group chose to go with Punch Technologies based in North Carolina after reviewing three bids to provide an alert system, a project coordinator, Farmington Deputy Police Chief Shane Cote said.

“We felt it was a better fit” for Franklin County, he said.

Sixteen schools in the county will participate in the program: Regional School Unit 9 in the Farmington area; RSU 58 in the Kingfield area; RSU 73 in Jay area; RSU 78 in Rangeley area; and Stratton School District in Eustis.

“We feel very fortunate that our county is going with the Punch Alert System,” RSU 9 Superintendent Tom Ward said in a release. “This is a great collaborative effort between schools, law enforcement and all first responders. Anything we can do to reduce the time it takes to stop an intruder saves lives.”

One hundred beacons will be placed in the schools, Cote said.

The program is expected to improve security by including a panic button, that once pressed, alerts emergency responders of a potentially life-threatening situation, according to a Punch Technologies press release.

It is expected to streamline communication by enabling faculty, staff and students to submit information and emergency responders to deliver mass updates during emergencies. Punch Alert also, through its use of GPS and iBeacon/Bluetooth Low Energy technology, provides location awareness by capturing the location of the initial report and actively monitoring the location of all faculty and staff until the emergency is resolved, the release states.

The program also has the capability, if a school district chose to access it, that a teacher could alert school officials to a problem in the schools such as a student destroying a classroom, Cote said.

Training will take place on the system in late August.

The first year is covered by the grant, Cote said. The system is free for law enforcement and emergency first responders in the county.

Amanda Simoneau, deputy director of the Franklin County Emergency Agency, said the second year will cost school districts $15 per employee to continue the system. The overall cost will depend on how many staff members a district chooses to have on the system. There will be no cost for law enforcement and emergency first responders, she said.

Since the first year is paid for through a Homeland Security grant, Simoneau said she will keep the records in a binder and maintain it for the first year.

The Livermore Elementary School in Livermore, which is in Androscoggin County, is not involved in the grant and will not be on the system, RSU 73 Superintendent Kenneth Healey said.

“At this time only our Spruce Mountain campus schools (Jay Elementary School, Spruce Mountain Middle School and Spruce Mountain High School, all in Jay) will be involved in the grant that will bring the Punch Alert System to our school system,” Healey said. “This grant will also allow our school system to continue to work hand-in-hand with all our regional first responders in order to continue to make our school campuses safer. I also view the Punch Alert System as a great opportunity to further emphasis the importance of school safety in and out of the Spruce Mountain educational community.”

©2015 the Sun Journal (Lewiston, Maine). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.