Michael D. Clark reports:
A new Ohio grant program is allowing school districts throughout the state to beef up their emergency communications – in some cases, with nothing more radical than a simple panic button.
Since the December 2012 shooting deaths of 26 people – 20 students and six adults – at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., Ohio and Kentucky schools have ramped up their security measures.
Most schools are fully prepared to call 911.
But the newest radio models also feature silent calls – panic buttons –to alert first responders, allowing instantaneous verbal communications with local police.
An Enquirer analysis of the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission’s new $12 million grant program, approved by the Ohio Legislature last fall, found that so far 34 of Southwest Ohio’s 49 school districts including the Mason and Kings school districts have ordered either security radio devices or secured doors, which are also available through the program.
Many schools have already enhanced school entrances to make it more difficult to access the buildings. The emergency radios, however, are a new tech twist in school safety.
Once installed, the Multi-Agency Radio Communications System, or MARCS, desktop radios will be tuned to dedicated emergency frequencies monitored by local police or county sheriff departments.
“When seconds count, immediate, timely communication with the schools through these radios can be crucial,” said Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones, who last year grabbed national media attention announcing his proposal to improve school security through arming retired police officers and having them substitute teach.
“The direct linking of school buildings with first responders through these radios can obviously be a great tool” in protecting schools, said Jones.
Most of Butler County’s school districts, in fact, have already taken advantage of the new state grants, which are $2,000 per building for school radios and $5,000 for better doors, joining more than 1,200 schools in Ohio recently applying for the security radios.
MacKenzie Curt, a mother of a Mason student in the nearby Warren County school system, is also glad the radios, which will be installed in all the district’s schools, are beefing up their protective measures.