Florida Education Department Awards IoT Technology for School Safety

By Claire Swedberg

Centegix's CrisisAlert is one of the recommended vendors for state schools to meet Alyssa's Law, enabling school personnel to press a wearable device when emergency help is needed, such as in the case of an active shooter.

The  Florida Department of Education (DOE) this month selected wireless emergency-management solution vendors for its public and charter K-12 schools. Among those is  Centegix, which offers a solution known as CrisisAlert that leverages Zigbee and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technologies. The CrisisAlert badge is designed to enable teachers and staff members to silently identify an emergency and then be located automatically. The solution is already in use at 1,200 facilities throughout 13 states, including schools, hospitals, hotels and government facilities. Thus far, the company reports, the system has been used to protect approximately 1.1 million people.

The Florida DOE recommended the systems as a way for the state's public school districts to comply with Alyssa's Law, named for Parkland school shooting victim Alyssa Alhadeff. The law, passed by the Florida Senate, requires all state public and charter schools to implement a mobile panic alarm system that includes a mobile device enabling school personnel to trigger alarms without requiring a phone or going to a wired alerting device. The DOE has earmarked $8 million for the deployment of technology from the recommended vendors.

Centegix's CrisisAlert system

Centegix was launched as an emergency and classroom communication solution reseller for schools. After Parkland's Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in February 2018, during which 17 people were killed, the company began searching for active shooter alerting solutions that would enable faster alerting by any employee so that individuals could be located and identified during an emergency. However, the company could not find a system that would provide the benefits it sought: badges empowering every employee to trigger an alert with their own wearable device, along with campus-wide communication and location coverage.

"That's what set us on the path to developing our own solution, says Matthew Stevens, Centegix's CEO. "There were no viable solutions on the market." The CrisisAlert platform, he explains, targets not just active school shooters, but all violence in public places. Since being launched for education, the system has been marketed for those in the healthcare, hospitality and government sectors as well.

The company provides what it calls a private secure mesh network, with wireless location functionality so anyone who presses the alert button on their badge can be identified and located. "The real core of the system," Stevens states, "is we empower every staff member with a wearable panic-device push button to call for help." Centegix aims to provide coverage anywhere throughout a school campus or company premises. That, he says, is in contrast with many existing systems that utilize Wi-Fi or cellular data, which might have gaps in coverage between buildings or in some parts of a building. Additionally, GPS signals are limited when it comes to providing accurate location data indoors.

The solution consists of Zigbee 802.15.4 transceivers and repeaters installed throughout a facility to provide coverage for an entire campus, including indoors, in parking lots and in outdoor spaces. The devices capture transmissions from badges and forward the collected data to a server. In addition, BLE beacons are installed to identify the specific location of a given badge, such as in a particular room or part of a room. The battery-powered badge, which contains a unique ID number linked to the assigned individual, requires only gross motor skills to operate, with a large button that is intended to be simple to press.

Centegix's on-premise and cloud-based software manages location data, captures alerts and forwards those alerts to the appropriate parties, while integrating data as needed with existing technologies, such as PA systems and cameras. The company provides visual notification devices known as "strobes" that can light up in the event of an emergency for multi-sensor messaging. The company's SIG integration gateway, which serves as a secure API, integrates with a host of other systems, such as visitor-management technologies, video consoles, PA system or solutions for reading license plates.

Typically, if teachers require emergency assistance, they can press the badge, which can be carried in a pocket or clipped onto a jacket or pants. That alert is forwarded with specific location data to the Centegix software via the Zigbee technology, as well as a dedicated proprietary protocol RF transmission. Those who receive the alert can view a map of the facility, with a dot representing a specified worker's location and identity.

By leveraging Zigbee and BLE technologies, Stevens says, the solution provides not only more precise locating than Wi-Fi, but also a more secure network. The system is in use for worker protection at schools and at such facilities as healthcare buildings, psychiatric hospitals and hotels. For instance, housekeeping workers at a hotel can wear the badges to quickly summon help if they are in danger or otherwise require emergency help. Nurses at a psychiatric hospital unit can do the same in the event of duress, or if a patient requires immediate assistance.

Matthew Stevens

The technology is designed to be fast and easy to deploy and use, Stevens says, and to provide analytics and reporting to help management make decisions. For example, the data enables managers to track the continuity of care within a healthcare environment. Psychiatric hospitals are required by law to provide a specific number of hours, at a pre-determined frequency, to attend to patients and provide medications. The solution could track that data automatically and provide proof that a particular patient was receiving the appropriate care.

All hardware is designed and manufactured by Centegix in the United States. While the first deployments were individually configured, Stevens says, they are now intended to be quickly implemented with limited optimization. "What we realized [is that] there is a certain physics to buildings," he explains, which makes deployments repeatable. The technology has been developed to send data effectively at a variety of facilities and campuses, Stevens adds. "We can deploy, on an average evening, two sites per night," depending on the size of a given site. "We're all about the number of people we protect, and in order to protect more people, we need to be rapidly deployable."

Since the Florida DOE issued its recommendation, Stevens says, Centegix has been receiving a growing number of requests from schools in Florida, as well as from other states. Alabama's  Fairhope High School has deployed the system to ensure that its faculty and staff members need not go in search of help or an emergency call button, as the school's principal, Jon Cardwell, explained during an  NBC 15 news interview. "We realize our system saves lives," Stevens states. The technology has been used during gun incidents at schools, as well as to help individuals experiencing seizures or other healthcare crises. "We're all about protecting more people."