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Maine Schools Adopt Affordable Emergency-Alert Solution

A beacon-based system provides real-time location information at the press of a smartphone's button.
By Michael Belfiore
Oct 18, 2015

The events of December 14, 2012—when a gunman burst into the Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Newtown, Conn., and killed 26 adults and children—remains indelibly etched in the minds of educators and parents everywhere. As a result, public school officials nationwide are still asking the question: What can we do if Sandy Hook happens here?

This fall, in time for the 2015-16 school year, the superintendents of the five school districts in Franklin County, Maine, answered that question. That's when all 16 schools in the districts were equipped with an emergency-alert solution from Punch Alert, based in Charlotte, N.C. The system lets teachers and school officials send out distress calls with a touch of a button on a smartphone application. Thanks to Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons installed within the schools, the system can also forward an intruder's location to first-responders.

Punch Alert's mobile app turns an iOS or Android device into a mobile panic alarm. Offline Mode allows users to report emergencies even when they don't have Wi-Fi access or a data connection.
Punch Alert will bring first-responders to the scene of an emergency more quickly and with better information, says Shane Cote, the deputy police chief of the Farmington, Maine, police department, who led the effort to install the new system. And that, he says, will save lives during an emergency.

Shane Cote
Planning for the Unthinkable
In December 2014, Cote attended a school-security conference in Tucson, Ariz., where he learned there's no shortage of technology-based ideas for responding to emergency situations. Back home, he made some recommendations to the Franklin County school superintendents, but all the technology solutions were too expensive for the schools' budgets.

Then, at the Maine Chiefs of Police Association conference in February 2015, Cote connected with a company that provides emergency communications services to schools. He scheduled a meeting for the vendor and Tom Ward, the superintendent of Franklin County's Regional School Unit (RSU) 9, one of the five school districts. Ward was receptive to the idea of using the notification technology within his district—provided that money for it could be found.

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