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One Call Does it All—Alert System in Place at School

By Staff | Jan 21, 2009

One day soon, listening closely to the kitchen radio for school delays and closures may be a just a distant, foggy memory.

The Muncy School District is now using a One Call Now computer system that calls more than 1,000 phone numbers in five minutes to alert faculty, staff, parents, and students that school is delayed or closed.

“I don’t understand how it works, but I know it works, and I’ve been getting very positive feedback from families,” said Superintendent Dr. Portia Brandt. “Can you imagine having to looking up every number and having to say, ‘We are having an early dismissal,’ or ‘The boiler is broken,’?”

If there have been complaints, it is that some folks do not relish a phone call at 5:30 a.m., no matter the purpose for it. Brandt said that she actually holds off on alerting students’ homes after giving notification to local media outlets around 4 a.m.

“Bus drivers go out at 5:30, so that’s when I activate the system,” she said.

The system is on a secure server with password protection, and is also versatile. It can call the entire list of phone numbers on file, or it can sort by school building, type of person being called-faculty, support staff, parents, volunteers-and by sport, club, and activity. Numbers can be updated, removed, or added in accordance with families’ preferences for calls to home, work, cell numbers, or even other caregivers or to correct data entry errors. Notifications can also be delivered via e-mail.

Brandt also notes that she gets a listing of how many calls were answered directly, how many numbers did not work, when there was no answer or an answering machine was reached.

The calling system is not just to be used in case of weather events, but if there is a school building without heat and classes need to be delayed or cancelled, or “God forbid-a lockdown situation,” said Brandt. “I can call from any phone, record a message, and activate it out immediately.”

“We could have used it for the school bus accident we had Nov. 20,” said Brandt, adding the system was not used for that incident.

The system has been used less than 10 times this school year, she said, but adds there are other features that she hopes to have up and running before the school year is out.

“We have the ability to do a survey at the end of a call. For example if the call is about a meeting being scheduled, we can askand get a response-on whether or not the person can attend.”

There is also a call-in component to the system that she hopes can be used as a help-line for at-risk children who may be in an abusive home, intent on self-harm, or getting bullied by other kids, a piece of the system Brandt wants up and running for the coming summer.

While work is being done to completely tailor the system to meet the population’s needs, Brandt and the school board are committed to positive, effective communication with families.

The fee for the system this year is around $2,800, which includes the call in help-line system. The charge is formulated using the number of students in the district, among other factors.