New school emergency response system activated in Blount County schools

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(Blount County Schools: Emergency Response Tech)

MARYVILLE, Tenn. (WATE)- Blount County officials hosted a live demonstration Tuesday morning of a new school emergency response system that has been installed in all Blount County District schools.

The system is called SARA, which is a situational awareness technology from Status Solutions.

SARA is made up of cameras, sensors, panic buttons and alerts that connect straight to the Blount County 911 Center, as well as to the entire facilities and faculty involved.

Every middle and high school teacher will have a pendant, or panic button, personalized to them which can initiate an immediate lock down of the school.

According to Don Stallion, Director of General Services for Blount County, once a teacher presses the panic button, an alert pops up on computers in the 911 Center.

“If they observe something that is disturbing to them, think they need to go into lock down, they’ll press that button and it will notify here at the 911 Center. The 911 Center will be looking at a live camera feed at what’s going on. We’ll also notify administrative people and everyone in the school that the school is now on lock down,” Stallion said.

The pendant is used only in the event of a serious threat, but every faculty desktop will have buttons for other emergencies, such as a school fight, fire or a medical issue.

James Long, the Blount County 911 Communications Director, said the goal of SARA is an immediate response to any emergency at schools.

“As soon as someone alerts this (system), whether it be by pendant or the computer screen by pushing a button on their computer, we’re getting it… in a matter of seconds,” Long said.

He said the alert sends critical information to the 911 Center, such as who pressed it, where they are, what kind of emergency it is, as well as a visual account of what’s happening.

If there are no cameras in the area where the faculty member pressed the panic button, the closest camera feed will pop up.

At the same time, the alert is also sent to all faculty desktops in the school and to school resource officers’ radios.

In the event of an active situation, the 911 Center can also keep track of other areas of the school.

“Not only do they have that pop up camera. They have access to all the cameras in the schools so they can follow the situation as it moves and know exactly where people are at and exactly what’s going on,” Stallion said.

An accidental alert with the panic button is a possibility, but tech support from Status Solutions said it wouldn’t be that easy because someone has to press on the button with some force and for more than a split second.

Stallion said that they can always scale down the response if a teacher pressed the panic button on accident, or if the threat doesn’t call for a lockdown.

“We would rather have false alarms than no alarms,” Stallion said.

Stallion said that installing SARA didn’t mean a whole new surveillance system needed to replace old cameras.

He said that SARA essentially enhanced their old system with different technology.

Both Stallion and Long said the updated system is a game-changer that was five years in the making.

They said the installation and use of SARA truly showed the teamwork effort between the different offices and agencies.

SARA’s capabilities on Tuesday was just a starting point of how it can keep Blount County students and families safe.

Stallion said that down the road, SARA can also notify faculty of mechanical or technical issues such as an HVAC unit breaking down or a freezer malfunctioning.

The system cost about $400k, but it was largely funded through a state grant.

SARA will also be installed in government buildings, but employees won’t have a panic button pendant. Employees would have the desktop version.

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