Colorado’s SAFER Grant Funds Interoperability

School Access for Emergency Funding (SAFER) Grant

In Colorado, the Office of School Safety oversees several grants to improve school safety. One of those grants is the School Access for Emergency Funding or SAFER Grant. The SAFER grant funds interoperability. Technically, it aims to increase access to interoperable communications technology to improve school safety. Below, we discuss what the grant funds, what is interoperability, how SchoolSAFE fits the grant requirements, and the next steps you can take to make your schools safer.

What exactly does SAFER fund?

The grant program provides money to districts/schools and public safety communications networks for needed interoperable hardware, software, and training solutions.

As written into law, the grant requires the solution to have the aforementioned three components. This allows for seamless communications between existing school district communications systems and first responder communications systems (interoperability, see below). That’s all fancy talk for the easier summary: The SAFER Grant funds solutions that allow separate two-way radio networks to speak to each other when needed. Find the formal rules in section 24-33.5-2104 (1-5) here.

What is interoperability and why is it important?

Interoperability is the ability for different entities to communicate with each other when they otherwise couldn’t. What does this mean? Let’s look at public safety and how they communicate. Public safety includes law enforcement, fire, EMTs, 9-1-1 public safety answering points. They have different tools to be able to speak to each other. They have a two-way radio on their hip or shoulder, they have cell phones, maybe a computer in their car, another radio in their vehicle, etc. Public safety’s radio network, out of necessity, covers a lot of area and is therefore expensive.

School districts and schools operate with two-way radios, too, but their networks are smaller to cover the area of the district/schools and are more cost-effective. These two radio networks normally do not allow for communications to occur between each other. They’re disparate. But! When these networks connect, when everyone can talk together when they otherwise couldn’t, we have interoperability. Interoperability improves the response because all parties can work together with better communication.

Where does SchoolSAFE Fit?

This is where SchoolSAFE comes in. We provide interoperable communications between public safety and schools. SchoolSAFE is activated after a 9-1-1 call. A dispatcher, through Memorandums of Understanding put in place through the program, connects public safety radios to district and school radios during an emergency. The varying groups can speak to each other on a public safety-designated radio channel. An added bonus: the dispatcher has bridging (connecting) options. They can select one specific school to bridge, a feeder area if needed (a few elementary schools, middle school(s) and high school), or the entire district. With the event over, the dispatcher at the 9-1-1 dispatch center disconnects the networks. Everyone is back to their own separate two-way radio networks. 

There is a district component, too. The safety director at the district can be in charge of bridging within their district if needed. They can’t control public safety radio channels, that’s for the pros. So, if there needs to be a district-wide announcement via two-way radio, poof! SchoolSAFE has it covered.

SchoolSAFE is fully SAFER grant-compliant. The solution provides hardware at the schools and software that turns the connection from public safety radios to the school radios on and off. The program provides a robust training program (if we do say so ourselves) that includes safety teams at the schools, district personnel, PSAPs, and other involved responders. We work in step with the districts’ compliance with the Colorado School Response Framework. We also help train school safety teams at each school and we solidify or improve the community partnerships that are so vital between public safety responders and school and district personnel. 

So How Does it Work In Real Life?

For example, at dismissal time, a student is hit by a car in the school parking lot. The safety team at the school will speak on their radio to get the details that are important for a high-quality 9-1-1 call. Then, they will try to clear the area, get the school nurse out to the student, help direct traffic away from the student, etc. In the meantime, the 9-1-1 dispatcher bridges SchoolSAFE. Next, the dispatcher directs the ambulance personnel to go to a designated channel.

They announce to the school safety team that SchoolSAFE is bridged (connected), and the safety team tells the ambulance to come in on a specific side street or area of the building to avoid the line of cars. The team provides the pertinent information about the student who has been hit, and/or answers questions from the EMTs. All of this real-time communication helps speed up the response, getting the student faster and more effective care.

Next Steps

For the school districts in Colorado, check back here. As discussed, the SAFER grant funds interoperability. We’ll be sharing the Office of School Safety’s grant announcement when it’s on Colorado’s Office of School Safety’s website. Contact us to learn more about interoperable communications, the SAFER Grant, and how we can help improve your school/district’s safety.

High-Quality School Emergency Operations Plans

Why an EOP is Important:

SchoolSAFE takes an all-hazards approach to school safety. What does that mean, exactly? It means that any event that can potentially disrupt the school day is something our solution can help improve. How does a district prepare for any and all emergencies throughout the district? School emergency operations plans, or an EOP, are a necessary place to start. Understanding and planning how, who, what, and where in an even can bring together the community and can help manage expectations so that when a crisis does happen, the schools and district are prepared. Having a team prepared for any and all situations at the district and school level is a no-brainer. Specifically, high-quality school emergency operations plans will ensure that the plans are tailored to a specific school and a specific district for a potentially better outcome.

Where to Start

Firstly, when writing high-quality school EOPs, it is important to consider the role of communication in ensuring the safety of students and staff. According to the Guide for Developing High-Quality School Emergency Operations Plans by the U.S. Department of Education, effective communication is essential for the successful implementation of an emergency operations plan. The guide highlights the importance of establishing clear communication protocols and ensuring that all stakeholders are aware of their roles and responsibilities during an emergency situation.

Understandably, starting to write or improve upon your district’s emergency operations plans can be daunting if plans don’t exist yet. In Colorado, the School Safety Resource Center provides helpful resources to start or improve your emergency operations plan. Helpfully, these resources include communication protocols and procedures for documenting incoming and outgoing communications, as well as the importance of community partnering. Having high-quality school emergency operations plans start with education and allocating time.

How Does SchoolSAFE Fit?

The SchoolSAFE Program improves communications between schools, districts, public safety, and other community partners. A large component of our program includes training to improve said communications. Regular drills and training ensure all stakeholders are well-prepared to respond to emergencies. This will help reduce potential panic and confusion during a crisis and improve the overall effectiveness of the emergency operations plan. A team that communicates well during an emergency is a major asset to a school. During our trainings, we review scenarios that focus on the utilization of a school’s existing plans. We help make your communications plan high-quality. Click the “Contact Us” tab or button to get in touch, we can help.

Planning Meeting of a High-Quality School Emergency Operations Plan

What to do after a school shooting

The Robb Elementary School Shooting: Navigating the Aftermath

Yesterday’s Robb Elementary School shooting is absolutely devastating. As we navigate the emotional process today, we know and want to share that there are resources to help you and your family and/or you and your school/community. We work with people who have been involved in a school shooting. These events hurt; we are nearing decade two of working to improve school safety. Specifically, in the area of communications. We are one small piece in the school safety toolbelt, as we say, doing what we can to help make children safer.
Knowingly, children see and hear all forms of media. After events like yesterday, limitation to their exposure to the media’s coverage of a school shooting is necessary. Discussing said events with them is helpful and so is this article:
-How to talk to your children about a school shooting, by age:

Fortunately, SchoolSAFE is in Colorado, a state that is very proactive with school safety. Take measures to improve safety in schools. These measures include whichever tool on the toolbelt the school needs. Funding helps schools get the necessary resources for a safer environment.

Please contact your local representative to advocate for improvement, contact members of congress; every voice matters. Not sure where to start? Click here.

This is a very small sample of what can be done to help. Thoughts and prayers are never enough but our hearts are with the town of Uvalde.

Get in touch with us to discuss further.

911 Dispatcher

School Personnel Call 911: What to Expect

What Schools Should Expect When Calling 911: A Dispatcher’s Perspective*

What to Expect:

School personnel call 911 for an emergency, but what should they expect? The dispatcher will need immediate information from the caller. The dispatcher enters information into a CAD system (Computer Aided Dispatch) and then dispatches to the appropriate responders. Wherever they may be calling from, the information needed is the same nationally. What’s the most important data to provide to a dispatcher when school personnel call 911? Location, Location, Location. If nothing else, a 911 communications center can send help to a specific location. Typically, the dispatcher will ask for the general location and then an exact location. The dispatcher will ask for a name and a phone number in the event of a disconnection. Next, the dispatcher will ask exactly what is happening. It is best practice to have a reporting party stay on the phone and answer necessary questions that are pertinent to the responders arriving to the school or nearby location. 

When to Call:

When it is in discussion that emergency services will respond to the school, whether inside the school or on school grounds, that is the time a 9-1-1 call should be made. We have had hundreds of trainings where public safety personnel reaffirm they prefer to respond to a false alarm than not be called at all.

Important Points to Remember:

Again: location, location, location. Depending on jurisdiction, meeting policies, and procedures specific to protocols, getting the location will be first and foremost and then the dispatcher will need to know the exact location. While each jurisdiction may ask in a different order, I believe it is necessary for the responders to know exactly where the incident is occurring. Along with the location and exact location is the caller information.  Name, phone number and reporting party location if different from exact location. Then the chief complaint or exactly what is occurring. 

911 Call Example:

School to Communications Center

Communications Center – 9-1-1 What is the location of Your Emergency?

School Response – Lincoln High school

CC – What is the address of the high school

CC Note: Even though the Comm Center may have the address, it’s good for the reporting party to verbally provide the address. The dispatcher may ask the caller to verify the address to confirm that what they have is correct.

School Response – 1234 Main St.

CC Note: You don’t have to provide City and State, however if the Comm Center dispatches for multiple City and County jurisdictions, the Comm Center may ask for the City or County. The Comm Center will dispatch resources once they have a verified location in their CAD system.

CC – Tell me exactly what happened?  

School Response – We have a student who has been hit by a car in the main parking lot.

Comm Center Note: Dispatch will update responders with exactly what is happening.

CC – The Comm Center then asks questions: how it happened, description of vehicle, and an update on student who was hit.  

CC Note: Take a deep breath and remember to speak calmly and clearly.

Additional Notes:

They may EMD the call if necessary. If the caller is in a safe location and can stay on the phone, the dispatcher will continue to get pertinent information and update responders until on scene. The school should try to have someone who can meet the responders to direct them where to go. If the SchoolSAFE connection is activate, this allows responders to talk directly with the school’s Incident Commander via radio, saving time and clarity. 

The Incident Commander is a chosen person who communicates with responders over the connection. This keeps multiple people trying to provide information to the responders. This may cause confusion and can tie up the radio with unnecessary chatter. Remember, the 911 call comes first, then the dispatcher determines whether or not to connect the responders to the Incident Commander.

The school safety team can help get more information to the Incident Commander, improving the communication flow. While the Incident Commander is talking to the responders on the radio, the 911 call can still be active. Or, the dispatcher may determine the situation is in good hands and hang up. The initial 911 call requiring outside resources, with good information about the incident, will have an effective and efficient communications dialog with an outcome that is suitable for all involved.

Want more information? Contact Us

*Cindi Dieck is a Public Safety Liaison with SchoolSAFE after spending 25 years with Public Safety. The last 10 years of her career was spent as a Communications Manager as well as an Adjunct Instructor in Colorado teaching Emergency Dispatch. She has been married to an LEO (Law Enforcement Officer) for 22 years and they have 5 cool dogs*