Shawnee Mission district acts to rectify its emergency alert deficiency

A little more than a month after the Shawnee Mission School District found that it was unable to communicate quickly with parents across the district in an emergency situation, the district approved a new messaging system to rectify the situation.

SMSD-logoIn early September, Overland Park police relayed a rather vague threat to the school district. The district locked down all of its schools and sent out e-mail alerts. Hours later the alerts were still arriving in parent inboxes across the district.

That night Superintendent Jim Hinson reported to the school board that the district had overloaded its e-mail system and that the district does not have a comprehensive phone system that can notify the families of all 27,500 students in a short period of time. “We are going to work on that,” Hinson told the board in September.

Monday night he brought a solution to the board and reiterated that the district has not had the capability of pushing out information in five minutes or less. District parents have said this is important to them, Hinson said.

The board approved the purchase of a new system from School Messenger that accomplishes the task. The company’s Josh Heizman said it can call all 27,500 homes in 10 to 15 minutes and send e-mails and texts much faster. It also can notify through social media, has a parent portal to select notification preferences and can be developed into a custom mobile app for the district.

Besides the emergency notifications, hosted externally, the system also allows teachers to send messages by class or can target messages by grade, bus assignment and other options. It can send messages to specific desktops – in a lockdown situation for instance – and can quickly send pre-crafted messages.

Heizman said the company’s clients include Blue Valley and other area school districts as well as the U.S.Navy and other military services. The approximate $57,000 cost will be offset some by savings from the old system and corporate support.