Tech upgrade enhances emergency preparedness

By LEANN BURKE
lburke@dcherald.com

LAMAR — Crisis management at the North Spencer County School Corporation is getting a tech upgrade.

The school corporation launched CrisisGo, an emergency management app, in all five of its buildings this year after piloting the software at Lincoln Trail and Nancy Hanks elementaries. The software allows the schools to digitize all their safety plans, making them available through the app on cellphones, tablets and Chromebooks, as well as through the website. The service has made emergency preparedness much easier, according to Lincoln Trail Principal Ben Lawalin.

Lawalin, who is also a member of the corporation’s safety team, found out about the app through a marketing email CrisisGo sent him three years ago. He researched the service, then volunteered to pilot it in his school.

“The sell was it would take your school safety plans that are all on paper and digitize them,” Lawalin said.

Before CrisisGo, teachers had to carry a bag full of safety plans with them during drills or emergencies, running back to their classrooms to get them if something happened while they were elsewhere. Now, all those materials are on the app, with checklists to help staff members make sure they’ve done everything they need to in an emergency.

There are also class rosters that sync with the school’s system every night, ensuring that they’re always up to date. Lawalin said that’s been especially helpful for specials teachers, such as music and art teachers, who have all the classes at some point during the week. Now, if an emergency or drill happens during a special class, the teacher can pull up the class roster and have the current list. The rosters also allow teachers to account for students within the app, which communicates that automatically with others in the building’s network. For example, after a recent fire drill, the app generated a real-time report that showed Lawalin all the students were accounted for, either by being marked present or absent.

“It is a lot easier for people,” Lawalin said.

School personnel and emergency responders can communicate within the app, as well. The app will alert emergency personnel when a school goes into a drill or a real emergency, and provides maps and floor plans for each corporation building that emergency responders can use. Lawalin has seen that feature in action. Earlier this year when Lincoln Trail did a lockdown drill, a local state trooper got the alert from CrisisGo on his phone and called Lawalin to ask if he could come observe the drill.

The app also lets schools upload specific emergency contacts for local law enforcement, hospitals and other staff. That’s been a key feature for Lawalin, because now his staff won’t have to search through a phone book or Google if they need to make a call in an emergency. It’ll be readily accessible in the app.

“We know from a safety standpoint that if you’re in an emergency, you don’t think logically,” he said.

Lincoln Trail is three years into using the app, and Lawalin said his staff likes it. After the first year, he gave his teachers the option of either continuing to use the app or going back to the emergency bags. They’ve all chosen to use the app.

Two years ago, Nancy Hanks Elementary started using CrisisGo as well. Now, Nancy Hanks and Lincoln Trail are using every feature CrisisGo offers, having just added the roster feature this year. Chrisney Elementary and David Turnham Education Center are starting to use the app this year. Heritage Hills High School and Heritage Hills Middle School are taking the year to hold professional development about the app before launching it.

Lawalin said the four elementary schools also still spend time teaching their staff how to use CrisisGo and letting them practice.

“The more familiar they are now, the more likely they are to use it effectively in an emergency,” he said.

Although the school is happy with the app, there were some concerns at first. Since the app uses the internet, there were concerns about its use in dead zones within a district, particularly at the high school. However, the app can use either cellular data or Wi-Fi connection. Since all North Spencer schools have Wi-Fi, dead zones haven’t been an issue. Staff also worried about how much data usage the app would take up, since they use their personal devices to run it, but they’ve found that it takes up very little.

As far as price, Lawalin said most of the features are free for the school to use. They do have to pay about $2 per student per year to use the roster feature, but Lawalin said he thinks it’s well worth it. He added that the app has streamlined the emergency preparation process, allowed for clearer communication and will allow school staff to respond more quickly and effectively in the event of an emergency.

“The thing with school safety is you could spend all of your time talking about it, but you don’t want to do that because school is supposed to be about learning,” Lawalin said. “The hard thing as an administrator is finding that balance.”

So far, CrisisGo has helped attain the balance.




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