Making Security Inclusive
School for deaf, blind students counter security challenges by integrating disparate technologies
- By Jerry Geis
- August 01, 2019
Imagine a crisis hits right where you
are: a natural disaster, active shooting,
gas leak or other emergency that puts
you at risk for harm. You notice the
commotion around you, but can’t figure
out what is going on, or what to do. It’s a
scenario blind, deaf and hard-of-hearing
audiences know well—segments that are
particularly vulnerable and underserved
How do you deliver time-sensitive
instructions to audiences who may not see,
hear or understand routine communication
formats? What’s more, how do you do so
instantly when people under your care have
just moments to react?
Leaders at the Colorado School for the
Deaf and the Blind (CSDB) and their counterparts
at the American School for the Deaf
(ASD) have found uncommon ways to tackle
this predicament, leveraging tools they
Kevyn Brown, recently retired from his role
as facilities manager at CSDB, remembers
the impact of the Columbine High School
shooting, just one hour’s drive from CSDB’s
campus in Colorado Springs.
“We realized we had to find a better way to
communicate with deaf and blind students,
instantly and simultaneously,” Brown said.
“Some schools were using a buddy system, so
if you were deaf, you buddied up with a teacher
next to you. We were never comfortable
Other schools used lighted tower stacks,
with red lights signaling an emergency.
“We felt that was crazy,” Brown said. “There
shouldn’t be codes, secrets or things that students
and staff have to memorize.”
Brown recalls one school that employed
the phrase: “Mr. Johnson is in the hallway,”
as code for an emergency. Brown asked
their security team what would happen if an
actual Mr. Johnson showed up one day and
stood in the hallway. They hadn’t considered
CSDB had an added challenge of being a
combined campus, serving both deaf and
blind students. In Brown’s eyes, an adequate
solution would enable CSDB to reach all
audiences at a moment’s notice, with information
that was instantly comprehensible, even to a first-time visitor on campus.
Miles away, Jeff Bravin pondered similar challenges at the American
School for the Deaf in West Hartford, Connecticut. As executive director
for ASD, Bravin wanted to enhance student safety and communications
beyond the typical alarms and flashing lights throughout campus.
“We wanted something more visual and accessible for our students,”
For both CSDB and ASD, the solution required layering messaging
in multiple formats and vehicles, so no student, staff or visitor fell
through the cracks.
Integrating and Centralizing Disparate Systems
To make that possible, the schools partnered with Layered Solutions
to integrate, centralize and automate their existing security and communications
tools. That integration enabled the schools to manage
disparate technologies like LCD panels, LED signs, PCs, phones, fire
alarms, public address systems and more from a central dashboard,
and deploy messaging in multiple formats from a tap on their smartphone,
desktop or other device, like wireless panic buttons.
Both schools started small, with simpler integrations, and gradually
added more capabilities over time. First up was adding visual
components to audible alerts and vice versa.
“Every classroom at ASD has an IP clock that offers captioning,”
Bravin said. “So any time we need to communicate an emergency,
there’s captioning that happens there.”
Additionally, someone will come on a TV screen with instructions
in sign language, and the phone access system will notify students
with auditory needs (hearing aids, cochlear implants) that something
requires their immediate attention.
CSDB, which began integrating systems with Layered Solutions
two decades ago, has grown its integrations considerably during that
time, expanding automations from the main school building to residence
halls, parking lots and gates. One iteration, says Brown,
involved using a wireless button system in classrooms and dorms to
request support at different levels.
“Level one was a request for help to a direct supervisor or designated
backup,” Brown said. “Level four is what we called an on-campus
911 call that went out to about 30 people. It meant something
significant was happening, and we’d flood support to that room.”
Eventually, Brown’s team also implemented mechanisms to discern
whether an emergency was behavioral or medical.
“We had that ability throughout the whole campus: in classrooms,
conference rooms, dormitories, both on the deaf and blind sides of
our campus,” Brown said.
Over time, Brown’s team found more uses for the button system,
like managing lockdowns across multiple locations.
“We integrated it with our card system so doors would lock,”
Brown said. “We also integrated it with our gates system so they’d
lock too. We’d have LED banners running, text messages going to all
staff, voice messages going to recipients who requested them. All of
that by pressing one button.”
Before Brown’s retirement in December 2018, his team added red
and green lights by entrances so someone driving to CSDB could
spot, at a glance, whether it was safe to enter the campus. Additionally,
gates were programmed to issue alerts to security staff if left ajar,
or if a malfunction was detected.
Applying Emergency Integrations to Routine Operations
Enhanced mass notification integrations aren’t just beneficial in
emergencies. For ASD, the ability to deploy routine messages or
images to TVs across campus is a huge plus, says Bravin. Brown
also used those capabilities for classroom bell changes, and to facilitate
daily tasks like letting preschool staff know someone was at
Daily uses also meant students got used to seeing and hearing the
mass notifications functions.
“They grew familiar with that kind of communication, as opposed
to all of a sudden the LCD TV showing a real-time clock did something
weird in an emergency,” Brown said.
Automations invariably translate to faster turnaround and lighter
staff load, according to Bravin. To that end, Layered Solutions works
with school leaders to map out possible scenarios and responses, then
pre-program messages for instant dissemination when staff has only
moments to spare. The built-in automations also expedite creating
Grow as You Go
Like ASD and CSDB, most organizations using Layered Solutions’
system or pursuing their own brand of integrations begin by tackling
simple interfaces, then add capabilities as their needs evolve and
resources become available. That gradual build helps organizations
achieve a lot with relatively little effort or funds, says Rick Wagner,
vice president of sales for Layered Solutions. After all, enabling existing
tools to play well with each other is a much more palatable investment
than buying all new devices and revamping entire systems—
particularly when money is tight.
Some new additions happen naturally as Layered Solutions adds
no-cost upgrades to its software, like the Missing Person function.
“If there’s a missing child or person we need to locate, we just drag
a photo of that person into a folder on our desktop and it pops up on all screens that have PC Alert installed, which is every computer on
campus,” Bravin said.
Self-reliance as a Security Advantage
Reminiscing on his years at CSDB, one conversation sticks out in
Brown’s memory. He’d been answering student questions about campus
security when a student shared his experience in a public school,
prior to enrolling in CSDB. In the absence of layered communications,
that student had to rely on others to relay information to him,
which he found incredibly frustrating.
“He was so grateful to no longer have to depend on others for
critical information,” Brown said.
Keeping multiple audiences safe hinges largely on the level of
access and speed of information.
“The big deal for me was that within minutes everyone knew what
was going on, and no one was running around trying to communicate,”
Brown said. “I’d tell any school thinking about integrating and
layering their security and communications systems, it’s a wonderful
solution. Find someone who has a passion for security and technology,
and have them be their implementor.”
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2019 issue of Campus Security & Life Safety.