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A Direct Emergency Response

Community college district streamlines security solutions

The Chabot-Las Positas Community College District serves a large part of the San Francisco East Bay Area. The district operates two colleges: Chabot College in Hayward and Las Positas College in Livermore. The district serves nearly 25,000 students and employs approximately 2,000 staff. In order to accommodate the growing number of staff and students, both Chabot and Las Positas colleges have made additions to their infrastructure in recent years.

With these new expansion projects came the challenging task of upgrading the colleges’ emergency communication and response systems. After the tragic events at Virginia Tech in 2007, it has been the priority of many educational institutions to provide multiple means of communication for their students, especially in new structural additions to a campus.

Chabot and Las Positas operate separately from each other. They each have their own administrators, staff and public safety representatives and officers. Both colleges were looking to update and expand their current public safety communication solutions, and both came to a decision to install Talk-A-Phone’s emergency phones, mass notification towers and software throughout each campus.

Chabot wanted to install a product that would function as a communication tool for both its students and police officers. The college’s 94 acres of land are in the center of the Hayward suburban community, and heavy pedestrian traffic navigates through and around the campus daily.

“The main objective of the college was to improve communications in and around campus,” said Nathan Moore, the emergency preparedness wanted a system that would allow us to broadcast messages from our call center and also broadcast messages spoken directly through the units with a microphone in the back.”

Raising Awareness

Chabot has installed emergency phones throughout the campus parking lots and recreational areas with heavy student traffic. The installation included blue-light towers as well as smaller pedestal mounts equipped with Talk-A-Phone’s WEBS mass notification speakers. Not only do these units allow students to instantly connect with Chabot’s security in case of an emergency, they allow the security team to reach out to the entire campus community using the WEBS Contact mass notification platform.

Taking into consideration the long history of earthquakes and wildfires in California, it is vital for Moore and the rest of the Chabot security forces to have reliable communication tools during an emergency.

“We wanted a system that could help us better organize our response and communication with the community,” Moore said. “These units have done just that. These units let the community know what’s going on during a drill or actual emergency. We wanted to create a safe environment.”

All units, which were painted bright red with an all-LED blue light on the top, can be seen throughout the entire campus and are easily identifiable. According to Moore, the blue-light towers have a strong presence on campus.

“At night, the strobe lights have actually helped us locate people during emergencies,” he said.

Key Features

One of the key features of the blue-light emergency towers is that they allow easy integration of audio broadcasting, emergency communication and video surveillance. The system is extremely flexible and allows security authorities to broadcast intelligent live and pre-recorded messages through individual units or multiple zones. During the planning phase, it became apparent that the emergency phone towers would allow Chabot security to use mass notification, individual response and video surveillance capabilities in one cohesive tool.

One of the most vocal supporters of the towers is Leilani Guerrero, a Chabot College medical assistant and teacher. Guerrero has worked at the college since 2006 and has watched the number of emergency phones grow throughout the years.

“I’ve seen them in action,” Guerrero said. “Sometimes students will hit them if they have an emergency, a problem with parking or something else. The college has done campus-wide emergency drills with these units for fire and earthquakes. They recently did a drill a few weeks ago. These units are in full force, and they’re located all over campus. They’re quite loud, and they really work. Everyone is so happy they’re here.”

Recently, Las Positas College received funding from a large bond measure to expand its infrastructure and improve facilities in and around the campus. With these funds, Sean Prather, Las Positas College’s head of campus safety, was given the opportunity to upgrade the college’s dated and impractical emergency communication network. He, too, selected to install Talk-A-Phone equipment throughout the campus.

Las Positas’ older emergency call boxes and towers were hard to locate and didn’t offer mass notification capabilities. Prather chose to upgrade the campus with new units because they were easily identifiable and offered several different delivery options for mass notification.

The new emergency wall mounts and towers are able to cover all areas of the 147-acre, 8,800-student campus. This coverage was achieved by placing an emergency wall mount or tower every 200 feet. When arriving at Las Positas, it is easy to see the security ring that these units provide. Students and the surrounding community know that the sight of a blue-light emergency phone means the boundary or enforcement of the Las Positas campus safety and security team.

“We wanted them within eyesight, about every 200 feet,” Prather said. “We wanted them spread all over the parking lots where people tend to be a little more isolated, as opposed to being in the interior of the campus.”

Prather added that the new units have been reliable and easy to learn and operate for both students and officers.

“We’ve had the Talk-A-Phones for about three years,” he said. “We used to get false alarms with our older products, but with the Talk-A-Phones we’ve never experienced any problems. They’re really easy for the officers to use, and they’re easily identifiable to the students.”

Always in Service

Once an emergency wall mount or a tower is activated, it is critical that both the individual who activated the phone and the campus security have clear and undisrupted communication with each other. The problem with the older emergency communication units was that the individual who was placing a call would have to press and hold a button to talk. This limitation posed a risk because in most emergencies, it’s not realistic for someone to continue to press a button every time he or she needs to communicate. The installation of new units fixed this problem; an individual has only to press the emergency button once to have continuous communication.

Additionally, Prather has been able to integrate all emergency communication units with the college’s camera and access control systems.

“When a unit is activated, a signal is sent to every officer’s radio,” Prather said. “The nearest officer can then respond to the activation. This allows us to drastically reduce our response time.”

The new emergency phones also fit existing mounts on campus, which are being phased out. This capability has allowed Prather and the college to save money by maintaining old and outdated units through integration with new parts and units.

The new emergency phone towers installed at Las Positas offer multiple means of mass notification. Each tower can deliver mass notification through speakers, allowing security officers to alert individual locations or the entire campus. A microphone is included in the back of each tower, allowing an officer to make on-the-fly messages through the tower loudspeaker.

“I really enjoy being able to use the microphone and using it for mass notification,” Prather said. “For example, there’s a soccer field not too far from this location. If I needed to evacuate the soccer field, I could go to a nearby tower and use the microphone in the back of the unit. This gives us another mass notification delivery option.”

The emergency communication and mass notification equipment has been a great success for the Cabot-Las Positas Community College District. With the need to connect with more students every year, the district has made it clear that communication and emergency preparedness are essential tools in the district’s growth.

“I’ve heard nothing but good feedback from the campus community,” Prather said. “I think they’ve been a huge benefit to our campus.”

This article originally appeared in the Security Products Magazine - July 2012 issue of Security Today.

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