Wireless solution contacts first responders from anywhere on campus
- By Patrick V. Fiel Sr.
- Jan 01, 2015
A fifth grade teacher on playground
duty spots an armed
male climbing a fence onto the
school campus. Another teacher
watches a student fall
down stairs breaking bones
and opening a large gash in
his head. A staff member has
stayed late and is sexually
assaulted as she heads to her
car in the parking lot.
These are only a few examples of situations
of which K-12 school administrators, teachers
and staff need a rapid connection to first
responders. They need that capability from
virtually any part of a campus. When an
emergency strikes, seconds count.
Telephones and intercoms are effective
tools for seeking assistance. But, they are generally
available only in classrooms and offices.
Traditional panic buttons can be effective, but
require a wired connection to an access control
or intrusion system limiting where they
However, there is now a solution that can
put the power of a panic button into the
hands of virtually all school employees no
matter where on campus they are located
when an emergency strikes.
System Pendants Go
Where Teachers Go
Like a bank alarm, the buttons—in the form
of a wearable pendant—are silent, yet they
offer the advantage of portability. They go
where teachers, staff, administrators and
school resource officers go: to classrooms, cafeteria,
library, parking lot, playground, athletic
field and other remote facilities.
The Tattletale Alarm System is the world’s
first patented, portable and cellular-based
wireless panic button system designed specifically
to protect schools. A base unit resides in a
centrally located office while teachers, administrators
and school resource officers wear or
carry only a small pendant. By simultaneously
pressing two buttons, school personnel silently
contacts the local 911 dispatch center with an
emergency signal. The cellular technology
means there is no need for cables or expensive
landlines to connect with first responders.
Schools may choose to have the pendant
signals directly contact first responders or
have the signals routed through a national
monitoring center, where trained professionals
pass along the call for help while attempting
to learn more details about the emergency.
The center can also send notifications via
SMS text messages and/or emails to anyone
designated by school officials.
A View from Two Schools
St. Albert the Great is a private, Catholic prekindergarten
through Grade 8 school and is
located about 20 miles south of Cleveland in
North Royalton, Ohio. The school installed a
Tattletale system in December 2013, according
to Principal Edward Vittardi to provide
“peace of mind” to teachers and parents.
“It’s difficult to prepare for all emergencies
that can occur on a school campus,” Vittardi
said. “But we wanted to provide our staff and
parents as much comfort as possible by knowing
that we can contact emergency responders
The school has a system with about 60 pendants—
enough for all administrators, teachers
and classified staff to carry one. The system
also extends to the pastor and his office
staff in the nearby rectory.
Fortunately, the school hasn’t had an emergency
situation requiring the system’s use.
But, Vittardi said each pendant was tested to
ensure it communicated as intended. Those
tests were conducted in association with the
local police department and the campus’
school resource officer. In addition to notifying
the police, each pendant alerted Vittardi
of the “emergency” via a text message on his
He said that while teachers and staff are
pleased with the system, it seems to be even
more popular with parents of the more than
800 students on campus.
“We believe our dedication to the security
of our students is one of the biggest reasons
we had an increase in enrollment this school
year,” Vittardi said. “I don’t think our panic
button system was the only reason for that
increase, but I do believe it played a role.”
The St. Albert campus security plan also
includes surveillance cameras, card key door
locks and a main entry that funnels visitors
into the office without allowing them to directly
access student areas. Vittardi said an ongoing
school security committee comprised of
administrators, teachers and parents constantly
review solutions, such as the panic button
system, that add cost-effective security layers
to the campus.
A public charter school located in the southeastern
United States is another adopter of the
system. Due to security concerns, school officials asked that the K-8 campus name and specific location not be named.
A committee that included school and city officials, along with a
representative of the local police department, selected the Tattletale
solution. Two base stations were installed last summer to be ready for
the new school year in the fall. Nearly 100 administrators, teachers,
assistants, staff members and the campus’ school resource officer
received a pendant.
One of the first decisions involving the system was setting a protocol
for its use. Pendant signals provide police with the name of the
school, the user’s name and work location. The police department
asked that the system only be used in case of an active shooter on
campus to avoid a massive response to a lesser emergency. That
required training to ensure that school employees understood how to
properly use the pendants.
Like the Ohio school, this campus has not yet had an active emergency.
But the school’s SRO said that testing before the fall session
began showed that police were consistently notified within 25 seconds
of a pendant being pushed from any location on campus. All pendant
signals are set to immediately notify the police, with the national monitoring
center notifying school administrators and the SRO.
School administrators require all employees to carry/wear the pendant
at all times while on campus. According to the SRO, teachers and
staff were initially concerned about accidentally pushing the buttons
and causing false alarms. But the system requires both buttons to be
pushed simultaneously, greatly reducing the possibility of error. After
carrying the pendants for several months without major indecent, the
staff has relaxed and come to appreciate the system as a valuable security
layer, said the SRO.
He said the panic button system was a good complement to the
school’s surveillance cameras, window security film and classroom
doors that lock from the inside.
The Tattletale plug-and-play base station comes with a military-grade
900 MHz spread spectrum transmitter to provide up to 2,000 feet of
wireless coverage. Emergency data packets are transmitted to the nearest
cellular towers in just over half a second. A 10-hour battery backup, a standard part of the package, keeps the system operating during a
The wireless and water-resistant pendants are similar to a car key
fob. Each base station can accommodate up to 64 pendants, enough to
cover most schools. Wireless signal boosters are also available to
extend cellular coverage on larger campuses or those with architectural
designs such as thick rock walls.
Before installing a panic button system, each school should work
closely with local first responders to determine what constitutes an
emergency. That may change from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Then it’s
important to work with school staff to make sure they understand how
and when to use the system.
It’s also wise to conduct monthly drills to make sure make sure system
components, such as pendant batteries, are functioning. These
tests also allow new employees to be trained. But remember to notify
first responders before beginning any tests.
Legislation requiring schools to employ an emergency notification
system, such as panic buttons, is being considered in several states.
During their 2013 session, North Carolina legislators mandated that
every public school have a panic alarm system installed by July 2015.
The law also came with a fund that districts could apply to help pay for
The Ohio School Facilities Commission recently opened a second
round of grants for each of the state’s public and private school to
receive funding for an emergency notification system, including a
panic button solution.
Part of an Affordable Campus Security Solution
The horrible massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary seemed to finally
awaken many school administrators to the critical need for tighter
campus security. While the initial strong response has cooled with
time, the events of December 2012 that left 26 people dead are still
resonating throughout the K-12 community. And the shootings still
continue—45 at K-12 schools since Sandy Hook (another 40+ on college
The latest response has seemed smarter and more focused that previous
security spending sprees. Administrators are listening to experts
that have shown that it’s possible to secure a campus without breaking
Added layers of security that focus on entry points are making it
more difficult for active shooters, as well as common criminals, sex
offenders and other unwanted visitors to gain access to students.
Schools of all types are hardening the entries through the use of
video intercoms, visitor management systems and—importantly—
keeping doors locked anytime children are on campus. These are all
affordable solutions that work.
And now a wireless panic button solution can fill in another missing
piece of a robust, overall campus security plan. A panic button
system with wireless pendants is more flexible and affordable than
standard access control-linked systems or radios that connect to first
responders. A single radio is about the same cost as a basic Tattletale
system. The cost of each additional radio would provide a dozen or
more pendants for each school while providing
Portable panic buttons are an affordable solution
that stretches beyond the front door to bring added
security to an entire campus.
This article originally appeared in the January 2015 issue of Security Today.