Connecting the District
Illinois schools set protocols for emergency situations
- By Kreg Wesley
- Jul 01, 2015
Sycamore School District in Illinois is comprised
of seven schools ranging from elementary
to secondary schools. The surrounding
community is relatively small with a population
of about 18,000 residents and children from
nearby rural communities who also attend Sycamore
Schools. At Sycamore, safety has been an
important part of the schools' operations.
The local police department worked together with the district to set
protocols for emergency situations that are comparable to other
schools across the country. There are campus police officers dedicated
to the schools, and there are specific lockdown procedures for an
intrusion or child abduction type of emergency. Prior to 2014, Sycamore
School District’s system relied heavily on people to provide the
notification piece in the event of an emergency. If an intruder entered
the premises, lockdown procedures included the principal notifying
the entire school of the lockdown via PA.
Who is Responsible?
Another dedicated staff member, usually the principal’s secretary, was
then responsible for calling the police. With the plan in place, lockdown
drills were performed by the school district in collaboration with
local police about twice per year (abiding by Illinois state law which
requires a drill of at least once a year).
In 2014, the district set forth a plan to implement an automated
security system as a way to enhance safety throughout the school district.
While they already had an organized system in place, they were
looking for a more reliable method to ensure widespread notification
of a lockdown within the school and decided to explore some type of
automation that would make sure police get notified without a person
having to make the call themselves.
The goals were to alleviate some of the pressure placed on the principal,
secretary and other individuals in an intense situation; reduce the
chance for human error or delays in requesting police response; and
empower the first person that sees danger to alert everyone else in the
building as well as police. The district looked at a variety of security
options and found that BluePoint Alert Solutions offered a Rapid Emergency
Response System (RERS) that would meet the needs they were
most concerned about, which were automation and immediate notification
to those within the building (or just outside of it); immediate notification
to the police; and compatibility with the existing infrastructure.
To pay for the system, the school used a combination of matching
grants that it had applied for, along with its own contribution.
After looking at options for improving the notification piece during
a potential police emergency, it became evident that BluePoint Alert
Systems would fit the district's needs. The system is automated, it helps
accelerate response times, and it worked with existing infrastructure,
which helped keep costs reasonable.”
With seven schools in the district, it may not have been possible to
purchase a safety solution had it not been able to integrate with the
existing PA system. Prior to purchasing it, Sycamore Schools also discussed
BluePoint with the local police department, and they agreed
that it was going to be the most ideal for meeting the school district’s
“The BluePoint system was absolutely necessary for a solid school
safety plan within our local school district,” said Glenn Theriault,
chief of police at Sycamore Police Department. “It is designed for
urgent reaction to a problem and no matter where it occurs; the entire
building is notified to take action immediately to help keep building
The BluePoint systems are comprised of pull stations, interior strobes,
exterior strobes and mobile devices for each of the seven schools.
The table shows the breakdown of devices including:
How it Works
The pull stations look exactly alike and are as
intuitive to use as fire pull stations, except
they are blue. At Sycamore, if there was an
intruder and someone activated the alarm,
the system would issue three beeps to indicate
that the system was activated. Next, a recorded
voice would deliver a message throughout
the school across the PA system. The blue
strobe lights flash to make it clear to anyone
who is not near the PA or who is outside the
school that it is in lockdown mode. Sycamore
previously had the principal as the designated
person to make the live announcement so
that the students would hear a familiar voice.
Depending on the situation and the location
of the principal, this message may have
been delayed while they got to the PA system
and calmed down enough to speak clearly.
With BluePoint, they were able to record the
principal’s voice for the new system as well to
avoid the stress and delays that could occur in
an emergency situation. The recorded message
plays repeatedly letting everyone know
that the school is in lockdown and that help is
on the way.
While notification of a lockdown is going
on inside the school, the system is contacting
police through its dispatch system. Theriault
said police are able to determine which exact
pull station was activated allowing them to
enter the door closest to that point for faster
response. The system fully covers the inside
and outside of the school between the pull
stations, mobile devices and strobe lights. If
the system is activated, it will be clear to anyone
on campus that there is a serious event
taking place, including anyone outside the
school—whether it is visitors or P.E. classes.
The staff members who carry the mobile pendants
are typically P.E. teachers, head custodians
and other mobile staff.
The pull stations are smart devices, so no one
has to worry about battery life. Thanks to the
self-monitoring nature of the pull stations, data
is reported back to the central monitoring station
so the district doesn't have to do much on
their end to maintain the system. It was also
convenient and cost-effective that there was no
need to hard-wire hundreds of pull stations,
and that expedited the installation process.
BluePoint was instrumental in helping make
sure the installation and set-up ran smoothly.
Because the systems were wireless and installation
was not highly invasive, like a hard-wired
system, they did not have to wait until summer
break to install it.
Training and False Alarms
The BluePoint system has been running at the
first site of installation (the high school) since
spring 2014, and the district continues to run
drills two times a year. The drills have gone
smoothly since installation.
One of the great features of BluePoint is that
aside from teaching the staff when to activate
the pull stations and mobile pendants—there
were no changes to their security plan. They
still go into lockdown—the process is almost
exactly the same. The district has been able to
save a lot of time and headaches not having to
retrain people under a new system.
False alarms are always a concern, especially
when anyone can activate a pull station.
However, after one year and installations in
seven schools there have only been two false
alarms. One was an unintentional activation
and the other was done on purpose by a student.
The Sycamore School District worked
with the police after each incident and used
them as a learning opportunity to improve
operations of their protocol.
“We have fire alarms in every school across
the country, but I don’t know why we don’t
have police alarms at every school. This technology
can really fulfill this need at schools
nationwide,” Theriault said. For Sycamore
Schools, who have fortunately not had to use
the system, the investment on the front end
was worth it because it addressed the major
concerns which were automation, immediate
notification and integration with the existing
PA system. In general, staff and students have
indicated feeling more assured about the safety
of Sycamore schools.
“We needed a system that will save lives in
an emergency by allowing those in the impacted
area to easily respond
and get the necessary help
needed in a fast manner,”
This article originally appeared in the July 2015 issue of Security Today.
Kreg Wesley is director of operations at Sycamore School District, Illinois.