BUCKHANNON — Upshur County Schools will soon be able to better ensure school safety by utilizing their COPS grant funding towards upgrading the county’s school notification system. Early Thursday morning, the County Commission met with Quinten Oldaker, Technology System Specialist for Upshur Schools, in order to iron out the last details and approved a revised agreement. The commission unanimously approved the revised agreement, allowing Alpha Technologies to go forward with the proposed upgrades.
Oldaker reminded Commissioners that they received two bids for this project and the committee selected Alpha Technologies. He noted they were able to provide them several package deals; however, they selected the base package due to budget and worked with Alpha Technologies for an even more revised version to decrease the cost of the project.
The upgrades will reportedly come in the form of the installation of an early warning capability phone system aimed at increasing safety for students and staff by allowing better communication between the school and first responders, allowing for quicker responses in emergency situations. The phone would patch into the school’s PA system and notify the Board of Education for an added layer of awareness, and eventually notify 911.
The scope of the work necessary for the project based on the agreement between Alpha Technologies, Upshur County Commissioners, and the Upshur Co. Board of Education is as follows: Standardize 10 voice-over-Internet Protocol (VOIP) telephone systems in school and support facilities; Ensure interoperability with existing systems at the Upshur County BOE office and the Fred W. Eberle Technical Center; Provide telephones with intercom systems for each system (up to an estimated total of 500 phones); Telephone units should be available in every classroom, office, and commons area (e.g., gymnasium, cafeterias, kitchens, auditoriums, etc.); Notes on Desired Intercom Capabilities; The intent is to enable an emergency notification from any telephone unit that broadcasts to all other telephones on the school’s system; Ideally, the intercom capability will be initiated by a single button push (as opposed to a lengthy dialing protocol); Preference will be given to systems that can interface with multiple media (text messaging, existing public address [PA] systems, alerts on computers/devices, etc.) from the VOIP telephone handset and/or triggering capabilities from computer/web-based dashboards external to the telephones; Preference will be given to those proposals that result in minimal operational disruption; Update and provide servers to house the VOIP systems; Provide session board controllers and IP analog telephone adapters, as necessary, to support the system at the schools. Larger session board controllers may be necessary at the county’s three largest schools; Support the district in arranging for licensing of the systems; and provide training for district technology staff and building administration upon installation of the systems.
The $146,230 grant awarded to Upshur County by the United States Department of Justice through the Office of COPS’ School Violence Prevention Program (SVPP) are part of a national grant program totaling almost $50 million to school districts and law enforcement agencies across the country aimed towards preventing school violence. Grants such as the one funding these changes were made possible after the Students, Teachers, and Officers Preventing School Violence Act of 2018 (STOP School Violence Act of 2018) gave the COPS Office authority to provide awards directly to states, units of local government, Indian tribes, and public agencies (such as school districts and law enforcement agencies) to improve security at schools and on school grounds in the jurisdiction of the grantee through evidence-based school safety programs.
The grant was obtained following a collaboration between Congressman Alex Mooney, previous Director of School Safety and Emergency Preparedness, Dr. Jeffery Harvey and Director of Attendance and Transportation, Jodie Akers, in addition to the Upshur County Commissioners and the Upshur County Sheriff’s Department. Through this collaboration, they submitted an application to the COPS Office with the overall goal of improving Upshur Schools’ security and communications with first responders in mind. Their vision for a better, safer Upshur County school system is one step closer to fruition with this agreement being approved.
These upgrades will gradually modernize phone systems of most Upshur County school system facilities including: Fred Eberle Technical Center, the Upshur County Board of Education, and the bus garage, while allowing them to access emergency notification functionality. The BOE will be responsible for any additional expenses not covered by the funding forwarded to the county by the grant.
Commissioners were curious on a timeframe; however, Oldaker explained that it is uncertain when the hardware will be delivered, noting it could be a few weeks or a few months. They are hoping to have the supplies in hand and to get the ball rolling by January. Alpha Technologies is confident the project will be completed before August 2022, according to Oldaker.