Fire company helps school with low-cost security solution

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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

ESSEX, Conn.—After the shootings last year at a school in Newtown, another Connecticut school district wanted to increase security but had only a limited budget. What to do?

The answer was provided by Early Warning Safety Systems, a Silent Knight Farenhyt dealer based here. The company was able to meet the needs of the Stonington school district with a unique low-cost solution that connected the existing fire alarm system to the building intercom and police radio.

“The question was how to build a reliable system with limited funds that would protect the kids in the event of a security emergency such as [the one in Newtown],” said Jack Lima, president of Early Warning Safety Systems. The company this summer completed the installation at the West Vine Street School.

After 26 elementary school students and staff were massacred in Newtown last December, the Stonington school district formed a committee to look at how to enhance school safety with limited funds. The committee included school board members, facilities management, police and fire personnel and security/life safety vendors like Lima.

He praised the district for including security professionals on the committee. “They’re coming to us for hardware solutions and we’re really equipped to offer that solution and tell them what’s available out there to satisfy their needs,” Lima said.

He said the Vine Street school already had a Silent Knight IFP-100 fire system, which Early Warning Safety Systems had installed 10 years ago.

Lima said the system had “provided trouble-free service all that time” so the recommendation was that “we build the [new] system around that system.” The total cost was about $15,000, he said.

“We pitched that to the town and they decided to go with our recommendation,” Lima said. The solution included the installation of emergency switches labeled “Code Red” in each of the classrooms and main office, he said. Addressable modules were added to each station “for point identification on the fire panel’s remote annunciator,” he said.

Now, Lima said, “when the station is activated the point is mapped so that it activates a series of commands that includes closing the fire doors, turning on a red strobe and making an announcement over the school’s intercom systems of the possible emergency situation, with the announcement saying something like, “Code Red, the police are on their way.” And lastly it trips a local government radio that broadcasts this emergency directly to the police department, so the response could be in seconds.”

Previously, Lima said, the school relied on school staff to pick up the phone to contact police in an emergency. The new system, he said, “notifies the emergency professionals directly and does not rely on school personnel to deal with a potential security threat.”

Lima said the town has arranged with the police force and the fire department “to totally converge on the school in the event of an emergency such as this.”

The Vine Street school is considered a pilot project but the Stonington district is so pleased with the result that now the district is considering adding the same level of service in its other five schools, Lima said.

He believes other school districts could be interested too. “Our hope is to partner up with someone like Silent Knight to possibly take this elsewhere because we have other ideas how we can make this system even better,” Lima said.

Ray Reilly, Northeast regional manager for Silent Knight by Honeywell, told SSN: “It’s definitely something that has piqued our interest because this is a great upgrade opportunity.”

A next step for a school like Vine Street if more funding is available in the future could be an integrated emergency communications system that would add more audio capabilities and emergency control functions, Reilly said.