South Colonie schools to launch new alert system

With school safety in the forefront of everyone's mind these days, the South Colonie Central School District is taking one more step to ensure its children and families are protected.

In February, the district will launch a new emergency alert information system that will automatically notify parents and guardians by telephone or text message in the event of an unforeseen school closing, early dismissal, evacuation or other unexpected event.

The new computerized telephone system will not replace, but compliment, other notification methods parents have become accustomed to over the years, like radio and television announcements and postings on the South Colonie Web site. The telephone message will add a new dimension to emergency notifications because it will be quicker and more personal.

Not everyone has instant access to a computer, radio or TV during the work day, said Superintendent Michael Marcelle, "so this will give us one more avenue to ensure we reach parents in the unlikely event of an emergency.

Timely communication is the key because the last thing we want is for a young student to arrive home to an empty house."

Over the years, many South Colonie schools have used a volunteer PTA "phone tree" as a backup to media and web emergency notifications. The phone trees rely on parents to call other parents to spread important information.

Although the phone trees have been systematically structured to make them as reliable as possible, "there are many pitfalls," said Roessleville PTA President Denise Platt. "Some test runs have revealed a very low success rate in contacting people in a timely manner."

In the case of an emergency, it is estimated that most children arrive home within 30 to 45 minutes. During two PTA phone tree test runs at Roessleville this school year, a good number of the phone tree callers were not able to be reached, forcing other parents to make many more calls than expected. As a result, it took three hours before every parent could be contacted.

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