In a school crisis situation, communication that’s always on is essential for an effective response
Extend the capabilities of your LMR network to the smartphones, tablets and PCs of potentially every school resource officer, administrator, teacher and other personnel
Sponsored by L3Harris
By Alex Ulibarri
It’s a sunny, warm day on the elementary school playground. The birds are chirping, the kids are having fun at recess, and the supervising teachers are soaking it all in. Seemingly all is well when a stranger approaches the fence at the periphery of the playground and tries climbing over. The teachers on duty immediately recognize the potential crisis but don’t have radios to call for help – only administrators and office staff hold those.
What happens next?
As a school resource officer, I can tell you things like this happen. What I can also tell you is that school districts are often budget-constrained and simply can’t afford to issue a handheld radio to every teacher.
L3Harris’s BeOn mobile app can help with situations like this. One thing you can be sure of in the 21st century is the ubiquity of the smartphone. BeOn is an application that extends the capabilities of a land mobile radio (LMR) network to smartphones, tablets and PCs, keeping users connected to the LMR system anywhere there is a cellular signal, Wi-Fi or other data connectivity. The BeOn app is compatible with both Android and iOS devices and offers school systems a viable option for communication within schools and across entire districts.
In the opening scenario, if the supervising teachers had the BeOn app on their smartphones, they could call for help with the push of a button and notify administrators and campus leaders of the situation.
Ensuring the right person in the right place at the right time
Having people in places to spot potential dangers before they happen can be crucial to keeping schools safe. BeOn gives schools situational awareness in that and other ways traditional radios simply can’t.
Harry Maddox, a senior critical communication consultant at L3Harris, explained to me how BeOn can be a boon to schools looking to bolster their communication network.
BeOn is far more than a smartphone-enabled radio. It is feature-packed to offer far more than traditional radio systems can. For instance, BeOn uses mapping software for all the users on the school or district BeOn network. Users can be color-coded by administrators if desired, which could be a great way to determine grade level, position or anything else to identify each user.
As an SRO, I can see that being extremely useful during duty stations. Whether it’s drop-off duty, lunch duty, recess or dismissal, coverage is essential to ensure things run smoothly. Those who work in schools may raise an eyebrow at the thought of anything running without a hitch, but a lack of coverage means a weak link in the chain that can create chaos. With BeOn to ensure the right people are in the right places with its built-in mapping features, chaos can be mitigated and often outright averted by giving administrators the ability to see in real time just who is where – or, perhaps more important, who isn’t.
Beyond extending radio coverage, the mapping technology can also be useful when something is needed in a specific area. Whether it’s a fight, an unsecured door or a student in need of help, the closest available staff member can be directed to address the issue quickly.
Thanks to the specificity offered from the color-coding, you can ensure you get the right person to the job. If you need your SRO for a security concern, your custodial staff for a spill or a counselor for a student in emotional distress, BeOn offers the ability to find and direct the closest appropriate asset to the scene.
BeOn also uses push-to-talk technology (PTT). This feature is crucial for swift communication, as it means message transmission is as easy as pressing a button. PTT means districts transitioning from a traditional radio system to BeOn will have staff who are already comfortable with this feature and the accompanying radio etiquette.
Always-on communications – whether in a dead zone or on a school trip
Anyone who’s ever used a radio has probably dealt with a loss of signal in a dead zone. Because BeOn is smartphone based, as long as the user has cell service or is connected to the school’s Wi-Fi, they can communicate within the app. This bolsters reliability and can put staff and administrators at ease with the confidence that when they need their radio, it’s going to work.
But reliability goes further than simply the ability to use BeOn in dead zones. Because BeOn uses both cell and Wi-Fi signals, the app expands the usable radio network in ways that would have been unimaginable just a few years ago.
I work in a large school district in the heart of Texas, meaning high school football is one of our staples. With high school football comes traveling by bus, often to areas outside the school district. This can limit communications, as the radios onboard the buses only have signal within the district. BeOn eliminates this problem, giving personnel on district buses the ability to communicate with anyone in the district who has access to the app.
Having 24/7 communication abilities wherever there’s cell or Wi-Fi service means help is always at the user’s fingertips. A bus that gets a flat tire on its route, for instance, can be monitored in real time and communication with the operator established to keep worried parents apprised of the status of their child’s trip.
Encryption ensures secure communications
BeOn also offers the ability to create talk groups, much in the way channels operate on standard radio systems, but with many more features. Whether it’s for teachers, school resource officers, administrators, bus operators or custodians, the ability to not only create specific channels of communication but also limit who has access to those channels is a great way to clean up excessive radio traffic and ensure sensitive information goes to the right people. Also, because BeOn uses AES 256 encryption, a P25 standard, that ensures secure communication by encrypting the radio transmission end-to-end. This protects sensitive information from being intercepted by unauthorized parties.
Far more than a web-based radio system, BeOn is built as the fulcrum of a security strategy that ensures always-on communication. By adding their local police department to their BeOn network, a school district gives law enforcement that same ability to communicate directly with school personnel in a crisis.
Overall, BeOn by L3Harris is a robust, feature-packed option for schools to buttress their communication abilities. And because once the BeOn server and app licenses are both affordable and scalable, districts can put the power of an LMR network in the hands of more personnel, from SROs and administrators to teachers and custodians. Giving access to staff who couldn’t previously communicate rapidly not only enhances school safety but provides a sense of comfort to personnel.
A multipronged approach to keep students safe
Today’s school security challenges require a multipronged approach to keeping students safe. For critical communications get through during an emergency response requires a combination of LTE, Wi-Fi and LMR-encrypted technology to ensure clear, constant communication, regardless of any obstacle or dead zone. A new generation of Wi-Fi- and GPS-enabled radios, like the XL Series of devices from L3Harris, lets school districts leverage their existing LMR networks and connect schools and local public safety agencies.
L3Harris offers several purchase options to school districts looking to upgrade their radios to the latest P25-compliant technology or deploy the BeOn app selectively or districtwide. In addition, L3Harris has grant resources and services available to help schools find available grants to fund equipment and help ensure that during an emergency response, critical communications keep flowing, no matter what.
Alex Ulibarri is a patrol officer and school resource officer with a police agency in North Texas. He is pursuing a master’s degree in criminal justice.
This article originally appeared in the Digital Edition "Prevention, disruption & response: The strategies communities must deploy to stop school shootings."