When gunfire erupted at Columbine High School in April, local 911 telephone operators had no way of knowing where inside the building the perpetrators—or victims—were located. That’s one reason why, come this fall, a handful of schools in California will debut a new “enhanced 911” emergency service, developed specifically for schools, that automatically pinpoints a caller’s exact location within a school building. “This adds an extra layer of information for the operator to determine not only that a call has come from a school campus, but also the actual classroom the call was made from,” said Robbie Pitts, vice president of business development for Williams Communications Solutions, which provides the hardware for the service. “In a crisis situation, having that kind of knowledge could greatly reduce the response time of emergency personnel.” A leading provider of telecommunications solutions for the education market, Williams is working with a variety of suppliers to roll out the service to schools. One of those is Plant Equipment Inc., of Temecula, Calif., which specializes in developing applications for 911 emergency systems. Most emergency call centers, or “public safety answering points” (“PSAPs”), are equipped with an Automatic Location Identification (ALI) feature, which instantly displays the street address of the location from which a 911 call has been made. But in a typical private branch exchange (PBX) telephone system, such as those operated by school districts, the 911 operator would see only the address of the PBX’s central location—the place where its outside line originates—and not the dialer’s original position. “In a school district with multiple buildings all on one PBX network, a 911 operator wouldn’t be able to tell where a call was coming from,” said Herb Torrens, manager of corporate communications for Plant Equipment. “The address that an operator sees could be the location of the district office, for example, and not the actual school building where the trouble was occurring.” To remedy the problem, Plant Equipment has developed a product known generically as “private enhanced ALI,” which adds another layer of information into the database that a local 911 police or fire network uses to transfer information about a caller’s whereabouts to the operator at the emergency call center. This extra layer of information can include the exact telephone extensions within a PBX system—so it also could reveal that a call is coming from a specific room within a specific school building, for example. Schools could go even a step further and install a system from Plant Equipment called VESTA, which would give them the same display capabilities available to most 911 emergency call centers. The system could be set up to route emergency calls to a school district’s campus security center, for example, thus giving security personnel instant access to a caller’s exact location on campus. Williams provides the phones and switching equipment that interface with Plant Equipment’s technology to operate the system within a school district. “Speed of response is often the single most important factor in saving a life or ensuring an individual’s security,” Pitts said. The enhanced 911 feature is one of several applications that Williams offers to improve the safety and security of K-12 schools. Others include a “hands-free” answering system, which automatically answers an incoming call and opens the line if a teacher can’t get to the phone after a specified number of rings, and a wireless “companion” telephone set that enables teachers to monitor students’ safety on the playground or outside the building. Although the enhanced 911 service isn’t eligible for eRate support under the program’s current rules, the Schools and Libraries Division of the Universal Service Administrative Co.—the group that administers the program—has petitioned the Federal Communications Commission to consider the service for future eligibility. Meanwhile, Williams offers a variety of financing options for school districts, such as an escrow program that allows a school district to keep the purchase price of the Williams solution in an interest-bearing account but pay for the solution in installments at tax-exempt rates. “We can design a funding solution to meet each individual district’s funding needs,” said Gene Barnette, the company’s education business development manager. For more information, send an eMail message to Williams911@eschoolnews.org or call (800) 945-5426.