At a time when U.S. school-related violence is again on the rise, executives from two leading technology companies are talking about putting a revolutionary security solution in the palm of a school administrator’s hand.

Executives from Sprint Corp. and palmOne Inc. appeared together at the 2004 National Educational Computing Conference (NECC) in New Orleans to talk about how their products can help decision-makers charged with protecting the safety of students. The companies discussed how combining the reach of Sprint’s national wireless network with the computing power of palmOne’s Treo 600 “smart” phone, might one day enable top administrators to manage any security crisis, even if they are away from school when the crisis erupts.

Sprint and PalmOne recognize that the Treo 600 smartphone could open up new possibilities for school security systems. (Courtesy PalmOne Inc.)

More than five years after the massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., violence continues to plague American schools. Last week, USA TODAY reported that during the 2003-04 academic year, there were a total of 48 school-related violent deaths–more than the previous two years combined. In addition, the newspaper reported that a national focus on terrorism has limited the amount of local law-enforcement resources and attention available to schools.

This puts an additional burden on school administrators to keep their schools safe. But what happens in a crisis if the key decision-maker is either out of town or unable to access portions of the building? Sprint and palmOne see the potential to solve this problem by giving administrators access to a Treo 600 that can stream real-time video and let decision-makers manage everything down to the locks on classroom doors.

In many cases, school-related violence unfolds as key decision-makers struggle to identify the perpetrator and the location of other students and key school personnel. In a crisis, administrators must know which students are in which classrooms. They also need to pinpoint the exact location of the violent incident and locate emergency contact information for all of those affected by it. Access to such data makes for sounder decisions under duress and enhances the administrator’s ability to assist local police, firefighters, and other first responders.

Sprint and palmOne recognized that a combination cell phone/handheld computer could be the ultimate tool for crisis management, offering an opportunity to access streaming surveillance video from any classroom, communicate through a public-address system, and control functions such as electronic door locks.

“The value-add here is on school administrative systems,” said Mike Lorion, vice president of Vertical Markets sales and marketing for PalmOne. “These technologies allow administrators to get out of the office and still be connected to their schools.”

In addition to needing a constant eye into their schools, administrators also need constant access to important school data. To make the most of their technologies’ potential, the companies need software developers to create programs that tap into the benefits of both the wireless network and smart phone.

One possible partner is TruSmart Technologies in Rochester, N.Y. TruSmart already has a program called ScheduleFinder, which enables administrators to access a full database of student information from a handheld device. The software is popular with school officials who use it to track the location of various students and teachers within their schools. Because it also includes family contact information, locker combinations, and other personal information, the program is seen as an effective disciplinary tool.

Sprint and palmOne are talking with TruSmart and other companies to explore comprehensive security solutions that enable administrators to make on-the-fly decisions. By envisioning a potential crisis scenario, company executives can determine how their technology would be used.

For example, if a student with a gun begins threatening others in a classroom, the process might play out like this:

Initial reports of the disturbance would reach the principal’s office. Staff would be able to contact the principal via the Treo 600. The principal could then call up a floor plan of the entire school building and zoom in for detailed, real-time video of the events taking place in any room.

After locating the source of the problem, the principal could inform local law enforcement and then, via ScheduleFinder, call up a list of all students scheduled to be in that classroom. In addition, the principal could see if any students had been reported absent. If suspicions were raised about a particular student, that student’s complete disciplinary records and contact information could be accessed immediately.

The principal also would be able to tell which parts of the school were not under an immediate threat and issue warnings to evacuate those areas of the building. Still using the Treo 600, the principal could lock various doors by remote control to slow or stop the intruder’s progress through the school. In the case of Columbine, such technology might have prevented the shooters from turning the entire building into a killing field.

TruSmart President Jeff Petrie, a former president of the New York State District Board of Education, said his company said he welcomes a chance to work with two major players in the world of educational technology.

“Treo and Sprint really take this to a new level,” said Petrie. “Suddenly, attendance information is flying through the air in real time, delivered straight to the device.”

Although no specific plans have been set for developing a high-tech security system, both Sprint and palmOne executives describe the concept with genuine enthusiasm. Sprint even demonstrated the technology’s reach by setting up a camera at its NECC display booth and viewing it on a Treo in a distant part of the convention center. Even at present-day streaming speeds, the video was crisp and clear, and the promise of faster wireless connections should give any administrator the ability to experience the scene as if he or she were in the room.

“Sprint’s network allows us to bring this whole decision-making process into real time,” said Lorion.

Mark G. Kelly, senior manager of strategy and planning for Sprint Business Solutions’ K-12 Education markets, conducted the Treo 600 video demonstration at NECC. He said his company’s goal was not just giving administrators more personal control over unpredictable situations; it also was about making their day-to-day lives easier.

“School leaders don’t currently have a service they can use without having to always go through IT people,” Kelly said. “But much of this can be done through the phones with consistent service 24 hours a day.”

Kelly said the technology is only going to become more powerful. By 2006, Sprint hopes to be sending data to the Treo phones at 2 to 3 megabytes per second.

Sprint talked about its vision for a high-tech security system at NECC despite the risk of tipping off competitors, because the company wanted school administrators to know about the extent of the work it is doing for the education field.

Just knowing such technology one day will be widely available should reassure anyone expecting to be the key decision-maker in a school’s moment of crisis.

Links:

Sprint Corp.
http://www.sprint.com

PalmOne Inc.
http://www.palmone.com

TruSmart Technologies
http://www.trusmart.com

National School Safety and Security Services
http://www.schoolsecurity.org