When a man ran from deputies last Thursday afternoon, multiple law enforcement agencies sprang into action. But, the McDuffie County School District did too.
When Superintendent Mychele Rhodes activated lockdowns at Thomson High School and Thomson-McDuffie Middle School it only took seconds. It was the first real test of a new system adopted by the school system last year called CENTEGIX CrisisAlert.
“We are the only school system in the CSRA RESA, with the exception of Emmanuel County, that has this system,” said McDuffie County Superintendent Mychele Rhodes.
She explained it was installed last year and it enables initiation of a lockdown and alerts through a computer or a smart phone by her, school resource officers, school administrators, or cabinet level school district staff. During last Thursday’s situation, Rhodes initiated the lock down at the two schools from her phone.
“We were able to do that in less than 10 seconds with that technology,” she said.
Once a lock down in initiated, the system reacts. “Immediately once the alert begins, at the school the emergency lighting starts to activate as well as the intercom system has an automated message of the type of lock down,” she said.
The intercom system announces the lock down and which level of lock down it is because within the safety plan there are three different levels.
Last week was a Level 1 lock down.
“That’s when there’s potential criminal activity that’s outside of the school,” Rhodes said.
In the case of a lock down, the intercom system begins to provide a verbal command of lock down. At the same time, the CENTEGIX system takes over all the computers in the school and runs the same alert message across every computer in the school.
Rhodes said a police officer was working security at a track meet and learned of the man who had fled from deputies. He told Cecil Strong, who in turn contacted Rhodes.
Although the situation developed after the end of the normal school day, track, tennis, baseball, soccer, and after school tutoring was going on at the time.
Rhodes said everyone outside was moved into the gymnasium at the high school. All that was going on at the middle school was after-school tutoring, she explained.
The lock down plan entails three levels, however she said she cannot release details about Level 2 and Level 3.
“That’s the first time that we’ve had to use it for a situation other than a drill. We were very pleased,” the superintendent said.
She said the ability for her to use her phone and lock those two schools down rather than having to contact the principals by phone individually saves time.
“It’s amazing technology,” she said. “I was very pleased with the ability to do that quickly.”
CENTEGIX can also initiate alerts in severe weather situations.
“If we had a tornado warning, if there are children that need to be moved to the interior of the school and out of exterior classrooms it allows us to do that as well,” Rhodes said.
After the schools were locked down, parents were notified.
She used an initial One Call notifications to let parents know the schools were locked down and one later to announce the lock downs were lifted after law enforcement notified school leadership it was safe to do so. That was after the man was apprehended.
When there is a lock down, what do parents need to do?
“The first thing is, once we have the school locked down we need to keep that building completely secure. At that point we’re not going to have the ability to be dismissing children from that site. We ask for the parents’ patience in letting us ensure that site is secure and locked down until law enforcement tells us otherwise,” Rhodes said.
“Then of course, when we can lift that lock down, then what we did yesterday was we sent an extra SRO to both of those campuses to help in any dismissal and traffic,” she explained.
Rhodes said the schools do get phone calls from parents once they receive notification of a lock down. But, the main focus is keeping people safe.
“Our number one focus at that point has to be on securing the site and making sure that the students and staff at those sites are safe,” she said.
Rhodes points out that safety is achieved with two technological solutions — CENTEGIX to lock down schools and OneCall to notify parents.
“That’s amazing technology that 10 years ago we didn’t have,” she said.
The CENTEGIX was funded by a special grand through the state department of education.
“The State of Georgia offered two school systems school safety grants. We applied for one because we were interested in implementing the product,” Rhodes said.
She said the cost was $30,000 per school to install and an annual maintenance fee of $1,500 per school.
“We feel it was a great use of a grant that we were able to apply for and it helps us in a matter of seconds to secure the campuses and do what is best for the faculty and staff and kids.”