Safe School Alerts, www.safeschoolalerts.org , an online source for emergency school alerts in Harris County and surrounding regions, receives the national “outstanding practice/program” award at the 2010 National Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) Conference on June 21 in New Orleans. The honor is awarded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Urban Area Security Initiative to Harris County Department of Education (HCDE) and its Center for Safe and Secure Schools.
The award recognizes www.safeschoolalerts as a program of national best practice. The system serves 29 Center member school districts, including Houston Independent School District. Superintendents from each district authorize key individuals within their respective districts to be trained and post the emergency alerts. The system can provide official, critical alerts via the Web, SMS (text messages), e-mail, RSS feed and chyron (television text scroll) to subscribers and the media simultaneously.
Center consultant John E. Wilson calls the best practices designation “a high honor” and commends the site’s “new-and-improved” ease of use as a tremendous asset during the upcoming hurricane season. The emergency alert system has greatly improved the previously required communication time during an emergency event, he said.
Dennis J. Storemski, director of the City of Houston Mayor’s Office of Public Safety and Homeland Security, says his office will continue to benefit from the information shared through this site during this year’s hurricane season. The office already utilized the site for this past winter’s weather events. The site will allow his office to quickly determine the status of campuses within each school district and evaluate the impact on operations such as traffic, business disruption and availability of school resources.
“To date, there is no better resource available in the region to quickly gather and disseminate school closure information,” Storemski said.
Through the site, districts quickly and efficiently notify media, emergency management officials and the community at-large about emergency-related school events such as school closures, lockdowns, delayed openings and re-openings. The site is not meant to replace any district’s existing internal communication systems, but rather to serve as a redundant communication tool.
The robust system is powered through the Public Information Emergency Response System (PIER), a highly reliable, Web-based community emergency management system supported by a base of nationwide servers. It is hosted by HCDE through its Center for Safe and Secure Schools. Created in 2009, Safe School Alerts answers school districts’ needs for a Web-based, easy-to-use emergency communications system.
Current local districts utilizing the system include the following 29 Center member school districts: Aldine, Alief, Channelview, Clear Creek, Crosby, Cypress-Fairbanks, Dayton, Deer Park, Dickinson, Friendswood, Galena Park, Goose Creek Consolidated, Harris County Department of Education, Houston, Huffman, Humble, Katy, Klein, La Porte, New Caney, North Forest, Pasadena, Pearland, Sheldon, Spring, Spring Branch, Stafford, Tomball and Waller.
The PIER Safe School Alerts site was one of 30 initial sites selected by the Houston UASI Group, supported by the City of Houston, Harris County, Fort Bend County and Montgomery County. The Houston Area UASI is designated as TIER I, one of 10 urban areas nationwide which are at highest risk.
Last year, the Center sought support of school district superintendents to train key employees to use the system and visited local media outlets to announce the service, said HCDE Superintendent John E. Sawyer.
“Harris County is vulnerable to both man-made and natural disasters as an energy capital and coastal community,” said Sawyer. “Over 900,000 students are served on 900 campuses throughout the community, and we have an obligation to keep them safe.
“The www.safeschoolalerts.org system is a critical tool to promote safety in our region, and HCDE and the Center are proud to lead this initiative.”
About the Center for Safe and Secure Schools: The Center for Safe and Secure Schools is the leader for the development of increased safety and security strategies in school environments for Texas students and educators. The Center focuses on the emergency management cycle including: prevention/mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery. For more information call (713) 696-0770.