New radios to improve school security in Vernon

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Vernon - posted Fri., Aug. 9, 2013
These new, state-of-the-art radios will drastically improve communications in the event of an emergency at Vernon schools. Photos courtesy of Michael Purcaro. - Contributed Photo

A new radio system is part of the plan to keep Vernon schools safer this fall.

Michael Purcaro, the Vernon schools' director of business and finance, as well as the town of Vernon's emergency management director, said that the school system now has 110 high-tech digital radios that will help teachers, staff and administrators in the case of any emergencies in the Vernon school system.

The new system will replace nine different and disparate systems that were in place. Much thought and care went into determining what type of system is needed. Purcaro said some things were found in the old systems that were not functional. Some systems were unable to transmit across distances within a single school's footprint, never mind between the schools.

“That really was almost non-existent,” Purcaro said, adding that district-wide communications were also desired.

The new system, a Hytera Digital Mobile Radio (DMR) system, will allow the superintendent to communicate with any single radio-holder, a group of radios, or all of them on a system-wide level. The digital encryption makes it so that the signal cannot be scanned or picked up by someone outside of the group, which aids in confidentiality and security.

“The clarity is outstanding, the power is exactly what we need, and they are very difficult to scan,” Purcaro said.

Another feature is that, during an emergency, school staff members can communicate with law enforcement and fire department officials, using the town's emergency channel.

“I wanted to make sure that the key individuals during an emergency can communicate with first responders,” Purcaro said. “Now, all of the school officials can talk to the incident commander outside.”

Purcaro said the radios do not replace the 911 system, but will aid once an emergency call has been placed. Training for staffers has already been taking place.

“Communications is only one part of a comprehensive security approach, but in my opinion, it's a very big part,” Purcaro said. “If we don't have good communications - and that means day-to-day up to a school security situation - we're not going to have a good outcome.”

Purcaro said Vernon worked with Marcus Communications of Manchester, which gave the school system credit for recycling the old equipment toward the cost of the new system. State grants will be sought in order to expand the system and include more radios for staff and teachers. Purcaro said other school districts have already been contacting Vernon about the system, hoping to acquire that or a similar system.

“I would expect many other school districts to follow this concept,” Purcaro said. “It just seems like the natural progression.”

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