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Manchester school security focusing on fast communication

New Hampshire Union Leader

January 31. 2014 8:12PM
From left are Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas, Gov. Maggie Hassan, and Manchester Schools superintendent Debra Livingston, during a tour of Beech Street Elementary School's newly enhanced emergency alerting systems including phones and intercoms, in Manchester, on Friday. (Thomas Roy/Union Leader)

MANCHESTER — Gov. Maggie Hassan joined Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas and Superintendent of Schools Debra Livingston at Beech Street Elementary School on Friday to see safety improvements for teachers and students that let them alert officials to an emergency.

A new phone and intercom system, which is in place in public schools across Manchester, provides enhanced 9-1-1 capability.

Students helped show off the new communications equipment to the visiting officials, including first responders.

It is a redundant, integrated system. If the phones are down, the intercom alert still functions, and the "e-help" signal to the front office gives the classroom number automatically, said Michael Demmons, operations manager at Williams Communications Services, which installed the technology.

"We always hope that the worst will never happen but when people know they're prepared for it I think it really builds their confidence and sense of security, Hassan said.

Manchester, like towns and cities statewide, revisited school safety after the elementary school shootings in Newtown, Conn. The new phone-intercom project launched thanks to an estimated $500,000 allocated last year by the city, Gatsas said.

"It's a safety issue, certainly," Gatsas said. "I think that this is one of the best issues we've addressed in a long time in the schools to make sure our children are safe. This now allows direct 9-1-1 calls out of the classroom, as well as the front office."

Schools already have locked doors, and buzzers upon main entrance to the facility. The Building and Sites Committee of the Manchester school board continues to review security methods. That committee met behind closed doors this past Tuesday to discuss safety.

The intercom upgrades were funded in part by a federal Emergency Management Performance Grant, Hassan said.

Through the bipartisan state budget passed last year, Hassan said there are two positions established in Department of Safety's Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management to provide technical assistance and grants to schools around New Hampshire.

"We're working very hard to find resources to make sure we can spread this throughout the state," she said.

The last legislative session saw state leaders working to improve school security in other ways. Hassan noted she signed into law a bill that includes school-security design and integration as part of the approval process for school-building aid.

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