Edmonton

Public school emergency alerts ready for school year

An urgent message system adopted by Edmonton Public Schools sends out calls and text messages to parents in major emergencies such as lockdowns, fires, evacuations or tornado alerts.

SchoolMessenger sends out calls and text messages to families during a school emergency

SchoolMessenger sends out calls and text messages to families during major emergencies such as lockdowns and tornado alerts. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

As students sign up for classes, Edmonton parents can sign up for an urgent message alert system.

Edmonton Public Schools launched SchoolMessenger earlier this year. The system sends out calls and text messages to families during major emergencies such as lockdowns, fires, evacuations or tornado alerts.

SchoolMessenger, also in use in some other Alberta school districts, automatically sends voice messages to all phone numbers on file for each student. But families have to opt-in to also receive text messages.

"If there were to be a major emergency at one of our schools, it's a really great way for the district and our schools to relay emergency information quickly and directly to families," said Megan Normandeau, a spokesperson with Edmonton Public Schools.

The system launched in February. To date, families signing up for the service have added 50,000 unique phone numbers to the database. In an emergency, SchoolMessenger will contact all numbers on file for each student.

Before the system was introduced, each school had its own method of contacting families during an emergency.

"This is a quicker and more efficient way to get a hold of our parents, especially in these cases of emergencies where time is precious," Normandeau said.

The system was put to the test three times during the last school year.

The SchoolMessenger system alerted families about a lockdown at Balwin School in north Edmonton in September 2017. (Google Street View)

Messages were sent out to families during precautionary lockdowns at John D. Bracco Junior High School and Balwin School. Over the winter break, families with students at Minchau School were also alerted to a flood at the school.

The flood happened before the system's official launch, but the district used SchoolMessenger to keep families updated on relocation plans and bus route changes.

"Because it was the holiday break, parents aren't often checking … the website as often as they would during the school year. So we utilized SchoolMessenger to get a hold of them," Normandeau said.

Some security concerns

The system raises some security concerns. Parents might be tempted to rush to school when they hear their child is in danger, for example.

But since information travels quickly in emergency situations, propelled by cell phones and social media, Normandeau said it is important to get accurate information out to families from a reliable source.

"That is something that's taken into consideration and we do understand that those are stressful situations for families," she said.

"Those are reactions that we would see regardless of SchoolMessenger."

For more information about the service, click here.

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