New police alert system highlighted at area schools
By Denise Moran For Sun-Times Media October 21, 2013 6:08PM
Similar to a traditional fire alarm, this pulldown BluePoint Alert Solutions system alarm summons police in case on an emergency such as an armed intruder. | Denise Moran for Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 23, 2013 6:12AM
BURLINGTON — In the past, fire posed the biggest danger to schools.
But today — with incidents ranging from the shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado back in 1999 to the massacre last December at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school — the most serious threat to schools is the armed intruder.
Just this past week, an emergency “shelter in place” was imposed on Dundee-Crown High School and Perry Elementary School in Carpentersville because of a “man with a gun” report. The report turned out to be unfounded, but it underscores the fact that shootings are a reality that schools across the nation must face.
“Everything has changed since the Columbine massacre,” said Community Unit School District 301 Superintendent Todd Stirn. “Active shooting scenarios are occurring in schools, colleges and churches. When it comes to protecting assets, buildings can be replaced. Students, staff and visitors to our schools are our No. 1 asset.”
District 301 is being proactive about protecting the people who attend and work at the district’s schools. A live demonstration of the new BluePoint Alert Solutions system was presented recently to local school and law enforcement officials at Central High School, 44W625 Plato Road, Burlington.
The system is similar to the traditional fire alarm, but for police.
According to Stirn, the system has been installed at both Central High and Prairie Knolls Middle School in Elgin. Lily Lake Grade School will be the next facility where the system will be installed. These three schools in District 301 are examples of how the system works in a high school, middle school and elementary school.
The installation of the system, at cost, was $19,780 for Prairie Knolls and $27,480 for Central High.
“We would like to have the system installed in all the other schools in the district within the next year if possible,” Stirn said.
Idea from tragedy
The idea for the police alert system stemmed from a talk between Stirn and John McNutt from Shales McNutt Construction of Elgin. They were discussing the fatal shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and the need to prevent the loss of more lives.
Stirn and McNutt both have extensive experience working with schools. Stirn has worked in education for more than 25 years, with more than 10 years spent in District 301. Shales McNutt Construction has been involved in building or adding onto many local area educational facilities.
“Last December, I talked with Dr. Stirn about what we could do,” McNutt said. “After we came up with the idea for the system, we said let’s take this thing and run with it. I think this is a great tool. We have received a great response from the Elgin Police Department and other police departments. I thank District 301 for taking the security of their students seriously.”
The BluePoint Alert system, with a patent pending, provides a series of simple initiation devices similar to the fire alarm pull stations that are strategically placed throughout a facility. In addition to the fixed wall units, pendants on lanyards turn the system into a portable device that can be worn by school officials.
When an alert about a possible armed intruder is made, a public announcement is broadcast throughout the building. The announcement that was broadcast as a demonstration at the high school last week stated: “The building is in lockdown. The police have been notified. Help is on the way.”
The message repeats itself for up to a minute. Police requested that it should not run longer than that time because when they arrive, they need the area to be quiet so the intruder can be located.
The system also has strobe lights that can be activated in high noise-level areas, such as band rooms and gymnasiums where the announcement might not be as easily heard, and above the exterior doors of the building. While a white strobe indicates a fire emergency, a blue strobe indicates a police emergency. Strobe lights at the entrances warn people entering or just outside the building that an emergency event is unfolding.
McNutt said that the Central High School system has 30 fixed wall units, 15 portable devices, and 13 cameras. Each camera has four different views.
“In the northern half of Illinois, 60 percent of all schools already have some kind of cameras,” said architect Steve Nelson. “Most schools have the simple backbone system that can be used with the BluePoint Alert Solutions system.”
Once an alert is given, the cameras sends images of the school to law enforcement officials so they can see before they even arrive what is going on inside the building. The system also lets them determine the exact location of where the alert was made.
Enhancements to the system include an exterior warning/communication system, security cameras, breaking glass detection, and automatic door closing/locking. McNutt said remote mobile connections for buses are being developed.
Melissa Baumgartner, the nurse at Central High, made the suggestion for a medical pull station in the nurse’s office so an ambulance could be notified if needed.
The managing partners of BluePoint Alert Solutions, who also are the managing partners of Shales McNutt, are McNutt, John Shales and Ken Volkening. Others who have helped bring the system to reality are Mike Shales of Shales McNutt; Nelson; and Al Whale, Bruce Volkening and Jim Moran of Fox Valley Fire & Safety in Elgin.
“Rapid response starts with rapid alert,” said John Shales. “The most common response we’ve had about this system is a question on why someone hasn’t come up with it before now.”
“I want to commend Dr. Stirn and the District 301 administration,” said Kane County Sheriff Pat Perez. “This gives us a tool that we’ve never had before. It allows us to work in a more rapid and safer manner. It takes the guesswork out of where the potential shooter is.”
In general, the installation of the system for most buildings is one to two weeks. It can be installed in occupied buildings with little disruption to ongoing operations. Most of the work will take place in corridors and public spaces. The system uses existing technologies and interfacing with existing building systems. A yearly inspection ensures that the system is operating properly, officials said.
More information is available at bluepointalert.com.