Oak Harbor Public Schools adopts text alert system

Oak Harbor Public Schools has implemented a system to send text messages to parents and staff in the event of an emergency.

The messages will provide information if there is a lockdown, lockout, evacuation, two-hour delay or school closure. A text will be sent out to the appropriate groups.

“This really just opens up a door for us, so that if we do need it, we are able to communicate directly with our families in a very effective and timely fashion,” said Lance Gibbon, superintendent of Oak Harbor schools.

During the test, the district sent a message to 8,294 recipients and 7,496 of those were received. The test gave parents the opportunity to opt out of these texts, which cost standard data and text messaging rates.

Conor Laffey, spokesman for Oak Harbor Schools, said he encourages parents and guardians of students who did not receive the text to update their contact information with the district.

Gibbon said he wanted to implement emergency communication by text after seeing the effectiveness of these systems at universities.

Last year, the need for improved communication was highlighted during an emergency evacuation in response to a threat. He said in that situation, even with students and staff in one area, a megaphone was inadequate to reach staff members in the back of the crowd.

“Being able to text message staff and give them directions on what’s going on would be invaluable in a situation like that,” said Gibbon.

The next step is to add high school student’s cellphone numbers to the database so they can be reached as well. Currently, the district does not have any student phone numbers on file.

Gibbon said the goal is to find a means to get permission to collect the numbers and have them added to the database by the start of the next school year.

These texts will be added to the district’s use of phone calls, emails, social media and website alerts for information.

Unlike the other methods, text messages will only be used for emergency, closure or delay information, both Gibbon and Laffey said.

“We’re hopeful that we won’t have to use it very often,” said Gibbon.

“Hopefully, what will happen is we’ll occasionally have a weather delay or something else.”

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