By Sean Barron
Compounding the chaos that often follows a school crisis is a breakdown in vital communications, such as when cellphone networks become overwhelmed.
But that scenario is much less likely to occur in the Boardman schools, thanks to a radio system that provides school officials with faster, more direct access to police, firefighters and other emergency personnel.
“This is one of the steps we are going to be taking to perfect communications,” police Chief Jack Nichols said during a news conference Thursday at Boardman High School.
Nichols was outlining key components of the Community Access Radio for Emergencies network, which will give personnel in all of the district’s schools immediate contact with the township’s emergency-dispatch system. Also included is Paul C. Bunn Elementary School, which is part of the Youngstown City Schools but is in Boardman Township.
The CARE program uses older radio equipment that’s being installed in the schools and, with the push of a button, places school staff in direct, immediate contact with emergency responders, Nichols noted.
Money for the low-cost system came from the township’s Law Enforcement Trust Fund, much of which is the result of money seized from criminal activity, the chief explained.
“This is a major, major step forward to ensure student and staff safety,” Superintendent Frank Lazzeri said. “Even old radios can help us communicate with police if everything else goes down.”
Lazzeri added that recent high-profile school shootings in Newtown, Conn., at Chardon High School and elsewhere give the district’s security upgrades added urgency.
In addition to the CARE program, the superintendent said, the district is planning to expand so-called neutral zones in the schools, which require someone in the office to provide entry to visitors, and bring in outside consultants to look for potential security weaknesses.
The network also mirrors national efforts to address school-safety concerns and mobilize emergency personnel, said Todd Werth, supervisory special agent with the Youngstown FBI office.
The township’s road-maintenance department is to install the network, which the Boardman Fire Department will monitor and test routinely, Trustee Thomas Costello noted.
Last year, the board of education and trustees began a collaboration with each other, then worked with the local FBI as well as Boardman’s fire, police and road-department personnel, Costello said, adding that the CARE program also will be available to the district’s private and parochial schools.