Beyond The Bell: How IP-Based Paging Systems Can Enhance K-12 Communication and Security

March 13, 2024|Drew Deatherage, Mason Brooks, & Al Lawrence

Paging systems serve every school’s essential life safety function by delivering important information to students, staff, and visitors in and outside the building. Yet, limiting the system to just paging limits the value the system can offer. Traditional analog paging systems serve a specific building or area, and some allow a teacher to talk back through the classroom speaker to a campus administrator. Offering greater versatility, IP-based paging systems have emerged as a valuable, more flexible option for school mass notification systems and allow integration with other systems, creating a “life-safety ecosystem.”

By switching to an IP-based paging system, school districts can bring together a wide range of technology systems to elevate their paging system to a district-wide life safety system. In fact, many schools will find they can gain a vast new range of advantages with minimal additional investment.

What is an IP-based paging system?

Conventional analog paging systems are hardwired using a centrally located amplifier. Speakers are home run from the classroom to the amplifier or are daisy-chained together in common areas such as corridors and cafeterias. A microphone in the main office is directly connected to the system to allow for message delivery. This analog approach requires a lot of wiring and limits speakers’ distance from the main amplifier. Analog paging systems across a school district cannot be networked together without using a network interface, or “gateway” of some kind.

IP-based paging uses network cabling that can support a wide range of additional functionalities. This reduces the cost of installing separate wiring – an added benefit when installing new systems – and can enhance both day-to-day operations and life safety functions. IP systems allow us to put speakers almost anywhere they are needed without worrying about the distance to a central amplifier. Moving to IP-based paging makes integrating systems across multiple school districts’ buildings possible.

How IP-based paging expands functionality

IP paging systems allow the school administration to update functionality as new options become available while enhancing their life safety systems and ensuring compliance with local laws or district policies. The added functionality of this ecosystem of integrated technology may include any combination of the following events:

  • More versatile paging. IP paging systems still allow the administration to make announcements from the front office, but with the right integration, proper planning, and design, building-wide paging systems can also become intercoms, point-to-point communication systems, and a critical means of mass communication. With this feature, staff can use the paging system to contact the front office, their school resource officer, or any other specific location.
  • Mass notification. Moving to an IP-based system can give administrators greater control over who receives messages. For example, when every school in the district uses the same system, it becomes possible to send messages about weather events to all (or select) campuses from a single source. This includes sending information to parents concerning campus closures due to weather or other natural or manmade events.
  • Visual emergency notification. More schools are installing digital signage systems, which can add a visual element to any announcement when integrated with a mass notification system. Integrating paging into a mass communication system allows another method of sending information across the PA system, TV screens, text, and email. An emergency announcement may also trigger multi-colored beacons or strobes that can inform people inside and outside of the building of the specific nature of the emergency. This visual effect increases any announcement’s awareness, even in noisy environments like playgrounds and athletic practice fields.
  • Panic and duress functions. Panic buttons can be integrated into the IP-based paging system so that pushing a button triggers a pre-recorded emergency announcement, alerts emergency responders, and even enables two-way voice communication. This system capability ensures compliance with new regulations, such as Alyssa’s Law, a mandate adopted in several states that require schools to install panic alarms linked to district emergency services, local emergency services, or law enforcement.
  • Access control. Some “smart” classroom speakers now come with access control capabilities. This allows teachers to initiate a lockdown in their classroom from the paging system through the use of relays or software programming.

The true value of IP-based connectivity

Integrating building systems can provide cost savings for schools required to update systems by eliminating redundant wiring and excessive hardware. However, the biggest advantage of moving to this type of integrated system is the increased capability to communicate via multiple means in an emergency when every second matters.

IP-based paging systems will still be used for conventional reasons, such as morning announcements or student paging. But with more ways to communicate via these networked systems, staff members may find it easier to use it more regularly and become familiar with a system that can speed up action in an emergency. Every school administrator already recognizes the value of this familiarity: fire, lockdown, and tornado drills exist specifically to build familiarity with emergency plans in order to ensure a swift, seamless response in the event of an actual emergency. Integrating emergency and daily communication systems can help ensure staff knows exactly what to do in the event of an emergency.

Schools should first audit their existing systems when considering upgrades to their paging systems. Some may be surprised to find that they already have an IP-based or an IP hybrid system whose functionality is underutilized, while others may need to upgrade their network infrastructure. The next step is to explore the wide range of possibilities for mass communication and for integration with other life safety systems across the district.

If you’re ready to explore these possibilities, please contact our team at CRUX today. We would be happy to guide you through the process and design the right solution for your needs.

Categories: blog, IP-Paging System, K-12