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SMS system for student safety

Lindsay McClure, of the Record staff

If parents were as attentive to their phones as their children, the district would have a fool-proof system for sharing information in case of an emergency. Students may want to give their parents a quick SMS (Short message system) tutorial, because parents can now sign up to receive a text message alert if something unexpected happens at the schools, especially if student safety is in jeopardy.

The Park City School District has partnered with Five-3 Mobile Marketing Company to develop a system that will send out a mass text message to any phone number that has been entered into their database.

Five-3 is a local company. PCSD superintendent Ray Timothy explained that he had been contacted by several companies who wanted to help the district set up an emergency text message alert system. According to Timothy, Five-3 was the only company that wasn’t trying to make a profit. Timothy said they were more interested in, "providing a service to the schools and the community."

The district is now part of a system that is able to send a message to 10,800 phones in less than two minutes. Messages will be sent out if area schools encounter an unexpected situation and they feel the need to contact parents immediately. Timothy explained that the district encountered problems last winter when they had to cancel school because of bad weather. He said that not all parents got the information in a timely manner, and they were looking to improve communication pathways between the schools and parents.

According to Timothy, the system isn’t intended to replace traditional forms of communication. Local radio stations, Salt Lake City media, website updates, and established phone trees will still be used to disseminate information during emergency situations explained Timothy. He feels that the more tools the district has to share information during emergency situations, the better. Text messages have the advantage of immediacy over other communication systems the district has in place, according to Timothy.

Marty Ogburn, a Five-3 employee explained that the system is an opt-in, opt-out system. Parents must send the message "PCSD" to the number 41513 to be entered in the system. Ogburn stressed that the system will not be of value if parents don’t enter their numbers into the system. If parents decide they’d like to unsubscribe, they can text "STOP" to 41513 at any time and their number will be removed from the database.

The district pays for airtime, and the initial cost was about $1,500 explained Timothy, however they will need to buy more airtime in the future.

Regular text message fees apply so cell phone owners with an unlimited text plan won’t pay extra for the service. For parents who don’t have unlimited texting, normal text message fees apply. Users may pay about four cents per message, estimated Timothy.

The messages will read something like, "There is a problem in the schools. Do not worry. Please pick your child up as soon as possible " explained Ogburn.

Timothy said that students can subscribe to the system as well but, in accordance with school policy, they shouldn’t have their phones turned on during class so they probably won’t get the messages while at school.

For more information on the text messaging service, call Five-3 at (407) 257-4949.


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