Ask the Expert (Mass Communication)

What can we learn about campus communication from K–12 districts?

Historically, there wasn’t much in common between primary/secondary schools and college campuses in terms of communication needs. Class bells weren’t useful. Campus size made paging systems impractical. But the advent of new technologies—and new threats—should prompt college facilities professionals to take some pointers from their K–12 cousins.

Many K–12 campuses have moved to network-based distributed communication—putting functions like paging, intercom, and bells on the LAN instead of separate hardwired analog systems—as a way to increase efficiency, flexibility, and safety. Basically, that means a server, a software interface, and a variety of flexible IP-addressable endpoints in classrooms, offices, and interior/exterior common areas. For example, staff can set up different zones for voice paging or digital signage messages, and make changes anytime with a few clicks. Schools have also gained new safety functionality: panic buttons in classrooms, silent alerts, and instant triggering of lockdowns and all-clears from the office or even a mobile device. Integrating all these functions under a single platform is a big plus.

Because the technology scales on infrastructure are already present on campus, it makes sense for colleges to consider adapting it to their needs. Taking emergency preparedness as an example, how would an instructor alert others of a potential threat today? If locking doors were an appropriate response to that threat, how would you do it, and should the same process automate communication across the entire campus? Also important, do you have a way to tell everyone the emergency is over?

Many prominent K–12 districts have good answers to these questions. If yours aren’t quite so clear, it’s worth taking a closer look at the solutions they’ve been creating.

This article originally appeared in the April 2018 issue of College Planning & Management.

About the Author

Jaime Mendez serves as architectural consultant at FrontRow. He can be reached at JAIM@gofrontrow.com.

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