Blount County Schools staff within weeks will be able to access emergency help with the touch of a button.

On Tuesday, Jan. 21, middle and high school administrators as well as school resource officers received a demonstration at William Blount High School of the Situational Awareness and Response Assistant (SARA) system being deployed.

“I definitely think it’s going to make our staff and students safer,” said Don Stallions, director of general services for Blount County government, who noted that the same system is going into the county buildings and could be offered to city schools as well.

“We started talking about having some type of mass communication system in place at all of our schools five or six years ago,” BCS Director Rob Britt noted. Last fall the Blount County Board of Education approved the $486,000 project, with more than half of the money coming from state safety grants and most of the remainder from the district’s savings.

Status Solutions designed its SARA software to work with existing systems already in schools and cover a range of scenarios, not only a potential shooter or other lockdown situation but also medical emergencies such as allergic reactions, physical fights or even a severe weather alert.

Teachers at the county’s two high schools and four middle schools each will receive a “mobile duress button” they can wear from a lanyard. Staff at the 14 elementary schools will be able to access the system through an application on their computers or mobile phones.

When someone presses an alert, the message can go not only to school administrators but also the Blount County E-911 Communications Center, pulling in live views from the nearest cameras in the school to where the alert was issued.

“What we’re going to do today is just the beginning of what we can do,” Amy Jeffs, vice president of Status Solutions, said at the beginning of the demonstration. The company will work with administrators to customize the system.

That includes designating who receives each type of alert and in what form, such as by phone, two-way radio, text messages and even the school’s public address system.

James “Jimmy” Long, director of the E-911 Center, asked during Tuesday’s demonstration that medical alert messages make clear when dispatchers need to send an ambulance, which is not required for every medical situation.

“At the end of the day, your true first responders are the people in the building,” Jeffs said during an interview, and the SARA system provides information to act before a situation escalates. “Things happen on a daily basis that can be an emergency if they’re not met.”

Amy Beth earned her degree from West Virginia. She joined The Daily Times in 2016 on the education beat covering Alcoa, Maryville and Blount County school systems.

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