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From Alerts to Updates: How Communication Streamlines Crisis Response





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Watch to hear Greg Liedl, retired Transportation Director for Bemidji Area Schools discuss how he used CrisisGo to respond to a bus rollover that resulted in an air evacuation.

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Hello, everyone. Welcome to today's event titled “From Alerts to Updates: How Communication Streamlines Crisis Response.” I'm Greg Peterson, content manager for CrisisGo and I'll be your moderator. During today's event, we're going to focus on the value of effective emergency alerting and how a streamline communication process can reduce response times and improve safety. If you have any questions throughout the presentation, I welcome you to submit those via the questions panel. We’ll be conducting a short Q&A session at the end of today's presentation. Our speaker today is Greg Liedl of Bemidji Area Schools in Minnesota. He's here to discuss how his district has used alerting and streamline communication to address real safety emergencies, so without further ado I will pass this on to Greg.

Okay, as he explained I was the transportation director here. I've been director in two different school districts in my 24 years in the school bus industry and prior to that I had spent 14 years as a state trooper in North Dakota. So I I've got several years in law enforcement and EMS and because of that background in my work with Emergency Management in our county, I was tasked many years ago to create the schools’ crisis plan for our district, but then we ran into one of the pieces that were talking about today is a problem.

So let's go to slide three The problem that I always had in transportation when I would have a bus accident you just about dropped everything you were doing and get in the truck and then my shop fleet manager and I we would head out with a rescue bus. We'd head out to the scene to assist the driver in the meantime. My office only has a limited number of Staff as most Transportation offices. Do there's one or two dispatchers on there and besides the accident happening and phone calls starting to come in from that. We have 75 other daily routes that information, you know, even though we announced we have an act and everybody tries to stay off the radio the phone still rings from parents calling in for different things and you're trying to deal with that. So we get inundated with calls.

Well, then as I'm responding to the scene, I'm trying to get hold of key people to tell them what's going on, especially when it's a bus accident It's usually something minor like we ran over a mailbox or something small, but the story I will tell you today. It was a major incident, you know, so the regular world still continues even though we've got a crisis so slide 4.

Okay, our school district telephone system. There's a problem with that if I started to calling the superintendent, I would normally call the superintendent sector its first person I'd start with get hold of the superintendent tell him what's going on. I would call the district office. And again if this crash was early in the morning now, I've got to probably try to call the superintendent cell phone number directly if it's before the office hours because we start our stuff at 5:30 in the morning here to cover the size of our district. I've got stuff out there if we give something that happens at that time. I have to call him on the cell phone, but normally I'm calling the district office to get hold of the secretary because she knows where the superintendent is. Either he's out of town for the day. He's giving a talk somewhere. He's at a meeting. She would know how to hunt him down. But if she's not at her desk the call goes to her voicemail and our phone system doesn't allow us to back up and try another number we have to hang up and actually dial again. To try to find somebody to answer the phone. Okay next slide.

So you could use the two-way radio system. We have a very extensive repeater system with digital radios that track through GPS, you know, and that's great for us. Everybody in the bus has one we have portable radios for our staff superintendent has a portable radio but it's usually in his charger at the office that he would grab and head out, you know, if there was an emergency and the principals and other managers from buildings and grounds and things have radios, but they don't monitor the school bus channel because there's a lot of radio traffic that goes over that especially in the morning and afternoon, so they have attendance to turn that volume down on that even if they're monitoring, sometimes they just delete that channel and don't even want to listen to it and then our high school and middle school operate on UHF frequencies and our department and all the other elementaries operate on a VHF system and then our department operates in digital.

So, next slide I'd but everybody has their cell phone with them just about all the time people are glued to that thing. That thing is glued to them. You can't even get onto an elevator and there's six other people that are buried into that phone that is their lifeline their world revolves around that tiny little screen. So their world would end if they didn't have their cell phone so they normally have that with them because you get telephone calls you get text messages. You can take pictures with it. I mean, there's a ton of things everybody uses their phone for so if the cell phone is the best way to contact somebody with a call or a text message then we had to find a way to effectively use that as our means of communication, next.

Enter CrisisGo. So our school district selected CrisisGo for education because it gave us the ability to do a mass notification to cell phones with just the push of one button. There's a database that I maintain right now. I'm retired from Transportation, but I'm the CrisisGo administrator for the district. I volunteered to keep up the database even though I go to Arizona for the wintertime people email me and I keep up the database that the information is current in there so it can be segmented out by school by department, you know, and so it's a database of people currently our school district has a hundred and thirty four people in this database. So I'm going to tell you a little story of how we used CrisisGo one day, next.

In the spring of 2017. We had a car from a guy in the from out of state and it was up here looking for work. You ran a stop sign traveling into the sun didn't see it hit the rear of our bus at full traffic speed 55 miles an hour and our bus is going at highway speed and so the bus skidded into the ditch as you see in the photograph there. It dug into the ground and it overturned onto its side and we had 29 students onboard from three different schools now are morning routing system. We transport everything from K through 12 to all of our schools. So we could have had a students on their from up to 10 different schools that particular day only three schools had students involved in this crash. Now the time of the impact till the time that that bus ended up on its side in the ditch six seconds, when we reviewed the video that crash happened quickly. next.

So our initial call came from the driver himself after he tipped over he found the cord and drug it, you know pull down the cord until he could find the microphone and amazingly. He was very calm about calling in that bus 25 was in an accident. It's overturned on its side north of Northern Elementary School. We had other inbound buses that were heading to Northern the next bus behind him that was heading there was one of our older drivers who was not calm about it on the radio because at first we weren't quite sure what was said on the radio, you know, and after that when we heard the second bus just screaming and he was screaming into the radio what had happened. We said don't we verified that that's got to be a biggie, next.

So upon hearing the call on the radio. One of our guys a driver at Northern Elementary School was unloading his kids and he caught the attention of the staff out on the parking lot there and said alert the principal. This is what's happened. It's north of the school here the principal and the school health para and a teacher jumped into a car and they headed straight to the scene. And while they were going there their CrisisGo alert went off, you know after it had been activated but and of course the principal who had a portable radio was in such a hurry she left it on her desk. So she had no radio communication. All we now have with her is her cell phone, next.

So fortunately the witness to this entire accident was one of my substitute bus drivers on his way to work on his other job with his son in the car. He watched the entire thing happened and from the time that the bus came to rest in the ditch until he got down there and opened. The rear door was 45 seconds and we started pulling kids out of the back end of that bus but to get there the bus the world is now overturned for these kids. I've got two kids you can imagine when you look at those broken windows. They're one of the students arms had it was a beautiful day. So the windows are done is armed and gone outside the window during the crash and was pinned underneath the bus another one had his arm pinned between the seats. Several other students had lacerations from the broken glass. So now the only walkway that you have coming out of this bus is for those kids to walk on the broken glass in to walk on those window panes to get to the back end of the bus. So from my experience in law enforcement and in the bus industry, I know the force involved that would cause a bus to overturn I now know this is a major accident, next.

And where am I during all this? Well with the driver shortage, of course, I'm driving a bus on the opposite side of our district. That's 824 square miles. So I was unloading it in elementary school. When I heard the radio call and I was scheduled to continue on to a secondary school and I had the school staff at the elementary school. I was at help me disperse those kids on to other buses. I then stepped off of the bus pulled out my phone. I open the CrisisGo app is I selected alert, I selected district-wide because of the magnitude of the axe and I could have picked Northern Elementary. I could, not knowing who the students were. What schools are going to I could have picked specific schools instead. I chose district-wide. This was a major deal that our office is going be up to its nose busy. We don't need anybody else calling in for different things. So I selected bus accident from the list and then I can put a small message in there and I entered bus 25 rolled over north of Northern school because they heading for the alert message will already see bus accident. So I don't need to say I had a bus accident. I don't need to write a novel. I just need bus 25 now. They know which one I'm dealing with rolled over and they got that magnitude of that from saying I rolled over a bus and where it was at north of Northern School. I pushed send. A hundred and thirty-four people were just told what was going on at one time. Okay, next.

So, I chose that alert again because of the severity of the crisis. Everybody was now in the loop because I do have then principles or other staff if they're not busy doing something my buildings and grounds guys. My guy had the supervisor at the warehouse all these people could come to our assistance at either the school itself an example being we have in the list if I hit district-wide all of them are counselors at the high school and middle school got this notification all of the social workers that are usually on our crisis teams got this notification. Principles of other elementary schools got the notification. So if they weren't busy several of the elementary principles packed up grab their portable radio and drove to Northern schools to help that staff deal with this emergency, but we didn't have to call all these people because with the push of one button we were able to tell everybody what was going on and any school day that involves a helicopter is not a good day. My story I ended up with two helicopters in one day, next.

So in addition to that, I also had three ambulances on scene because we took a while for the fire department to extricate the two kids that were trapped in the bus. I had several fire trucks. I had dozens of law enforcement officers on hand. I had three tow trucks, but the only thing I was missing was a circus elephant at this event. And so then after we get all that squared away, we have a rescue bus that we had arranged to come on scene and we now head to the hospital with the rest of the students that were on the bus, next.

So again under our crisis plan now that they got the notification. We have some key people at our school district office. And in our case, it was our human resource officer and our business manager normally respond to the hospital, you know, the superintendent has a tendency to want to come out to the scene to see what's going on. But I also need key people to go to the hospital to arrange our arrival because now you have kids that have called their parents on the cell phone. We were on social media within five minutes of this accident happening and there's an aerial map that came up to people knew exactly. What was it again. You've got tons of people that were going to work going by there and we were fortunate enough that in that group. There was a retired physician and an ER nurse that stop there to help triage the kids that came out of that bus, but at the hospital one of the other We had a large number of the students that we had this bus originates from the Red Lake Nation. So we in our notification for our leadership staff, the Indian education coordinator got notified of this she went up to the hospital with her staff because a good majority of the students that were involved in this we're Native American, next.

So besides the mass alert notification. There are other reasons for having CrisisGo the days of the 3-ring binder are over and when I manage the 3-ring binder if something changed telephone numbers changed you had to send out a new piece of paper for 15 copies of the school to be redone. I had a master version as you see in the picture there that had all of the schools in their normally a school. They would have just they're building for somebody like myself superintendent the health, you know district is the warehouse are building that they all had to have a huge binder with all of the schools with all of the maps with all of the contact lists in there. Well, you don't have to have that because nobody carries that three-ring binder around with them when they're walking through the school. It's on a shelf in the office.

Sometimes people at our time even finding it because you don't use it that often the case with CrisisGo is you open the app. The first thing that I like is that you have a series of checklists that you can create you can tweak them. There are some standard ones CrisisGo will give you and help you with it, but we can tweak some things an example being we have a new school right by a body of water and she wanted added on law student. One of the first things to do was to send somebody out to the water area to check and see if the student was out there. So you have checklist, but the nice part about it is when you do something that's on that checklist, it records when you did it. So now you have a record it reminds you what to do and it records when you actually did it. So the second thing is you have maps of the building and that's an important because some of our exterior people we have in CrisisGo. One of the alerts is the cell phone at our 9-1-1 Center. They have a backup smartphone all the time so they are in my CrisisGo list to receive notification. So they had heads up with it when the siren went off in their office also.

Now the other part that that I use a lot is the contact list because it just eliminates that need of having all sorts of people in your regular contact list on your phone. And all you have to do is open the app and then you can go to the school that you need to and try to track somebody down now not all of our staff have smartphones. I've got some people that are still in the flip phone stage of their life. So they can't have the app. I also have some employees that refuse to put the app on their personal phone. So but I still have them in that database of a hundred and thirty four people because their contact information is in there. So I use the app one weekend as I'm passing by the high school and the sprinklers are automatically going one of the sprinkler heads.

It had been broken off and there's a geyser of water spewing into the air now, it's necessary a crisis, but it's a problem that needed to be dealt with so I went to the high school contact list. I went to custodian I brought up the custodians name. I pushed the button for his cell phone because you can just bring up their number and there's a little phone icon off to the left side or the right side and you push the little green phone and I've now made contact with the building custodian the said guess what you got a water problem over at the high school. I would have not normally had that number I would have had to go back to my office open a three-ring binder and look up the custodians information from there. So that's one of the things that I've used it for. I've had a bus accident that was out of town on a sports activity trip that when I got the notification for I picked district office staff and I picked the high school since it was just a high school only trip and sent out that we had a bus accident. Everybody's okay.

The bus is now going to be delayed we can give further updates and again in CrisisGo you can have that ability to do messaging among your group also to give them updates of what's going on. And so I get to be the key user for some reason in this school district the day that I was getting into my car and one of my shuttle buses at the high school had reported a fight occurring outside the bus entrance at the high school, of course our office staff here picks up the phone and makes a call tries to get hold of somebody. I am six miles away at an elementary school. I hear about the fight outside door number 11 at the high school. I open up the CrisisGo. I pick alert. I pick fight.

I picked the list that it's going to the high school and the high school only and I enter fight at you know, I just put fight at door 11 something very simple and I hit the send button all those people in the database for the high school just got notification that there's a fight in addition to my office calling their office getting on their radio to tell their people the school resource officer was in the cafeteria that day and did not hear the radio call of the fight because of the noise in the lunchroom. He however got the vibration from his cell phone looks at it and now he knows that there was a fight at door 11, I gave that notification. I wasn't even there, I'm six miles away. So CrisisGo has worked for us, you know, some of the staff have used it for messaging. I know our high school uses a lot for creating message groups that they use internally with their crisis team over there.

There's a lot of things that it can do but that's the kind of stuff that we've been using this for and I believe we've had CrisisGo for five years or so already and so we have actually used it for incidents and for some reason the transportation department, which you wouldn't think of in crisis situations seems to be the key people that are using this to alert the rest of the people in our district. So if we've got any questions, I think we can move to that slide.

Yeah, thank you very much Greg. that was a really incredible story. I just want to remind everyone that you can submit questions right in the question panel, we’ll give you a couple minutes to do that. So actually, I had a question to start us off Greg, if you don't mind. You mentioned with responding to the accident how you're able to reach of all the stakeholders. Can you maybe explain why it's important to have that option as well as the option reach select groups?

Well for us, you know, as I say ours, I know our superintendent was going to head out to that had the principal and got not got notification. Let's say that principle was at a meeting somewhere else knowing that these are students affecting her building, you know, she would have gotten the notification.

You're not trying to track all these people down, you know, so if that's wasted time and that's the part when we talk about streamlining the notification part everybody whether they're affected or not has knowledge of it, you know, and I do have some principles that In charge of two separate buildings and they are on both lists for those buildings. You can put that like people myself and transportation the superintendent there we click on they're registered for every building. So if for some if a building has a problem and they hit the button there on that building staff list, you know, so they get a notification of it because you cannot when something happens. Let's say there was an incident, you know in a school if there's a school shooting and the office picks up the phone they dial nine-one-one. They stay online with the dispatcher, you know, they're tied to that, you know until the incident is over or well if someone else externally knows that this is going on we can't send help we can't send buses to evacuate. We've had a fire at their High School one time in later on we had to organize evacuating those people and taking them to a relocation site. You can notify everybody of what's going on very quickly. They help with something like that. So you can't get help to your place from the outside world. If the outside world doesn't know that you have a problem.

Very well put we have another question. How did you get your teachers and staff to adopt a solution like this?

Well interestingly enough when I took over, you know, our state law mandated it and you'll school districts, you know, after Columbine all of the people were jumping on the bandwagon and we created a School Safety Center down with our Department of Public Safety and they came out with a model plan and we started adopting it principles were not well versed in emergency management and incident command. This is not their forte and so I know Saint Paul Public Schools in the Twin Cities, they've got five guys in their Emergency Management Department, you know, Minneapolis Public Schools has a mobile emergency Operation Center and so do we have a converted bus with a lot of equipment in there? That's the envy of a lot of people whether they're the only two districts in the state that have that kind of capability. So the buying into it wasn't so much their choice. It was something that was handed to me. And if you'd have been there the first meeting at our leadership meeting when the principles are asking. Well, what's this, you know, because some principles had a three-page crisis plan and somebody else had a novel, you know, and they had a contingency for everything that happened but we needed uniformity, you know, and you needed someone that it could represent the district and become you know, as I work with the County Emergency Management, you have to work with these people and play in their exercises and know who they are because when you need them, they know who you are, you know, so we have used like our mobile emergency Operation Center. We've used for one SWAT Mission and four search and rescue missions looking for lost children, so we get to know who they are either depending on us to provide that so when it came to the staff We've only gone right now to our crisis teams. So these are people that are on deck that that meet regularly, you know, so you have your custodian. Of course you get your principles. You got the counselors. You've got the assistant principals. You got who the health para whoever that principal wants on their crisis team. And of course all the people in the district office are on it the transportation supervisors anybody that's a manager or above is on CrisisGo. So the key players that are in our district were given this and so and most at the everybody that has a district cell phone. It's mandated that they have CrisisGo and they have an account because the district's providing that device so they will have CrisisGo on their phone.

Wonderful and another question CrisisGo appeared to help for a big emergency response. But what about everyday uses? I believe you kind of answered that with an example you gave but would you mind expanding on that?

Well, I know our high school, you know, you can create message groups and in and they use that a lot. So if they said well, we just need this group to know what's going on is example, we are districts to have we have what we call the cabinet which are five key positions down at our district office. Well, they're on a separate even CrisisGo list that I created for them. And so that they can chat among themselves. They can message within that group with complete privacy so they can share things that are going on and ask opinions and things like that. But it you can use it for it doesn't have to be at all out an emergency or the magnitude like I have a bus crash it can be something very simple or we had the other day, you know. You saw pictures, we live in northern Minnesota. So an alert went out one morning. We had a bear in the very same vicinity of one of our outlying elementary schools. So that's a good deal to send everybody is saying hey, there's bears in the area. We should probably bring the children indoors for today. Our Department of Natural Resources came over and we're in patrol of the area all day long till we kind of you know where the bear is now that's not a huge emergency but a child being attacked by a bear. Okay, we have to prevent that so we can use this to send out a message or we could send out an alert, you know that there's a problem, you know for a different area doesn't have to be an all-out major crisis thing that you think you're going to end up on CNN.

Wonderful. Well, I don't see any other questions in the panel. So once again, thank you all for attending and participating if you want to learn more about CrisisGo and how you can make your district and school safer. You can visit our website at crisisgo.com, and we'll be sending out an email later this week with a link to the recording of This webinar in case you'd like to share it with colleagues and friends. So enjoy the rest of your day Greg. Thanks again for contributing your story and thank you very much.

Absolutely. Bye.

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