Ask the Expert (Network Communications)

How can we move to network-based communication?

Many schools rightly see network-based distributed communication—moving paging, intercom, and bells to the LAN away from separate hard-wired analog systems—as a way to increase efficiency, flexibility, safety, and even space. Replacing huge paging amps, redundant wiring, and 70-volt speakers with a server, a software interface, and a variety of flexible IP-addressable endpoints has numerous advantages. The most basic include giving office staff the power to set up different bell schedules for different zones, turn them off on the weekend, and make changes anytime with a few clicks.

Schools can also gain safety functionality they never had before: 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 methods of communication under a single platform is a big plus.

But it’s not an impulse buy. The time to move to a modern school communication platform isn’t when your current analog amp goes down. This takes planning—and not just at the individual school level.

Most districts want standardization throughout their schools. Clearly, continuing to standardize on 1960s technology is not acceptable, but making a sweeping district-wide upgrade to IP-based systems is daunting. A more realistic approach is to build the new digital standard into new construction projects, then bring older schools up to that IP-based standard over time. This ensures you’re designing for the future rather than digitizing old habits and forces a district-wide approach to daily communications and safety protocols you can implement methodically over a number of years.

It’s a big task, but very worthwhile, and fortunately there are experienced professionals to help you execute a successful plan.

This article originally appeared in the April 2018 issue of School 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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