School officials: New radio system could trim time in emergencies

Published 8:10 am Thursday, January 25, 2018

According to initial reports, it took two minutes from the time shooting began at approximately 7:57 a.m. Tuesday until 911 was notified of an emergency at Marshall County High School.

“A lot can happen in two minutes,” Clark County Board of Education member Ashely Ritchie reminded her fellow board members during a discussion Tuesday night about purchasing a district-wide handheld radio system.

And, a lot did happen in those two minutes — two 15-year-olds were killed and 18 others were injured in the shooting.

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Superintendent Paul Christy said it was his intent to bring a plan for a unified handheld radio platform for the district before the shooting in Benton, Kentucky, Tuesday. But the tragedy reinforced the need for the project.

The board approved unanimously the purchase of a radio system for $129,939.62 from Southern Communications. The purchase includes 200 Hytera handheld radios to be distributed among the schools, bus garage, school resource officers and central office.

The system also included four repeaters throughout the county, including at the new emergency operations center and monitoring through the console at Winchester Police dispatch.

According to an information form submitted to the board by Coordinator of District Support Services David Nichols, he had a personal experience that drove further the need for the unified system.

“A few weeks ago, I was listening to my bus radio and heard the words, ‘Code Silver,’ which means ‘gun on the bus,’” he wrote. “I was the first one to arrive at the bus. This situation was handled promptly, but I was uncomfortable and frustrated that I could not reach anyone other than the bus drivers and bus dispatch with my radio. I tried utilizing my cell phone, but it was too time consuming to call several numbers during an emergency.”

Nichols said he took on the task of researching the possibility of a radio system with district-wide access that could be used more efficiently in an emergency.

“At present, we have a variety of radios across the district with no one able to talk to anyone except the people within their own building,” he wrote. “To be able to talk to every school in the district, each administrator would have to carry seven or eight different radios at one time. The proposed radio system would eliminate that inefficiency.”

Nichols noted the radio system stands to create “a safer school district in the event of an emergency. Let’s pray we never need it for its true intended purpose.” 

The new system makes Clark County Public Schools the first in the state with a direct radio line to the community’s 911 dispatch, Director of Pupil Personnel and Student Support Services Greg Hollon said.

Winchester Police dispatchers can constantly monitor the district’s emergency channel.

“Therefore, if an emergency is declared — example, active shooter — in the district, and the call goes out to everyone to switch their radio to the emergency channel, Winchester Police will instantly hear everyone and everything from that channel through their radio console at the police station,” Nichols wrote.

For Ritchie, that capability made the decision a “no brainer.”

“Before this shooting even occurred, that capability to have direct communication with dispatch was something that was advantageous to our district,” Hollon said.

Christy told the board he had long been interested in implementing a uniform radio platform for the district.

“I’ve wanted to do this for 12 years,” he said. “But schools would get a little money here and there and use it upgrade their radio systems, creating more diversity among the systems throughout the district. I submitted this letter of intent so we could obtain the promotional cost advertised by the company in December. I didn’t agree to any purchase, just that we would bring it before you.”

Christy said the radio system would make all emergency response more effective, considering currently, Central Office uses various phone trees and other communication methods to relay emergency information about things like tornado warnings to school administrators.

This will trim valuable time not only on response from emergency personnel, but in getting students to safety when it is needed, he said.

In other business, the board:

— Approved use of $370,000 in capital funds to reimburse the general fund for debt service payments and for repairs and maintenance costs for building and ground improvements.

— Approved an offer of assistance for $70,584 from the School Facilities Construction Commission for annual debt service on bonds sold after June 30, 2018. The bonds must be for proposed construction or major renovations of facilities outlined in the district’s approvedfacility plan.

About Whitney Leggett

Whitney Leggett is managing editor of The Winchester Sun and Winchester Living magazine. To contact her, email or call 859-759-0049.

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