Public school emergency alerts ready for school year

As students sign up for classes, Edmonton parents can sign up for an urgent message alert system.

Edmonton Public Schools launched SchoolMessenger earlier this year. The system sends out calls and text messages to families during major emergencies such as lockdowns, fires, evacuations or tornado alerts.

SchoolMessenger, also in use in some other Alberta school districts, automatically sends voice messages to all phone numbers on file for each student. But families have to opt-in to also receive text messages.

“If there were to be a major emergency at one of our schools, it’s a really great way for the district and our schools to relay emergency information quickly and directly to families,” said Megan Normandeau, a spokesperson with Edmonton Public Schools.

The system launched in February. To date, families signing up for the service have added 50,000 unique phone numbers to the database. In an emergency, SchoolMessenger will contact all numbers on file for each student.

Before the system was introduced, each school had its own method of contacting families during an emergency.

“This is a quicker and more efficient way to get a hold of our parents, especially in these cases of emergencies where time is precious,” Normandeau said.

The system was put to the test three times during the last school year.

The SchoolMessenger system alerted families about a lockdown at Balwin School in north Edmonton in September 2017. (Google Street View)

Messages were sent out to families during precautionary lockdowns at John D. Bracco Junior High School and Balwin School. Over the winter break, families with students at Minchau School were also alerted to a flood at the school.

The flood happened before the system’s official launch, but the district used SchoolMessenger to keep families updated on relocation plans and bus route changes.

“Because it was the holiday break, parents aren’t often checking … the website as often as they would during the school year. So we utilized SchoolMessenger to get a hold of them,” Normandeau said.

Some security concerns

The system raises some security concerns. Parents might be tempted to rush to school when they hear their child is in danger, for example.

But since information travels quickly in emergency situations, propelled by cell phones and social media, Normandeau said it is important to get accurate information out to families from a reliable source.

“That is something that’s taken into consideration and we do understand that those are stressful situations for families,” she said.

“Those are reactions that we would see regardless of SchoolMessenger.”

For more information about the service, click here.



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Sherwood Park

Sherwood Park is a large hamlet in Alberta, Canada within Strathcona County that is recognized as an urban service area.[7] It is located adjacent to the City of Edmonton’s eastern boundary,[8] generally south of Highway 16 (Yellowhead Trail), west of Highway 21 and north of Highway 630 (Wye Road).[9] Other portions of Sherwood Park extend beyond Yellowhead Trail and Wye Road, while Anthony Henday Drive (Highway 216) separates Refinery Row to the west from the balance of the hamlet to the east.[9]

Sherwood Park was established in 1955 on farmland of the Smeltzer family, east of Edmonton. With a population of 70,618 in 2016,[6] Sherwood Park has enough people to be Alberta’s seventh largest city, but technically retains the status of a hamlet. The Government of Alberta recognizes the Sherwood Park Urban Service Area as equivalent to a city.

History

Sherwood Park, originally named Campbelltown, was founded by John Hook Campbell and John Mitchell in 1953 when the Municipal District of Strathcona No. 83 approved their proposed development of a bedroom community east of Edmonton. The first homes within the community were marketed to the public in 1955. Canada Post intervened on the name of Campbelltown due to the existence of several other communities in Canada within the same name, so the community’s name was changed to Sherwood Park in 1956.
Geography

The Sherwood Park Urban Service Area is located in the Edmonton Capital Region along the western edge of central Strathcona County adjacent to the City of Edmonton.[8] The majority of the community is bound by Highway 16 (Yellowhead Highway) to the north, Highway 21 to the east, Highway 630 (Wye Road) to the south, and Anthony Henday Drive (Highway 216) to the west. The Refinery Row portion of Sherwood Park is located across Anthony Henday Drive to the west, between Sherwood Park Freeway and Highway 16. Numerous developments fronting the south side of Wye Road, including Wye Gardens, Wye Crossing, Salisbury Village and the Estates of Sherwood Park, are also within the community. Lands north of Highway 16 and south of Township Road 534/Oldman Creek between Range Road 232 (Sherwood Drive) to the west and Highway 21 to the east are also within the Sherwood Park urban service area.

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