In the wake of a rash of school and other mass shootings across the country, Guilford County government and Guilford County Schools have undertaken a major effort to improve emergency radio communications in the county’s schools.
However, that effort isn’t moving fast enough for some, and two recent incidents at county schools have exposed the weaknesses.
Recently, there was a fight between girls at Southern Guilford High School at which a school resource officer needed help and attempted to radio for backup. However, the officer could not reach anyone on the emergency radio. Soon after that, there was another incident during which an officer’s radio also failed to operate.
One problem is that schools are built with very thick walls and in certain areas emergency radios do not get good, or in some cases any, signal connection.
Guilford County has allocated $5 million to upgrade the communications systems in schools – which involves, among other things, placing antennas on the tops of school buildings to boost radio signals.
Recently, at a national conference of county officials in Washington D.C., Guilford County Commissioner Alan Perdue, who was the longtime director of Guilford County Emergency Services – gave a very well-received presentation on the importance of communications in response to school threats, so it’s somewhat ironic that this is a well-recognized problem for Guilford County schools.
Perdue told the Rhino Times that he had become aware of the two recent cases of communication failure in the County schools.
“It is alarming,” Perdue said, “that we had an incident where the officer could not communicate, and then we had another one right after that.”
Perdue said one of the reasons the emergency response during the Uvalde High School shooting was so disastrous is that some responders in the school where unable to communicate with others. He said proper communication is essential in those situations.
One high-ranking county official who asked not to be identified said that some county leaders wished school officials would push the project forward faster.
The Guilford County Board of Commissioners allocated $600,000 to study the issue and develop specifications for a request for proposals in 2019. In 2020 and 2021 several county commissioners were publicly critical of the rate at which the schools undertook that project. In May of 2022, the county commissioners allocated an additional $4.4 million to make the improvements. As of February 21, the school system has spent $63,250 of that $4.4 million.
Though Guilford County Communications and Public Relations Director Julie Smith stated that that amount “is not reflective of what may have been obligated to a project(s).”