New Jersey Schools Get Radios For Faster Response to Terror, Crises

If terrorists or a natural disaster knock out phone service to the Lincoln Elementary School, administrators will still be able to communicate instantly with police.

Lincoln is part of a growing number of schools in New Jersey that have gotten direct-connect two-way radios linking principals' offices to police dispatchers. Eventually, all of the approximately 215 public and private schools in Union County are to get the radios.

The $235,000 cost will be paid for by a federal Homeland Security grant.

"We could be in a Code Red situation, and with the lessons we learned in 9/11, we know that we need good communication at all times," said Wilfred Murphy, Garwood's superintendent of schools, who participated in a demonstration of the system Monday.

The radios would prove invaluable in a Columbine-type situation in which an intruder had entered the school and was causing or threatening violence, he said. On a less sinister level, a bad wind or ice storm could knock out power and phones to the school, making the radios useful.

"This is not something we substitute for dialing 911," Murphy said. "It's in addition to it. It gives us an extra layer of security and connection with the police department."

Police Chief William Legg said the radios would enable a police officer to be at the school less than a minute after receiving a call for help.

The radios will be kept in each building principal's office. Schools that have more than one campus will each get their own radios.

The hand-held units are tied in to the county's police radio system, and operate on five channels, said Stephen Thorpe, Union County's supervising communications technician.

"Say something happens and a principal has to evacuate her kids," he said. "She can get all the help she needs right away, even as they're leaving the building."

Public schools in Union Township already use the system, and several other districts, including Nutley, have put them in place within the past year, authorities said.