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Lack Of Radio Communication Access Is Major Problem in US Schools

Uvalde School Shooting Has Shed Light On Communication Failures

Earlier this year, 19 students and 2 teachers were killed in a school shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, TX. Since then, politicians and security pundits have been discussing what happened and if – or how – it could have been prevented. 

There were a number of issues identified with how the incident was handled, but one of the most shocking was that the officers inside the building had next to no radio communication capabilities with the officers outside or with dispatch. They had no idea that there were students and staff still trapped in the room with the gunman and who were actively calling 911.

Official Report Cites Officers Were Lacking Basic Communication

In a 77-page report prepared by the Investigative Committee On The Robb Elementary Shooting within The Texas House Of Representatives, the committee found that the 376 police officers who were on site were “devoid of clear leadership, basic communications and sufficient urgency to take down the gunman.” 

It’s possible to imagine that had the officers had adequate communication capabilities and had they known there were still students and staff to be rescued (rather than thinking the gunman was barricaded in the room with no living victims), they would have handled the situation much differently. Additionally, with better communication in place, the nearly 400 officers on site could have been better coordinated. And, had the school building had a more reliable Internet connection, the alert sent to teachers, staff, and parents would have been sent out faster and with less difficulty.


The sad fact of the matter is that since the Columbine shooting, which shocked the United States in 1999, there have been 555 casualties and 185 fatalities in school shootings across the country. And in many of these incidents, the radio communications infrastructure of the building was called into question. One report from Columbine stated, “should consider the installation of transmission repeaters in larger school buildings to facilitate communications from within those buildings to outside receivers.” Similarly, a report from the Reynolds High School shooting that took place in Oregon in 2014 identified “radio and cellular phone reception” as an operational area of improvement.

What Can Be Done?

Unfortunately, lack of communication availability within schools – and other large facilities – is an incredibly common occurrence due to the fact that they’re constructed with concrete walls and steel roofs. In fact, in a test of 557 K-12 schools across the country, 52% of them failed at least 1 area of in-building testing as it relates to communication across campus. 

In 2019, Powell High School in Knox County, Tennessee, realized exactly how important radio communications within a school are. When there were reports of gunfire at the school, the School Resource Officers realized their radios weren’t working within the building.

Thankfully, the reports of gunfire turned out to be unfounded, but the event was a huge wake-up call for the district. They realized that they had been spared from a potentially horrific event and were able to utilize that as a learning and improvement opportunity. Determined to take action, the district – which consists of 90 school facilities – conducted a heat mapping benchmark study to investigate the signal strength and quality within every building. From here, they can take that data to design and deploy a Distributed Antenna System (DAS) that will increase radio and cellular coverage throughout the buildings.

DAS system components (like BDA’s, HEU’s, and Indoor and Outdoor Antennas) are integral parts of any large building’s overall communications infrastructure, ensuring that analog, digital, and smart radios can broadcast and receive clear and concise signals in all situations.

About MCA

For over 30 years, MCA has provided expertly tailored communications solutions to organizations in need of two-way radios, workplace connectivity, and wireless signal enhancement systems. Our team provides top-tier support for every aspect of your business and mission-critical communications projects from start to finish. Our engineers assess your needs, design custom solutions, and install systems that fit your organization’s exacting requirements.

Original Article Credit Goes to the Safer Buildings Coalition, of which MCA is a long standing member.

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