A group of University of Nebraska-Lincoln students is working on an app to help Lincoln Public Schools teachers and administrators communicate better in emergencies.

LPS Security Director Joe Wright made a pitch to the Jeffrey S. Raikes School of Computer Science and Management’s design studio — groups of juniors and seniors who work with industry or those in the public sector to design software for specific uses. And they bit.

On Tuesday, the LPS board approved paying up to $50,000 for the students’ work on the app to allow school principals or district administrators to let teachers and other staff members know when they’ve begun emergency procedures.

The district uses an emergency system that divides emergency responses into four categories: lockout (locking school doors to keep a potential threat out), lockdown (to protect from a threat inside by locking classroom doors, turning off lights and moving students out of sight), evacuate (for fires or tornadoes) and shelter (in case of tornadoes, bombs or hazardous materials incidents).

Each of those categories has an icon associated with it. Wright wants the UNL students to create an app that would allow those icons to be displayed on teachers’ phones or computers.

Now, principals communicate over the intercom, by radio or in person. The app would complement those forms of communication, Wright said. In an emergency, when a principal's voice comes over the intercom, teachers may or may not hear what is said.

“It’s another way to communicate,” he said. “The visual part is so important.”

Students are still designing the software, but it could include a text line to let teachers know, briefly, what is prompting the lockdown, lockout or evacuation.

Wright, a former police officer, knew Public Safety Director Tom Casady had used the school’s design studio, and knew it was a good, cost-effective way to get needed software technology.

The design studio in the Raikes school is a capstone experience for juniors and seniors that allows them to work with real companies to help solve real problems before they enter the workforce, said design studio director Mark Antonson. 

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LPS's project is one of 14 chosen for the design studio this year, Antonson said. A similar capstone experience for computer science and engineering students has 15 projects in the works. 

You can buy security apps similar to the one Wright asked the students to design, but the yearlong process will allow him to work with students to design something specifically for LPS.

Antonson said LPS's proposal was appealing to the design studio because it was fairly independent from other systems at LPS, required the sort of innovation students can provide and serves an important societal function by helping keep students safe. 

"Socially it's a very important project," he said. 

Reach the writer at 402-473-7226 or mreist@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSreist.

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Education reporter

Margaret Reist is a Lincoln native, the mom of three high school graduates now navigating college and an education junkie who covers students, teachers and policymakers inside and outside the K-12 classroom.

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