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Broken Speakers in City Schools Pose Safety Risk, Experts Say

By Gustavo Solis | January 21, 2015 7:44am
 The system that runs the announcements and clocks at P.S. 242 is broken and has been for a year. 
PS 242 Has No Working Clocks and Broken PA System
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NEW YORK CITY — Public address speakers at 29 public school across the city don't work, making communication for everything from weather advisories to school lockdowns difficult, if not impossible.

The safety risk was discovered when DNAinfo New York reviewed the 2013-2014 records for 177 city schools. More than half of the schools had at least one broken speaker or clock.

The review found that during the 2013 - 2014 school year there were 167 broken speakers throughout the city. School safety experts say this leaves them vulnerable during emergency situations.   

“It’s critical,” said Kenneth Trump, a school safety consultant who has testified before Congress on the subject.

“The PA system is the foundation the first step of having communication for an emergency situation in your school.

“If you can’t get the message out to your students and staff everything else in your plan is secondary, it’s going to fall apart. It becomes almost irrelevant because you have to be able to let people know what’s going on.”

The 177 schools use Rauland-Burg public address systems, which link the clocks to the speakers. More than 70 schools had at least one broken clock last school year.

Although most of the PA systems were listed "fair" condition, meaning they worked throughout most of the school, 29 schools had at least one broken speaker in classrooms, hallways, cafeterias, gyms, auditoriums or lockers. 

There were 928 broken clocks in 73 schools and more than 30 schools have Rauland systems that were installed before 1983.

“Nothing is more important than the safety and security of our students,” said DOE spokesman Harry Hartfield. “If even one part of a PA system — meaning one speaker in a system of many — malfunctions we work to repair or replace it as quickly as possible.”

Harlem's P.S. 242 had six broken speakers and 20 broken clocks when the 2013 - 2014 school year started. On the first day of school of the following school year, they were still broken.

The speakers were repaired sometime before December's winter break. The clocks remain broken.

Hartfield did not know how many of the 167 speakers have been repaired or how long it took to repair them.

According to the DOE, the majority of PA systems in city schools are operational. Each school is required to have a safety plan that outlines steps to take in case their PA systems do not work. Schools are provided with radios and bullhorns.

The borough with the highest number of schools with broken equipment was Brooklyn with 42. The Bronx came in second with 20, Manhattan had 16, Queens had 15 and Staten Island had 11 schools with at least one broken clock or speaker.

The following map highlights the number of schools with broken equipment. The red spots indicate a school with at least one broken clock, blue is for broken speakers and green is for schools that have broken speakers and clocks.

Teachers at schools with broken equipment often wait months, if not years, to get them repaired. 

“They prioritize the speakers because of the safety component, they almost never fix the clocks,” said retired teacher Dave Poleshuck. “You can’t go to the clock and fix it to the right time. You have to call the DOE and it takes months, if not years, to fix."

Poleshuck, a former technology teacher, tired to fix one of the clocks with the help of a custodian. But it isn’t as simple as installing new batteries. The entire clock has to be replaced by Rauland, he said.

Trump, the school safety expert, said that while schools across the country have placed more importance on school safety post Sandy Hook, a lot of the focus has gone toward fortifying entrances, spending millions of dollars on security cameras and even training staff to ward off gunmen. 

Last week a school in Alabama trained it's students to throw cans of food at intruders, he added.

But that has taken the focus away from the importance of maintaining day-to-day issues like the public address system.

"It's an issue that nobody's really paid attention to but it's certainly an important one," he said.

"The communication capability in a crisis is the number one issue that we see time and time again. The importance of having communication capabilities should be on the top of the list.”