In today’s world of constant connectivity, it seems everyone is tethered to electronic devices 24/7. But Don McKinney, Westchase District’s vice president of Public Safety, said it’s not uncommon for people exercising to be without their cell phones. That prevents them from being able to quickly alert authorities in the event of an emergency. As an added amenity, Westchase District recently installed eight emergency call boxes at various locations along the District’s trail system. The 10-foot, solar-powered towers are equipped with video cameras and allow trail users to call the District’s dispatch service, which can send officers to each station.
A level of confidence
“The call boxes provide trail users with a level of confidence as well as a form of communication during many scenarios that may arise,” McKinney said. “That could be anything from reporting suspicious activity to requesting assistance with urgent health issues.”
When not in use, the call boxes emit a constant yet calming blue light. When activated, the solid light begins blinking to alert responders to the general location of the incident. When the call button is pressed on the illuminated front panel, callers are greeted by an answering service that can both communicate with the caller as well as transfer them to an appropriate first responder.
Designed to operate in harsh weather conditions and be tamper-resistant, the American-made call boxes use wireless technology and feature a unique support platform to provide the District maximum flexibility in determining the towers’ locations. “The towers are attached to an auger-based foundation that we simply screw into the ground, so there’s no digging or use of rebar and concrete to disrupt the surroundings,” said Duane Rumski, national sales director for Case Emergency Systems. “If the District decides to relocate a tower, we just pop off the tower, unscrew the foundation from the ground and move it to a new spot.”
Rumski said each tower checks in daily with a centralized computer that ensures each unit is working properly. “Our system is extremely flexible, reliable and cost effective,” he said. “School districts in Cy-Fair, Fort Bend, Katy and Conroe use our towers. We even use satellite phone technology for towers on Indian reservations in Colorado and along the Texas-Mexico border for the Department of Homeland Security.”
McKinney said that both the initial investment in solar panels was less than that of traditional electrical connections and the panels are not dependent on a main energy grid and therefore will be less impactful on the District’s electricity bill long-term. “We simply avoid a lot of the headaches and pitfalls associated with hardwired systems,” he said.
McKinney said that an additional four units are budgeted to be installed next year. “Based on the data we collect this year, we’ll have a pretty clear picture on where the ideal locations will be to install the next batch,” he said. “I think these towers add great value to our trails and will attract more people to get out and use them to exercise, recreate and explore the District.”
High school intern Connor Elliott contributed to this article.