Portable radios are increasingly being used in schools to improve communications, especially in emergencies. They have a number of advantages over the alternatives. Verbal and handwritten messages are inexpensive but slow and can become confused and inaccurate. Internal phones are not always practical and mobile phones, while cheap to buy, have high operating costs. Dialling numbers when under pressure can be awkward. Pagers provide only one-way communication; so do panic buttons. .
Radio communications offer two-way information flow. Units are portable and may be used out of doors and even when off-site. Messages go directly to key staff who remain in touch at all times. Response can be immediate. Queries can be made straight away and reaction times minimised. Unlike portable phones, there are no call charges. The disadvantages are that radios must be bought outright or leased. They also require maintenance; battery-charging has to be properly organised.
Private mobile radio systems (PMR) have predominated. There is a wide selection of such equipment on the market, with degrees of complexity, power and cost. It can be bought or leased with maintenance agreements included.
A simpler system is now available which is called short-range business radio (SRBR). It is a three-channel, hand-held system for two-way communication. The power output is limited but sufficient for many uses and the range is greater than the 400 metres talked about in the brochures.
These systems may be just what many schools need. Maxon, Motorola and Icom are producing them. Try some out before buying, test them on site while transmitting and receiving from both outside and inside the your buildings. If there are problems, then try a PMR system. Above all, get the system demonstrated, before committing to buy. Find any 'dead spots' which sometimes prevent a strong signal from getting out. Poor transmission locations do crop up.
An SRBRsystem with a base station and two units could cost Pounds 507 plus VAT. The licence would cost Pounds 10 annually with no limits on the number of units.
For a similar PMR system, the cost would be Pounds 1,495 plus VAT including the licence. Many suppliers will offer lease arrangements.