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Integrated at the deployment stage of a private mobile network, this easy-to-use technological solution developed by Axians is designed to meet the need to secure public access buildings against hostile intruders.

The attacks that took place in Paris on 13 November 2015 led the French public authorities to review the “Plans Particuliers de Mise en Sûreté” (PPMS), specific plans for safeguarding the population, particularly in schools. The circular of 25 November 2015 set the framework for the security measures to be put in place in educational establishments. 

The primary objective of these instructions is to ensure pupil safety in case of threats and to raise an alert as quickly and securely as possible. The circular states that it is the responsibility of schools to implement the required equipment, a process that is gradually being put into practice by local authorities managing nursery and primary schools.  

What schools need is a fast, simple and reliable connection between any part of the building and the police station, which will receive urgent notification of an intentional threat against children and their teachers. 

Technically speaking, part of the answer to this need lies in private radio networks. These have the advantage of being independent from operator networks like Orange or Bouygues, which can be jammed or neutralised by attackers.

“The benefit of this end-to-end wireless solution is that it keeps works in schools to a minimum and provides a means to bring the alert function right into classrooms locked from the inside.”

Connected to a private mobile radio network, the VigiAlert technological solution is specifically designed by the VINCI Energies ICT brand Axians to meet the PPMS safeguarding specifications for school communities.

From Toulon to Belfort

This is an issue that several municipalities in the Var department in south-eastern France, among others, have been working on. The Toulon urban area authority was keen to build on the private radio network already in place for the municipal police in order to establish links with schools. To do this, the company that deployed the network, Sysoco (Axians Réseaux Mobiles Privés), devised an innovative alert solution. 

It was initially tested by means of a proof of concept, which convinced the elected officials. Developed under the name VigiAlert, the solution is currently rolled out across half of the municipalities in the Toulon area, as well as Belfort town hall and schools in several other towns including Périgueux, Hyères, Villard de Lans and Saint-Mandrier.

The system comprises a series of boxes installed in classrooms, featuring a button to trigger an alert in the event of intrusion or malicious acts. The fixed components also include a remote control, making it possible to raise the alert from anywhere in the school.

Each of the boxes is linked to a central cabinet mounted in the school, which transmits the alert to loud speakers throughout the premises and simultaneously sends an emergency signal to the municipal police station. 

Two secure networks

The solution delivers fully secure transmission links. Its various components are connected, within the school, by a short-range local area radio network similar in style to LoRa (operating in the 800MHz frequency band). All the school’s systems interact with each other within this “tactical radio bubble”. A second type of network is implemented using a long-range radio link like DMR or TETRA between the school’s transmission cabinet and the police station.

“The benefit of this end-to-end wireless solution is that it keeps works in schools to a minimum and provides a means to bring the alert function right into classrooms locked from the inside, where pupils will be in lockdown,” stresses Christophe Blanc, VigiAlert expert at Axians Réseaux Mobiles Privés.

The combination of these two technically secure and reliable radio technologies along with the frequencies used, ensure the robustness of a solution that is designed to operate in a very specific way. The system must be easy to use, without any need for detailed training or instructions since teaching staff change from one year to the next and are not experts. 

Customised maintenance

In order to take account of this context and ensure the solution is fail-proof,

VigiAlert includes a system of customised maintenance. It performs self-diagnosis to identify technical problems, then notifies the relevant department of them. Automatic cyclical monitoring of all the points also forms part of the solution. “And if no status report is provided,” adds Blanc, “a technical fault alert gets triggered.”

Similarly, VigiAlert offers an emergency power system in the event of a hostage-taking scenario involving a power cut. Back-up batteries and cells ensure continuity of the alert system.

Schools are the main establishments to fall within the scope of VigiAlert, but they are by no means the only ones. The intruder alert system is potentially of interest to all public access buildings, for example museums, libraries and municipal services like register offices. Toulon is a forerunner in the field since the administrative buildings in the area are set to be equipped with the VigiAlert solution.